The most ‘poplar’ tree in the yard

  • Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013 7:00 a.m.

When our son was younger, he would collect the bright yellow leaves as they dropped from the towering tulip poplars in our yard in the fall. He considered them golden treasures and insisted on taping them to the refrigerator door.

Tulip poplars are one of my favorite trees. From the beautiful early fall color that ranges from gold to crisp lemon yellow, to the orange-tinted spring blooms that hide high in the canopy, tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a great choice for the landscape. As it turns out, this magnolia family member, commonly known as yellow poplar, tulip magnolia or tulip tree, is not a poplar after all.

One of the largest deciduous native trees in Eastern forests, tulip poplar makes an impressive shade, street or ornamental tree with rapid growth rates, pleasing pyramidal forms, and its resistance to diseases and insects. They can reach heights between 80 to 120 feet with trunk diameters of 2 to 5 feet.

Tulip poplar serves as an important host plant for both the Tiger Swallowtail and Promethea moth. Squirrels find sustenance from the fruit and white-tailed deer occasionally browse on the twigs.

Fall is the ideal time to plant trees but be sure to do your homework prior to planting. For instance, tulip poplars tolerate a wide pH range (4.5-7.5), but are finicky about the quality of the soil they thrive in, requiring well-drained, loamy soil with high organic matter content. This type of soil is not often found in suburban landscapes where topsoil has been removed.

Before purchasing plants, invest in a soil test and amend the entire planting area ahead of time. To avoid burning tender roots, never add fertilizer when planting new trees.

Tulip poplars are great trees but may not be available in every nursery. When the trees you desire are not readily available in local nurseries, mail ordering bare root trees and shrubs is an excellent alternative.

Although they don’t look like much more than a stick with roots, bare-root plants tend to take off quickly after planting. Typically, bare-root plants are dug to order when they are between one and three years old. Native and ornamental trees such as tulip poplar, oaks and maples along with berries, fruit trees and old-fashioned shrubs are available. The cost associated with bare-root plants is often lower because they are lightweight, easy to handle and require less labor and materials to produce.

Upon receipt of new plants, soak roots in a bucket of water for a few hours prior to planting. Nurseries guard against drying by dipping roots in a slurry of muddy water or high tech “hydrogel” to keep them moist during shipping. Once you receive your order, it’s imperative to plant quickly before the roots begin to dry out.

Gently tease roots apart and place them on a small mound of soil at the bottom of a wide planting hole to encourage them to grow down and outward. Ensure the root flare is still above ground at final planting as trees planted too deeply will ultimately perish. Gently firm the soil around roots as you plant to remove large air pockets that can cause roots to dry out. Never stomp on soil around tree roots as this can cause soil compaction and damage fragile roots.

Water newly planted trees well on the day they are planted. Apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch that extends at least 3 feet in diameter around the base of the tree. A 3-foot diameter or larger mulch ring around trees makes mowing easier and reduces the chance of injuring young trees with mowers and string trimmers; never allow mulch to touch the bark of trees.

Remember to water trees every seven to 10 days in the absence of rainfall. A gentle soaking for a long period is preferable to a quick douse with a water hose as this encourages deep, well-established root systems.

Think planting a small sapling will take too long for you to see it mature? Consider this: The U.S. Forest Service estimates that a 3-year-old tulip poplar planted now will reach a height of 30 to 40 feet in just 15 to 20 years.

Plus, tulip poplars live between 100-250 years on average. That is a treasure indeed.

Announcements

Arbor Day Tree Sale

The Tri-County Master Gardener Association and Clemson Extension Service are partnering for their first Arbor Day Tree Sale Fundraiser this year.

Plants, which include fruit and ornamental shade trees and shrubs, must be pre-ordered by Nov. 18. A printable order form is available at www.clemson.edu/extension/county/dorchester/index.html.

Trees will be available for pick up at the Clemson University Coastal Research & Education Center at 2865 Savannah Highway, Charleston from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 6, Arbor Day.

For more information, contact Derrick Phinney at 563-0135 or Janet Litton, 2janet@bellsouth.net.

Garden Gathering

Join Clemson Extension and Cypress Gardens for the second annual Garden Gathering focused on gardening for wildlife and pollinators. Choose from great lectures and workshops including:

Gardening for Wildlife with Sara Green, director of education with the S.C. Wildlife Federation, who will teach participants how to earn the designation of a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat;

Explore the Cypress Gardens Butterfly House with Curator Amanda Szwarc. Learn to identify 20 common butterflies and “make and take” a caterpillar rearing cage; make a pollinator nest bundle and explore a “bee hotel,” plus learn to garden for pollinators with Dr. Dwight Williams and Amy Dabbs;

Build a small-scale wildlife water feature using harvested rain water with Clemson Water Resources Agents, Kim Counts and Guinn Garrett.

Registration includes a catered lunch, handouts and free entry to Cypress Gardens. Registration is $60/individual (South Carolina Master Gardener Discount $55).

Sign up at www.regonline.com/thegardengathering.

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