The author has an interest in the outdoors and the health benefits of what's found in nature.
The catalpa tree is an ornamental shade tree that produces dense clusters of white flowers and long seed pods. They can grow upwards of 70 feet in height, although more realistically, they typically grow to be around 50 feet.
There are three common catalpa species—two North American and one Chinese:
- Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa): Native to the midwestern United States
- Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides): Native to the southeastern United States
- Chinese Catalpa (Catalpa ovata): Native to western China
Because they are hardy plants that require very little water, various species are often grown outside of their native regions—particularly for their decorative features.
Catalpas are also deciduous trees, meaning they shed their leaves annually—usually in the fall or after the first frost. During this time, they also shed their long seed pods and flowers, which can deter some people from growing the tree.
Quick Facts About Catalpa Trees
|Northern Catalpa||Southern Catalpa||Chinese Catalpa|
Other Common Names
Cigar tree, Catawba Tree, Hardy Catalpa, and Western Catalpa
Cigar Tree, Catawba Tree, and Indian Bean Tree
Yellow Catalpa and Japanese Catalpa
Heart-shaped; 6–10 in long and 6–8 in wide
Heart-shaped; 4–8 in long and 6–8 in wide
Heart-shaped; 10 in long and wide
Trumpet-shaped, white with purple and orange patches inside
Trumpet-shaped, white with purple and orange patches inside
Trumpet-shaped, yellowish-white with purple and orange patches inside
Bean-like pods 8–20 in long
Bean-like pods 8–20 in long
Bean-like pods up to 12 in long
50–150 years (depending on conditions)
50–150 years (depending on conditions)
50–150 years (depending on conditions)
USDA Hardiness Zones
Slightly larger than its southern cousin
Leaves produces smelly odor when crushed
Smaller than its North American cousins and has a distinct, creamy yellow flower coloration
What Are Catalpa Trees Used For?
Catalpas are mainly used for their ornamental features.
They make excellent decorative plants for large areas including yards and parks. The large size and broad, heart-shaped leaves also make them great shade trees.
Some of its more notable attributes are the flowers and bean-like pods. Come springtime, beautiful and fragrant clusters of white, trumpet- or bell-shaped flowers cover the tree. The flowers resemble an iris, with its purple and yellow coloration on the inside. The fruits, which resemble green beans, hang down from the branches and provide another visually intriguing feature.
Can You Eat the Beans on a Catalpa Tree?
The "beans" have no known nutritional or savory qualities.
Although the fruits resemble bean pods (hence the name "Indian bean tree"), they're not usually eaten.
That being said, they are used in traditional medicine as treatments for ailments ranging from skin infections to conjunctivitis to asthma, although there is no scientific evidence backing these claims. According to the USDA, seeds and pods were used by pioneers in the 19th century to treat asthma, whooping cough, and various heart diseases.
Medicinal Uses of Catalpa Tree Parts
Teas and poultices made from the bark and leaves are often used in herbal medicine as laxatives and mild sedatives, and to treat skin wounds and abrasions, infections, snake bites, and even malaria. There is also some scientific evidence for the diuretic properties of Catalpa fruits (pods and seeds).
Although the fruits, bark, and leaves are considered safe, according to The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by medical herbalist Andrew Chevallier, the Catalpa roots are highly poisonous. Therefore, herbal preparations should be handled by or under the guidance of a specialist.
Ideal Growing Conditions for a Catalpa
Full sunlight or partial shade
Good drainage with pH of 5.5–6.
When young, water only when soil surface is dry. Water less once mature.
How to Grow a Catalpa Tree From Seed
You can grow a catalpa tree from cuttings, but it's easier to grow them from seeds.
1. Collect the pods and store them in a cool, dry area.
Collect the pods after the leaves fall—once the pods are sufficiently dried but before the seeds have fallen from open pods. Store the pods in a cool, dry area. When you're ready, the seeds may be separated from the pods and placed in packets.
2. Plant the seeds in a pot with good drainage.
Catalpa trees grow best with low moisture, so make sure the pot or ground soil has good drainage.
Fill the pot with potting soil (pH 5.5–7) and place a few seeds on top. Lightly cover the seeds with more potting soil—no more than 1 inch in depth.
If you choose not to grow them in a planter then plant the seeds in the spring in warm, loose, and rich soil.
3. Lightly water the seeds, and place the pot in a shaded area.
The young seedlings won't be able to handle the intensity of full sunlight yet, so keep them in a shaded area with mild temperatures (60–70 ºF).
Continually monitor the seedlings and keep the soil moist but not soaked.
4. Transplant the seedlings to progressively larger pots.
Within a couple of months, the seedlings will be a few inches tall with one or two leaves. You can certainly transplant them to the desired permanent location, but it is recommended to continue growing them in pots over the first winter. This makes it easier to care for the young plant and prevent weeds, pests, and diseases from damaging it.
Use fresh potting soil each time to ensure the plant gets enough nutrients. No fertilizers are required.
5. Transplant the tree into your garden or lawn.
Spring is the best time to move the young catalpa to its permanent home. Choose a location that receives full sunlight or only partial shade.
Again, the soil should be slightly acidic and have good drainage. Dig a hole that's a little larger and wider than the pot the seedling is in. Remove any roots, weeds, or other debris.
Carefully remove the seedling and place it in the hole. As you cover the roots with soil, adjust the roots so that they point outwards and downwards. This ensures healthy growth and prevents the roots from surfacing in the future.
Continue watering the young tree—just enough to keep the soil moist. Applying mulch can help retain moisture and prevent weeds from sprouting.
Things to Consider When Growing a Catalpa
Mess and Potential Damage
Despite their beauty and intrigue, catalpa trees are large and messy. For these reasons, be mindful of the area that the roots and branches can cover. Avoid planting catalpas near buildings, fences, sidewalks, and plumbing or electrical lines.
The tree sheds heavily in the fall and winter, littering the leaves, flowers, and seeds over sidewalks, driveways, and cars. Regular maintenance is required to keep the mess under control.
The catalpa sphinx caterpillar (Ceratomia catalpae) is the main pest, whose larvae eat through the leaves. Although a catalpa tree can tolerate this, if the caterpillar population isn't controlled, consecutive generations of larvae can completely rid the tree of leaves and kill it.
Other pests include rabbits that can chew through young stems and grubs that eat young seeds.
If you notice that the leaves are covered with a white, powdery substance, the tree may have powdery mildew. If this is isolated to certain branches or areas of the tree, you can prune these parts to prevent the fungus from spreading. Spraying fungicides or a natural alternative can also help control the disease.
Another fungal disease that can affect catalpas is verticillium wilt. The fungus invades the root system and clogs up the vasculature, cutting off water supply and causing branches to die off. Leaves may turn yellow and brown before falling off. The symptoms are similar to dehydration, but more watering will not solve the problem. Applying fungicides at the roots and/or increasing the nitrogen concentration in the soil may help.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is the catalpa tree poisonous to dogs?
Answer: For the most part, catalpa trees are not poisonous. The poisonous parts of the tree are the roots and possibly the leaves as well. Both of these are poisonous to humans and animals alike. The flowers and beans are said to not be poisonous, though.
Question: We have a 60-year-old catalpa that my grandfather planted. It is about 50' high and a diameter of 3'. We have to cut it down to rebuild the home that it is next to. Is the catalpa wood useful as flooring, or beams or other types of uses as it might be cut into lumber?
Answer: Catalpa is an excellent wood for flooring and lumber. Also, one if its main historical uses was as wood beams. So it'll be fine for that too. It's a very underrated hardwood that is suited for many uses, decorative and functional.
Question: My great grandfather planted numerous catalpa trees on our farm over 100 years ago. To this day, not one sapling has ever germinated from the millions of seeds that have fallen. Why is this?
Answer: The likely answer is that catalpas naturally grow in the rich, well-drained soils found along streams, creeks, and rivers. Outside of that environment, it is good to grow it in soil with similar attributes.
The section "Planting-Site" in the document at https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/historicpublications/... provides more details on the soil and growing environment that the Northern catalpa prefers.
Question: My Catalpa tree is several years old and about 8 foot tall, but has never bloomed, any suggestions?
Answer: It's hard to tell but the likely answer is that the tree may not have reached that growth stage. Which is usually around when the tree is three to five years old or so. You could contact a tree care company local to you to look at the tree. As long as the tree looks healthy it will have its first bloom sooner or later within the coming years.
Question: Are there male & female catalpa trees?
Answer: From what I've read, catalpa trees contain both male and female features/'parts' and catalpa trees are best described as being both male and female.
The flowers are typically pollinated by insects that are attracted by its flowers and their nectar. They distribute the pollen within the flower to pollinate it.
Some close-up photos of the tree's flowers:
Question: We have one that's about 15 years old and has never flowered nor had beans on it. It always looks healthy with lovely large leaves. Why?
Answer: Your catalpa is, more than likely, the Nana variety which is non-flowering.
Question: Can I remove the dead crown of our very young catalpa tree which has been living in a root bag for some 18 months now?
Answer: It should be fine to remove the dead leaves and any dead branches at the crown. Just be sure that you're removing only dead branches
Question: Does a catalpa tree need pruning?
Answer: A catalpa tree doesn't necessarily need pruning but, like with most other trees, pruning can be beneficial. Especially when pruning weaker branches and suckers that grow from the roots.
Question: Are catalpa pods edible?
Answer: I've never tried them myself but I've heard that their flavor isn't all that great. They're not toxic though and have been used for making teas.
Question: My catalpa has yellow leaves. What does it need?
Answer: The yellow and wilting leaves on your catalpa tree could be due to the Verticillium fungus. One symptom of the fungus affecting your tree is the yellowing and wilting of leaves. Usually on only one side or one section of your tree.
Another symptom can be seen by peeling back part of the bark on your tree and seeing dark streaks. Since the Verticillium fungus is in the soil, it is very hard to treat, and can only be slowed by building up your tree's resistance to it. More information can be found at https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/di...
Another cause of yellow leaves could be due to drought. It can be relatively easily treated by regularly watering your tree. Look under the section Preventing Drought-Related Wilt at http://homeguides.sfgate.com/causes-wilting-catalp... for more information.
Question: A catalpa is growing close to my house and might be growing into my drain pipes. If I cut it down how can I kill the stump without pulling it out and endangering my pipes?
Answer: The first thing to do is to cut the stump as close to the ground as you can. Depending on how big the tree is, you should drill anywhere around a dozen or so holes in the stump. The holes should be drilled with a one-inch drill bit and drilled to a depth of around 10 inches.
Then mix rock salt or Epsom salt with a small amount of warm water and fill the holes with the solution. After doing so, cover the whole stump with a dark tarp or a black trash bag for a few months. Although it is unlikely that any saplings will pop up, it is a good idea to keep on the lookout for them and to remove them if you see them.
Question: Can I use the leaves of catalpa for mulch?
Answer: Yes, you can. Though it's best to shred the catalpa leaves first, due to their size, so that they decay faster.
Question: How far should you plant a Catalpa tree from your home?
Answer: Planting a Catalpa tree about 40 feet from your home should be a good enough distance.
Question: Why are there no leaves coming on my Catalpa, but some leaves are sprouting from the trunk?
Answer: Your tree may be dying due to disease, stress, or its age.
Question: I’ve seen some of these trees looking like an umbrella. Is that a certain species or do they prune them to make them do that?
Answer: There is a dwarf species of the catalpa, sometimes referred to as the umbrella catalpa or nana catalpa, that grows naturally with an umbrella-like shape to its canopy.
Question: Do Catalpa trees have to flower before the worms come out?
Answer: The appearance of catalpa worms is not dependent upon when catalpa trees flower and they can appear more than once throughout the spring and summer season.
Question: I have a catalpa tree and it flowers beautifully, but it has never had pods. Is this because I only have one?
Answer: Catalpa trees are self-pollinating so only having one tree is not a problem. It could be that your tree is still young. Catalpas do not develop seed pods until they are around five years old or so. If it is over that age, then it's possible that it is somehow not able to pollinate itself due to your environment or a lack of insects that aid in the tree's self-pollination.
Question: I have 5 beautiful Catalpa trees that have been here for 25+ years. They have all bloomed beautifully at the end of June, early July. This year 3 of them are brown and look terrible. Just a few green leaves in a small area on two of them. The pods are shriveled and brown and didn’t shed in fall/winter. I live in an area that is sandy and well-drained soil. Any ideas what it might be? Will they maybe come back next year?
Answer: Given how long the trees have been there, it's possible that the affected trees are stressed due to the current environmental conditions in your area. Or they could be being affected by a fungus. They could rebound next year but it'd be best to have a professional inspect your trees in person and tell you what's going on with them.
Question: I have 3 Catalpa bungei trees. Every year it seems like a large section of a tree is dead, or this year, my largest tree has about a quarter of the tree stunted with small partly brown leaves. I have used liquid iron and miracle grow to try and bring it out of it. Anything I’m missing?
Answer: The problems with your trees may be deeper than problems with nutrients. It's possible that your trees may be in decline or being exposed to chemicals that harm them. It's hard to tell not seeing the tree in person though. The best advice would be to have your tree inspected by a local professional, if possible.
Question: My catalpa leaves do change and fall off before all other trees. I live in Oklahoma and they start changing in August. Is the heat at fault?
Answer: Yes, it may be due to the heat and drought condition. You can help the tree during the season by watering the tree. Drought-related leaf loss isn't known to be harmful in most cases, but it is best to water the tree as a precaution. You can find instructions on how to properly water your catalpa at https://homeguides.sfgate.com/causes-wilting-catal...
Question: From where do catalpa trees originate?
Answer: The majority of the species of catalpa trees are native to North America. Other species of catalpa are native to the Carribean and Asia, mainly China.
Question: We have two catalpa trees. The first one we planted about fourteen years ago has been getting fewer, and smaller leaves the past two years. The other one that we planted more recently is very lush, with large leaves. Do you have any idea what may be wrong with the older one?
Answer: It's hard to tell without seeing the tree in person and it may be best to contact a professional in your area to look at your tree. With that said, one thing that can cause the semi-sudden loss of foliage could be catalpa worms. If the defoliation caused by these worms continues for a few seasons, it's possible that it could kill the tree. More on catalpa infestations can be read at: https://ask.extension.org/questions/268066
As for other diseases that affect catalpa trees, visit: https://extension.psu.edu/catalpa-diseases
Question: It is May here in Michigan, and my Catalpa tree has no leaves or growth showing yet - is that normal?
Answer: It could be. Just as long as the tree seemed healthy during the last season, and hasn't been damaged. The Catalpa is typically the last tree to bud, and grows leaves in the spring. In your area, it could take as long as the end of May or so before it begins budding.
Question: Do catalpas produce sap like a maple or birch tree that could be collected?
Answer: They don't produce sap that can be collected.
Question: I live in the Denver area and I thought my tree was a western catalpa. How’s can I tell which variety it is? Also, it blooms later than every other catalpa in the neighborhood and has since we planted it years ago. Why is that?
Answer: Western catalpa is just another name for the northern catalpa. There's a variety of reasons on why your catalpa blooms later than others in your neighborhood. It could be related to where it was planted (slope-wise), microclimates, and even your catalpa's individual genetics.
There's an article at https://northernwoodlands.org/outside_story/articl... which provides more information on why trees will leaf out and/or flower later than those of its same variety.
Question: Can I grow a catalpa tree in North Texas weather?
Answer: Depending on where you live in North Texas, you may be able to grow a catalpa tree. Your best chances would be with a Southern Catalpa since it can be grown in zones 5 to 9. North Texas mainly lies within the 6b to 9a growing zones.
The two other species, the Northern Catalpa and the Chinese Catalpa, can both grow within zones 4 to 8. So, you may be able to grow these trees if you live in a zone within that range. Visit https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ to see which zone you live in.
Question: I started out with 25+ sprouted seeds and am down to about 10. I have gotten rid of the whiteflies with insecticidal soap, moved them back and forth to sunny porches this summer and progressively planted them in larger pots with peat moss and fresh potting soil when the rain soaked them too much. They are now inside in a cold sunroom (50 degrees) today to get them cold "stratified". How can I keep them from dying?
Answer: As long as your surviving seedlings seem healthy then you should keep them in the sunroom. Water them as usual and make sure there is proper drainage in the pots. Once spring comes you should be able to plant them outdoors using fresh potting soil. If you have any other concerns about your seedlings that have survived it's probably best to contact a nursery to look at your seedlings in person. They may be able to provide more help and details in helping you keep your catalpa seedlings healthy and alive.
As for cold stratification, that applies to seeds before germination. You can read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratification_(seed...
Question: How close to a septic field can you plant a northern catalpa tree?
Answer: To be on the safe side, I'd plant it 40 to 50 feet from a septic field.
Question: Last fall a hurricane took uprooted my catalpa tree. We cut it off about a foot from the ground. Will the shoots that come up from it bear flowers in time?
Answer: If the shoots survive and grow into a mature tree or trees, then yes it will develop flowers in a few years.
Question: Is it normal for a Catalpa tree to keep its seed pods from year to year?
Answer: Yes, that can happen and it's common for seed pods to remain on the tree, even after autumn. It won't affect the tree though. Sooner or later, the old seed pods should fall off when it's windy.
Question: We have a dead northern catalpa tree we would like to cut for our fire pit. Is it good wood to use for campfires or even for a wood stove to heat a home?
Answer: Northern catalpa wood is fine to burn for campfires and in fire pits. As for burning it in a wood stove it's best to season it first. Like with any other wood, burning it green can possibly produce an unpleasant smell or cause creosote buildup in your chimney.
It may not produce as much heat or burn as long as harder woods but it's fine to use in a wood stove. Unless you're really particular, you're unlikely to notice the difference between burning it and other woods for heat. You can also mix it with hard woods, while burning it in your wood stove, for more heat if needed.
Question: Can I burn the wood of a Catalpa trees?
Answer: You can burn the wood in a wood stove or a fireplace but know that it burns up quicker than most woods. It's also good for starting a fire for heating.
Question: The leaves on my catalpa tree have holes where I believe an insect of some sort is chewing through. I was going to apply Sevin which I know nothing about as a friend gave it to me to try. Instead, I decided to ask an expert! What are the holes from and what is the remedy?
Answer: The holes on the leaves of your catalpa tree are likely from the catalpa worm. As long as the worms aren't defoliating your tree year after year, they won't harm it.
You can use Sevin on your tree to get rid of the catalpa worms but that should be avoided. Especially since it is also harmful to honey bees, who are attracted to the flowers of a blooming catalpa tree.
Also, catalpa worms are really useful as bait for fishing. You can have any people that you know, who enjoy fishing, to collect them as bait. You could also collect as many as you can then give the catalpa worms to any live bait shop in your area. Most bait shops will even pay you for them.
Question: Can we dig up and move an established catalpa tree that is about 2 feet in size?
Answer: You should be able to move your catalpa as long as you don't damage the tree or roots (which could possibly make it susceptible to disease in the future). You should do it in the fall when the tree is dormant.
Here's a guide on moving a tree: https://myminnesotawoods.files.wordpress.com/2009/... and some tips specifically relating to moving/transplanting a catalpa tree: https://www.houzz.com/discussions/1670873/transpla...
Question: When do Catalpa trees typically leaf out in zone 9b?
Answer: My estimate, for your zone, is that your catalpa should leaf out around the end of April to mid-May, possibly sooner. Usually by mid-May the leaves are near full or full size.
Question: Our catalpa has no leaves on its branches except for one at the bottom. The leaves are small, and they grew out of the bark, not buds. Is this strange? Does it mean that the tree is almost dead? Last summer it had lots of holes in its leaves. We thought that something was eating the leaves, so my husband decided to spray it and another tree with permethrin. Could that have caused this to happen?
Answer: The permethrin would not be the cause of the current state of your tree. It is possible that catalpa worms have fed on the leaves of your tree, but it's hard to tell without seeing the tree in person. If needed, it is best for a professional, local to you, to inspect the tree up close for damage or to see if the tree is dead.
Question: Can a catalpa tree live after it has started to bud and a frost comes and kills all the fresh buds?
Answer: Catalpas, like other trees, can endure a light or hard frost that damages its buds. It will grow healthy new buds and your tree will be fine.
Question: How far apart should I plant my Catalpa trees? They are about 18” tall
Answer: You should plant them 20 to 25 feet apart.
Question: Our friend gave us a couple of what he said were young catalpa trees. The leaves look like catalpa however these two young trees already have small flower pods that have small yellow flowers. Are these Catalpa or a weed or something else? Your assistance will be appreciated.
Answer: Since the flowers are yellow it's unlikely that they are catalpa trees. It's hard to tell without a photo but you can have a professional local to you look at them (or photos of them) and tell you if it's they're trees, flowers, or otherwise.
Question: Is there any way to prevent the Catalpa tree beans from developing?
Answer: Pinscher PGR and Atrimmec are two products that can reduce the amount and size of the beans on your catalpa tree. Neither product claims 100% effectiveness in preventing the growth of the beans and Pinscher PGR is best applied by a professional for various reasons. Lastly, the products can be a bit pricey.
Question: We have worms or caterpillars that eat the Catalpa plant leaves. This year, they ate every leaf on the tree. It hasn’t happened before. Is this normal?
Answer: Yes, it is normal and it's rare that it'll actually harm the tree. The catalpa can withstand and survive catalpa worms eating all of its foliage. You can read more about this at https://www.gardensalive.com/product/ybyg-the-stra...
Question: Can I build a treehouse in a 35-year-old tree?
Answer: You might be able to build a platform with railings or a light treehouse in your catalpa tree. That is, depending on the diameter of the branches that will be supporting it. If you feel that the tree isn't sturdy enough or if the branches aren't large enough to support the weight of the construction (such as a fully constructed treehouse), or people standing on it, then it's best not to build the treehouse and instead build one on stilts. Which will prevent putting weight and stress on the branches?
Here are a couple of articles outlining cautions and safety tips regarding treehouses:
Question: This year, we don’t have any leaves on our catalpa tree. Is it dead, or could this be just or this season from a late spring snow?
Answer: The damage was, as you suspect, probably caused by the late spring snow that you had and there's a small chance that your catalpa may recover this season or next season. The forum thread at https://garden.org/thread/view/92128/Catalpa-dead/ may also give you more insight into what happened with your catalpa.
Question: How many seeds does it take to grow one catalpa tree?
Answer: It only takes one healthy seed to grow a catalpa tree. To grow them from seed, get one of the seed pods in autumn - after they've turned brown - and carefully open the seed pod/bean length-wise. Do not remove the seeds from the pod. Having the seed pod partially open will help the seeds sprout more easily in spring.
Take the pod and plant it in a pot that is large enough for it to fit in. Cover the pod with a half-inch of soil. Leave the pot outdoors throughout the autumn and winter season to expose it to the cold (cold stratification). You can also plant the seed pod in the ground at a half an inch down.
In spring, you should begin to see sprouts popping up. When they're about an inch or two tall, carefully separate the sprouts, keeping the healthiest ones, and transplant them where you want your tree(s) to be.
Question: How long does it take for roots to grow on a Catalpa cutting?
Answer: The amount of time it takes for Catalpa cutting to begin growing roots can vary, but it can be as soon as a few weeks. It is best to keep your young Catalpa growing indoors though and then planting it outdoors during the following spring.
That is if you feel that it is ready to be planted outdoors. Most Catalpas from cuttings will be ready. Doing so will give it the best chance of survival, while still caring for it properly after you plant it outdoors.
Question: When do I prune my catalpa ?
Answer: You can prune your catalpa whenever you choose. If you want to avoid sap leaking from where you've pruned the tree, for visual reasons, then it's best to do it in the late spring or in the summer. That's when there's far less sap flowing through the tree. The catalpa can withstand being pruned any time during the year though since it's not susceptible to the insects and diseases that affect other trees.
Question: I have a young sapling (planted a few months ago). It's going into the winter season here and the leaves on the bottom turned yellow. I assume this is due to fall and not fungus. Is it alright to overwinter my Catalpa tree in the house or best to leave the pot outside in the snow?
Answer: The leaves turning yellow in the fall is normal. On bringing your sapling into your house for the winter, that'd be fine. Just be sure to store the tree in an unheated part of your home. Such as a garage, an unheated porch, or a cellar.
If you do decide to keep it outdoors then you can insulate the pot and protect the tree from winter winds with a makeshift windbreak. There are some helpful tips at https://www.pennlive.com/gardening/2010/11/trees_i... on how to take care of potted trees over the winter.
Question: What can I grow under a catalpa tree?
Answer: Mainly, any flowers that are shade tolerant are good for growing under a catalpa. Very large and quick-spreading plants or vines are best avoided though.
Personally, I think that bee balm, hellebore, wild violets, forget-me-nots, and the Siberian iris are the best plants/flowers to grow beneath a catalpa, especially given their colors. They will grow while tolerating the partial to full shade that a mature catalpa tree provides.
Question: We have a fifteen-year-old Catalpa tree which I have always trimmed in the fall to restrict its height growth. It has always produced flowers and seed pods. However, this year it started to drop some of its leaves throughout the summer. I've also noticed that it has not produced seed pods, even though there was an abundance of flowers in the early spring. Could you offer advice on the cause?
Answer: It's hard to tell without seeing the tree in person but perhaps the summer season has been rough on your Catalpa, and that's the reason it has dropped leaves It may have also dropped some of its underdeveloped seed pods. Even though what's going on with your Catalpa seem bad, it's unlikely that these are signs that your tree is dying. That will be dependent on how it does next spring into late summer. If you choose, it might be best to get a local professional to look at your tree to see if it's still healthy and not diseased.
Question: I live in Denver and I have a large Northern catalpa in my back yard (canopy is about 35' diameter and the trunk is 2.5' diameter). I want to build a garage near it. How close can I put the foundation (about 18" deep) to the base of the tree?
Answer: Around 20 feet from the base of your Northern catalpa should be ok. Any damage done to the roots, in the unlikely event that any are present where you're digging the foundation, will likely be minimal. For reference, here's an example of a large Northern catalpa that's growing near a house without any problem: https://imgur.com/a/VhHZbRM
© 2014 Ron Noble
Ron Noble (author) on July 31, 2020:
Louise Sirois, it might be best to have a professional in your area look at the tree to make sure that your tree hasn't been damaged in any way that might affect its health. Any damage could also make it a danger, as the tree grows, to people and property in the future.
Ron Noble (author) on July 31, 2020:
Penny Stranks, about keeping them in their pots and placing the pots in the ground would be the best choice. The completely fill in the spaces between the pots and the holes in the ground with dirt.
Then once the ground is frozen, place 4 inches of wood mulch around the tree, and a few inches away from the trunk, to help protect the trees' roots from frigid temperatures.
Louise Sirois. on July 29, 2020:
We purchased a Catalpa tree 2years ago. It is about 15 feet high and is beautiful. It also had a few flowers this year. The problem we have is that the main branch that was straight upword with the high wind has flexed tow right from the top and odd looking
What should I do?
Penny Stranks on July 28, 2020:
I live in Ottawa, Ontario Canada and I started 2 Catalpa seeds in a small pot. Within 3 weeks I had green poking through. Now each of the trees are 28" high and I'm wondering how to store these 2 trees for winter so I can plant them in the spring outside. How do I over winter them, My garage isn't big enough to store them in there and I'm wondering if I should leave them in their pots, dig big holes and place pot and all in the ground and then protect them from our very cold, harsh winters. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Ron Noble (author) on July 27, 2020:
After planting, it could take up to seven years for the tree to begin flowering. Watering it during times of drought is fine. Some tips on when to water a catalpa tree can be found at https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/...
Christine Boyd on July 23, 2020:
Hi Ron! We planted a 8' tall N. Catalpa tree last year as summer was winding down to fall. Its doing well, just no flowers yet. Is it size, age or time from when you transplant that affects when a new tree begins blooming?
Also, will over watering affect it? We thought a new tree needed more water so we drip water for maybe a day once a week during warmer months, not in winter as it gets darn cold with some snow. Thank you!
Bram on June 27, 2020:
I have a Catalpa that is creating havoc: it's in a small city garden and has grown out of control. I need to cut it down as it is leaning sideways and in the next storm may smash into the roof of the house. However if I just cut off the crown and leave the trunk at a height of 6 feet is there a chance it may recover and have branches sprout from it? My neighbours reckon it is about 14 years old. I hate to kill it completely but just chopping the branches in autumn isn't going to help.
Chad courneya on June 20, 2020:
I planted a garden and have these trees in my yard and my neighbor had told me previous years she had a garden in the white mildew from the trees kill her garden what do I do to prevent this does anybody know I do not want to cut the trees down there beautiful
Ron Noble (author) on March 15, 2020:
Liz pugliese it can harm the tree if its roots were damaged while you were digging and during the placing of the cement blocks. Also, the blocks can lead to the roots not being able to take in water and oxygen.
More information can be found at https://homeguides.sfgate.com/concrete-around-tree...
Liz pugliese on March 14, 2020:
We have a huge catalpa that is probably about 80 years old. I built a cement block bed around it, a foot deep, and planted ferns. Now I’m reading that can kill old trees. I can remove it all if this is a real possibility.....any ideas?
Dana on September 19, 2019:
I live in Kansas and I have what I believe is a Catalpa tree in my yard. It used to be a beautiful dense umbrella shaped tree. Over the last 3 years it is slowly dying. I want to save it, but not sure I can. I would also like to grow another tree from it, but it doesn't produce beans, or flowers. Any help would be appreciated.
Larry on August 29, 2019:
The worms that eat the leaves are great fish bait.
Ron Noble (author) on August 23, 2019:
Here's a good guide on pruning a catalpa: https://www.hunker.com/12526734/how-to-prune-a-cat...
Theresa on August 22, 2019:
How do you prune these trees? Ours has a lot of dead limbs
Brian Dooling from Connecticut on August 05, 2019:
Hi Ron, great article! It's so funny because I just came across a Catalpa tree for the first time last week at a nature center in Connecticut. I was drawn to the long seed pods and wondered what it was. There was a plaque near the tree that referred to it as a "cigar tree" and then I log into HubPages and came across your article. Such great information! Thanks for sharing.
Ron Noble (author) on July 27, 2019:
Mendi, this may describe why water is dripping from the leaves of your catalpa. Especially since you've said that you've received a lot of rain this year.
Mendi on July 24, 2019:
I have a catalpa tree and I noticed it's dropping a substance from it. It's not sticky but looks like a mini rainfall under it. I know we've gotten a lot of rain this year and wondered if that was the problem but there's no dieing or brown leaves no wilting no nothing. Any ideas?
Ron Noble (author) on June 11, 2019:
It's likely, as you have guessed, that your catalpa is in decline. There may not be much you can do but you may want to contact an arborist to inspect your tree to look for any cracking, splitting, or other problems.
Ron Noble (author) on June 01, 2019:
You may want to contact a local arborist to physically inspect your tree and to recommend any treatment for the fungus and to limit the damage to your catalpa.
Ed Sach (email@example.com) on May 30, 2019:
My catalpa tree is rotten in the division of two branches and has a hole in one of those branches, it seems as if the fungi had ocacionado this. What I can do ? I love my tree!
Thank so much !
frank davidson on May 27, 2019:
after reading these comment i am stunned.. first of all these folks dont know they a money tree the worms are highly prized by fishermen put several dozen in a paper sack with leaves to your local tackle shop they will pay you them
Ron Noble (author) on May 05, 2019:
Karey L, Northern Catalpa trees aren't toxic to horses. If they happen to consume the leaves, flowers, or beans it won't harm them.
Here's a list of trees that are safe, and a list of those that are unsafe, for horse pastures: http://lemen.com/qa253.html
Karey L on April 23, 2019:
I have horses and need to know if the Catalpa tree, or it's leaves or flowers are poisonous to horses. Thanks for your help.
Ron Noble (author) on March 19, 2019:
Denis Kitner, you can use any insecticide that's suited for caterpillars to control them. One such insecticide can be found at https://www.gardensalive.com/product/green-step-ii...
Denis Kitner on March 16, 2019:
We have many large beautiful catalpa trees in our yard in VA that are attacked by the catalpa worms every year. How do we protect our trees from this vicious predator?
keith mitchell on November 17, 2018:
We as kids grew up in Indiana and loved our catalpa tree for the caterpillars we used for fishing. Better than worms. The fish loved them. TX
WillyT on November 08, 2018:
Is it normal for the leaves to all fall off in one Day? We purchased a house 2 years ago with 3 mature Catalpa trees, last year and again this year every leaf fell off of all 3 trees on November 7th.
JWain on September 26, 2018:
I have a 10 year old Catalpa in a pot. It has never flowered. Should I put it into the ground or I’d there something else I can do to get it to flower.?
Jenny Woodward on September 16, 2018:
is there something all natural i can spray on my catalpa to prevent the caterpillars from eating the leaves?
DianeLP on September 04, 2018:
I moved into a home with a HUGE catalpa tree in front yard. Neighbors have already hinted that they view the tree as a "nightmare" because of the leaves. I personally love the tree but am wondering the best way to clean up the leaves when they fall. Will a leaf blower even work on leaves that big? Suggestions on best kind of rake?... I am a woman who lives alone so looking for best plan for this autumn (I live in Vermont). Thanks for any help!!
Jackie Hulbert on September 02, 2018:
I noticed a weed started growing amongst my 3 year old planted lilac bushes first part of May. By end of May the 'weed' was 5' tall w/leaves nearly 8" wide. Found out it is a Catalpa tree, and due to the beautiful flowers it will create, have decided to keep. BUT I need to move to another part of the yard. I am told that I have to wait until leaves fall off, which should be mid-Oct/1st-Nov. (central part of Minnesota). By then the ground will have started to freeze, so I plan to start digging a hole in a couple of weeks. My questions are: how deep, how wide, how to protect this newly planted tree from the cold for now; how badly will this disturb my lilac bushes and what do I need to do to protect them for just this year? Oh yes - the tree is now over 6' and trunk is about 2" wide.
Ron Noble (author) on August 29, 2018:
Here are some links that I found that give details on how to transplant a catalpa.:
This second link below also includes links to pdf files, in parts 1 and 2, that provide even more detail on transplanting a tree.
One final pdf document with detailed transplanting instructions is at https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/51811
These documents provide details on how to dig your tree out, provide advice on root pruning, and on how to replant your tree for the best chances of surviving the transplant.
Jim willeford on August 29, 2018:
I have 2 -3 footers that sprouted this past spring. How far around (diameter) and how deeply should I dig to remove the tree from it's chosen spot.
Also, I have heard that is good to prune the roots. Should I do this on such a young tree? One last thing? Should I build a mound and plant high, or?
charles gardner on April 02, 2018:
if its a southern catalpa you might be having a problem due to the colder temps
Bill Bromley on April 01, 2018:
Same issue as Bett : I have tried 9 catalpa seeds. They pop up fast and furious , then die at about 3" in height. I have tried migrating to incrementally larger pots and using plant food. I have one that has not grown at all in height for two months but appears to be alive.
Kind of like the Monty Python Parrot Sketch. Maybe dead , maybe just asleep.
Planted this in Ontario , Canada in December , but a fair bit of sunlight on the window ledge facing south.
Frustrating , because I so badly want two or three on my property.
Robyn Thornton on March 03, 2018:
Something this article forgot to mention is that a lot of these trees attract a specific type of caterpillars that only eat the leaves of catalpa trees. So don't plant these trees if you don't want a bunch of worms crawling around your yard. They won't hurt you or the tree, but they can defoliate them. They are NOT hurting the tree in any way, and do NOT kill them if they appear!
bett on December 07, 2017:
I have been trying to grow a catalpa tree from seeds. they get about three inches in height then die. what am I doing wrong? I have tried part sun, low sun. I have used last years seeds and done everything that the different web sites have suggested. if anyone can give advise I would be greatful.
Pam W. on October 18, 2017:
I would love to have some seeds from the fisherman tree if someone is interested in selling any.
ain't no thing but a chicken wing on August 19, 2017:
What are some uses you can do with catalpa beans? i have a ton of them but i don't know what to do with them
jeannette krane on May 06, 2017:
Are catalpa trees affected by drought by winter night frost without extra water after October shut off?
Do I need to hand water during winter?