Plant Spotlight on Tuliptree

As one of the largest hardwood trees in North America, tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) can grow up to 120 feet in height in garden zones 4 to 9. The tuliptree, often called the Yellow Poplar or Tulip Poplar, is named for its large yellow and orange cup-like flowers that honey bees smother when the tree is in bloom. Its flowers are heavy-scented and filled with nectar.

Environmental advantages of the tree include its attractiveness to hummingbirds and butterflies. In the fall, the tree has bold yellow leaves that make an outstanding display. Its seeds provide food for cardinals, finches, goldfinches, chickadees, squirrels, chipmunks and mice. Woodpeckers known as yellow-bellied sap-suckers love the tuliptree sap and will drill rows of holes into the bark in order to reach the sap. They can sometimes do considerable damage to a tree drilling into its bark.

When, Where, and How to Plant the Tuliptree

Plant tuliptrees in the early spring in a rich, fertile soil that is high in organic matter and well drained. Tuliptrees prefer bright sun. They will flower less and be more susceptible to disease in shadier conditions. Tuliptrees do not do well in highly urban environments because they cannot tolerate pollution well. To plant the tree, remove all burlap, rope, and wire then water the root ball well before planting. Dig a hole the same depth of the root ball, but at least 2 times as broad when planting. Water very regularly until the tree is established.

Tuliptree Growing Tips

Mulching the tree with several inches of compost out to the drip line annually will help the tree hold moisture. Pruning is not regularly required; however, tuliptrees are known to have brittle branches that break in high winds. The branches, sprouts, and crossed branches can be trimmed off at any time.

Advice and Care for the Tuliptree

Overcrowding tuliptrees or planting them in heavy, damp shade can encourage mildew and fungal issues to develop such as wood rot, gray mold, and verticillium wilt. Plant the trees with plenty of room for air circulation. Discourage yellow-bellied sap suckers by hanging life-like looking owls or inflated snakes in the tree during early spring and late fall when the birds are migrating.

Tuliptrees have a unique leaf that is somewhat tulip shaped in profile. Tuliptrees are also known as the “sap poplar” because its sap regularly drops and sprays off the tree on windy days. This makes planting the tree near a drive-way or street a challenging prospect; the sap lands on cars and can be quite messy. Design plantings in open areas away from cars and building windows with lots of sun exposure.

There are very few cultivars outside of the standard Liriodendron tulipifera variety. ‘Majestic Beauty®’ has bright green, almost chartreuse leaves that are quite striking. It grows to 60 feet high and 25 feet wide. ‘Arnold’ is a columnar tree growing 25 to 50 feet tall, but only about 8 feet wide.

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