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Tulip Tree: How to look after this beauty

Nurtured in Norfolk’s gardening expert Martyn Davey answers all your questions about the tulip tree.
If you would like any horticulture query answered please do e-mail our head grower at 
martyn@nurturedinnorfolk.co.uk to add your thoughts to our horticulture hacks.


Dear Martyn, 

Please could you name this tree which grows in Ludham Churchyard, which has given so much pleasure to everyone who admires its lemon and gold leaves in the autumn. Such a sceptical.

It is well established and is fresh and green all summer, forming such a nice shape too. I hope the picture and leaf are enough for you to know what its name is.

B. Gowing Ludham

Dear Reader, 

This is indeed a fine tree and one of those that is not seen as often as possibly we should as it has both flower and autumn colour, Liriodendron tulipifera is the botanical name but it is commonly known as the tulip tree as it has the most amazing green and orange flowers that resemble tulips in summer. The Liriodendron is within the Magnoliaceae family and you can see why when looking at the distinctive flowers.

Liriodendron tulipifera is a vigorous large deciduous tree with distinctively shaped leaves turning butter-yellow in autumn. Flowers 4cm in length, tulip-shaped, yellowish-green, marked with orange within. These are followed by an upright cluster of single winged seeds, not dissimilar in appearance to a cone. You may have to wait until the tree is 20 years old before it will produce flowers but they are well worth the wait.  The tree originates from Eastern North America and thrives in British gardens although you need plenty of room for it as it can reach 12 meters tall and nearly as wide.

For the slightly smaller garden Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Fastigiatum’ common name tulip tree ‘Fastigiatum’. Liriodendron ‘Fastigiatum’ is a broadly columnar tree to 20m tall, with erect branches bearing typical, lobed foliage turning yellow in autumn, and pale green flowers in summer when mature, each petal marked with orange near the base.

This really is an ornamental foliage tree, and it looks wonderful planted as a specimen in grass. It grows quite quickly, and is really only suitable for larger gardens, and it will not flower until the tree is about 25 years old.

When planting, incorporate lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost into the planting hole and stake firmly. Requires minimal pruning. Remove any broken, diseased or crossing branches in late autumn or winter.

When the tree matures the light grey corky bark of the Tulip tree often forms intricate patterns of vertical ridges which add winter interest. The fine grain and large trunk made this an ideal tree for Native Americans to use for canoes.

This trees tolerance of pollution makes it a great urban tree where space permits. It requires a moist fertile soil, ideally slightly acidic but can tolerate chalk. Plant in full sun or part shade.

Jobs for this week: 

When the lawn is not frozen or excessively wet it is a good idea to redefine the edges of the lawn around tree circles and borders.

Take hard wood cuttings now from Cornus, willow, roses and Forsythia they need to be 30cm long and at least as thick as a pencil, insert two thirds of the stem in the soil in a sheltered spot and leave them alone for about a year to root.

Recycle your Christmas tree by shredding it for mulch, or add it to the compost heap.

Martyn Davey – Head Grower 

EDP Gardening Expert Columnist 

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