How to Care for Tulip Trees

Updated on July 15, 2018
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful things in the garden. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Background

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, tulip trees thrive in hardiness zones 4 through 9, which covers almost the entire continental U.S. These trees generally grow quickly, at a rate of about 2 feet per year, and can reach heights of 70 to 150 feet in the forest and 40 feet wide at maturity. Tulip trees grown rurally are still large, but commonly grow only up to 90 feet tall. Tree trunks can often measure greater than 7 feet wide. Tulip tree flower petals are also large, frequently 3 to 8 inches long. According to Britannica, the tulip tree will reach full stature at about 200 years old.

Tulip trees thrive in full-sun conditions and prefer at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day, suggests the Arbor Day Foundation. Plant tulip trees in acidic, well-draining soil. Although the tree prefers normal moisture levels, it can tolerate drought in locations with high humidity.

Tulip trees bloom in two different colors: yellow and pinkish purple. The yellow flowering variety is often known as the Yellow Poplar (although it is not a true polar), whereas the pinkish flowering variety is commonly known as the Pink Magnolia, Chinese Magnolia or Japanese Magnolia. Both trees are part of the Liriodendron Tulipifera classification. Tulip trees commonly bloom in late spring, around May or June with fruit maturation commonly in September through October.

Many historical figures have had a relationship with the tulip tree. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, George Washington planted tulip trees at Mount Vernon, and Daniel Boone used the wood of the tree for a canoe.

How to Plant

Plant the tulip tree as you would any other bare-root plant.

  1. Remove the plant from the packaging and examine roots for damage. Use a sterilized, sharp knife to remove any rotten pieces.
  2. Protect the roots from drying out, but avoid soaking them in water for more than 12 hours. Consider soaking burlap in water and covering the roots to keep them moistened.
  3. Dig a hole that about the same size as the root system, and at least 1 foot wider than the original container or packaging.
  4. Set the roots on a firm mount of soil and gently spread the roots to help grip the soil it was set on.
  5. Fill the hole about ¾ full with remaining soil, water, and then press the soil in by hand to create a firm hold.
  6. Re-water and add remaining backfill soil, but do not tamp down.
  7. Form a circular basin about 2 to 3 feet wider than the diameter of the hole to help keep adequate moisture levels; fertilize with a 20-20-20 mix.
  8. Water, and allow it to soak down fully; this allows soil to settle.
  9. Add mulch to retain moisture. Do not fertilize until after the next growing season.

General Care

Although tulip trees can withstand drought in areas with higher humidity, newly planted trees should be watered regularly to help the root system to develop properly. Once the tree is established, you need not water the tree as much. Fertilize the tree before the new growing season.

Pruning is essential due to the rapid growth of this tree. Prune dead wood and weaker limbs in later winter or early spring when the tree is dormant. Thin out the tree about every other year to promote overall health and keep the shape attractive.

Considerations

Due to their massive size, tulip trees make a great addition to parks and rural homes. Avoid planting tulip trees in urban landscapes as they may overpower a smaller home.

Although the tulip tree is not native to California, many tulip trees have been imported to the state as a lining of streets.

Observe tulip trees for “scale” an insect that can invade the tree. Not only does scale deform the tree, it can cause an unsightly dripping sap that can damage cars.

Common Uses

In addition to ornamentation, there are many other uses for the tulip tree. This large hardwood tree is often used for things such as furniture, cabinets and musical instruments. Due to its size, the trees were often used as canoes.

Common Problems

Although the tulip tree is relatively pest free, it is susceptible to scale when left untreated. Planting too many of the same tree so close to each other can exacerbate issues, so consider limiting the number of poplars in any given area.

Due to their extreme height, tulip trees may attract lightning, suggests the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources.

Tulip trees thrive in well-draining soil, and like other trees are susceptible to root rot when exposed to too much standing water.

Questions & Answers

  • I have what appears to be buds or fruit on my tulip tree in mid August. What are they?

    Tulip trees most frequently bloom in May or June, so I can't be sure. Perhaps a change in the typical weather pattern is to blame.

    Consider contacting your local cooperative extension for more a more specific answer about your problem, as they would be more familiar with local issues or oddities. Visit http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm for information on the closest cooperative extension to you.

  • My tulip tree liters my backyard with dead leaves all summer long. Not just a little but a LOT. Any way to prevent this?

    The tree is likely not getting the correct amount of water. Most likely the conditions are too dry to support all those leaves, and so the tree is dropping them like crazy.

    Try watering the tree to reduce the amount of stress the tree is experiencing. A good rule of thumb when watering trees is to give it 5 minutes of watering time for every inch in diameter of the tree trunk. (So an 8-inch tree would need about 40 minutes of watering.)

  • If the tulip tree received too much moisture during the winter (in the form of snow), what does it mean when the tree did not bloom leaves in the spring?

    The tree may be suffering from root rot, but a specialist in your area would be better at diagnosing the issue. Start by contacting someone from a local Cooperative Extension service at a local college. Visit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/extension-search for a list of cooperative extensions near your zip code.

    To help issues with other trees in the future, particularly if your area is susceptible to too much rain or snow, consider adding a mound under trees to help direct water away from the roots.

  • How old does a tulip tree need to be to bloom for the first time?

    Even a mature tulip tree may not bloom for quite some time, even as late as 15 years. Inspect branches high up though, as they tend to flower higher up on the tree first.

Comments

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    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      I suggest contacting your local cooperative extension who might be able to give you a better idea of the problems to your particular area of the country. Visit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/extension-search to type in your zip code and get a list of local professionals.

    • profile image

      Glenda Hayes 

      3 months ago

      My tulip tree isn’t a year old yet but is about 4’ tall the bottom leaves are turning yellow and falling off. It gets watered regularly and is a well drained area. What could be wrong??

    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      Try contacting your local cooperative extension service which may be able to better identify issues specific to your region. Visit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/extension-search for a look-up using your zipcode. Hope they are able to help!

    • profile image

      Becki 

      3 months ago

      My tree is losing leaves and the trunk seems darker. It has been planted about 2 years

    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      4 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      Prune tulip trees in the fall when leaves drop, or in the early spring before sap starts to flow in the tree again.

      Of course, you can do maintenance pruning once the tree has flourished, to take care of any excess growth or damaged limbs.

    • profile image

      wanda hensley 

      4 months ago

      when is the best time to prune tulip tree

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      9 months ago from Norfolk, England

      They are beautiful trees. I'd love one of them in my garden.

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