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How to Grow: Tulip Tree
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Late spring with tulip-shaped, yellow-green colored flowers and brilliant golden fall foliage color.
Mature Height x Spread
70 to 90 feet x 35 to 50 feet with some dwarf versions
Native, attracts beneficials, deer resistant
This large, magnolia-family, deciduous tree can be massive in the landscape. But it’s unusual for its large, tulip-shaped flowers in late spring. Even the leaves look tulip-shaped. Unfortunately the flowers on older trees tend to be too high in the canopy to really be appreciated. But the golden fall foliage color stands out. It often turns color later than other deciduous trees, giving a golden glow to the end of autumn. I often forget about my neighbor’s tulip tree until fall, when the leaves shine. It also produces cone-like fruits that hang on the tree into winter. There are some dwarf selections that are one-third the size and better choices for a regular-sized yard.
When, Where and How to Plant
Tulip trees are hardy to zone 5 and perhaps zone 4 in a protected spot. Purchase trees from a local nursery and plant in spring to early fall in a full sun location on moist, well-drained, compost-amended soil. Avoid hot, dry sites. Space trees at least 40 feet apart, closer for dwarf selections.
Keep young trees well watered. They will drop leaves if drought stressed. Mulch trees with bark mulch or wood chips to protect the shallow roots. Create a mulch ring around the drip line of trees planted in lawns to keep the soil consistently moist and reduce damage to the trunk due to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Fertilize young trees with a tree plant food. Older trees generally don’t need fertilization.
Regional Advice and Care
Prune tulip trees in late winter to remove dead, diseased or broken branches. Tulip tree branches are brittle and can break easily during winter storms. Tulip trees don’t have many significant pest problems. Aphids may attack leaves, causing damage and sooty mold disease to occur. Aphids are only practical to control on young trees with sprays of insecticidal soap.
Companion Planting and Design
Most selections of tulips trees grow quickly to a large size. Care should be given where they are planted. Generally, planting in an open, park-like setting, large yard or edge of the forest is best. Avoid areas close to power lines or buildings. Since the flowers attract bees and hummingbirds, it’s a good tree to plant if growing flowers and fruits and trying to attract pollinators to your landscape. Tulip trees are also hosts for the larval form of the swallowtail butterfly.
‘Majestic Beauty’ is an unusual tulip tree introduction with variegated yellow and green leaves. ‘Arnold’ and ‘Little Volunteer’ are dwarf selections that grow 30 to 50 feet tall and 8 to 15 feet wide in a columnar shape. These are good choices for smaller yards and for along streets.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.