Tulip Tree

While the real tulip trees, including the American and Chinese variants, are initially stingy with flowers, magnolia tulip trees enchant with their colored stands at an early stage. Both are reminiscent of tulips with their flowers, as the name suggests, and they also have similarly simple requirements in terms of location and care. Nevertheless, care should be taken when choosing, because not every tulip tree is suitable for the garden.

American, Chinese or fake tulip tree

The so-called real tulip trees grow very quickly and very tall. The American or real tulip tree can reach a size of 35 meters. The Chinese tulip tree, which is also one of the real varieties, remains smaller. However, it can also reach a height of 17 meters. Both species bloom quite late, often not until the second decade of life. Until then, however, the decorative leaf shape and the striking yellow color ensure that the real tulip trees are an eye-catcher. Due to their size, they are only partially suitable for the garden.

The small or fake tulip tree is actually a tulip magnolia. And this is found much more often in gardens. On the one hand, this is due to the much more compact size. Most varieties only make it to a height of 5 to 8 meters. However, they rarely reach this size through targeted pruning and slow growth. The small tulip trees also owe their great popularity to their striking, large flowers. Refined varieties often show this in the first year. Typical of the tulip magnolias are lush, numerous inflorescences that open in early spring.

If you only have a little space available and do not want to wait too long before flowering, the fake tulip tree is better off.

The African tulip tree

The African tulip tree shares its name with the known species, but due to its origin it is much more sensitive to cool temperatures. It must always stand frost-free and can only develop its full beauty under tropical conditions, i.e. with consistently high humidity and persistent warmth. The ideal location for the African tulip tree is therefore not outdoors. In winter gardens or greenhouses, on the other hand, the exotic plants feel at home even in a temperate climate.

Due to the size of the plant, this should have a correspondingly large amount of space upwards and a sufficiently deep and wide substrate, because even if the tree only grows slowly, a greenhouse or winter garden can quickly become too small.

Find a healthy location

Even the small varieties of tulip trees can become quite tall and expansive, so the location must primarily be chosen as large and with foresight as possible. In addition, the position in the garden determines winter hardiness and additional maintenance. So the wrong place means more work.

  • Choose a sheltered location, such as near a house wall or behind a thick hedge, strong winds are not tolerated well
  • Look for a sunny or at least very light area that is not darkened by other plants
  • Roots need a lot of space downwards and a loose substrate
  • Choose a location neither too wet nor too dry
Tip: Above all, the petals of the tulip magnolia become greasy layers and quickly become unsightly after falling off. To avoid this, enough space should be left around the tulip tree to easily remove dead plant parts.

Planting and substrate

Tulip Tree Planting and substrate

In addition to sufficient space for roots to develop, tulip trees primarily need a loose substrate that should meet the following requirements:

  • Lime-free, slightly acidic substrate
  • Soil rich in nutrients
  • Sandy or with coarse-grained portions
  • Humus
  • Well-ventilated, well-drained soil

If there is no such substrate in the garden, the chosen location should be prepared accordingly. A mixture of compost soil, sand, gravel or granules and commercially available, loose potting soil is ideal.

Tip: Tulip trees are very sensitive to solid substrate, the surface of which is additionally compacted by watering and weathering. Those who are particularly keen on the tulip tree therefore regularly ensure that the soil is loosened. This ensures the oxygen supply and the tulip tree remains healthy in the long term.

Do you need to move?

Moving the tulip tree is only necessary if the plant does not really want to thrive in the originally chosen location. This case can occur if the position is too windy, waterlogging occurs even with little rain or the substrate is constantly too dry despite regular watering – the deficiencies cannot therefore be remedied without any problems.

However, it is only relatively safe to move young tulip trees that are still quite small. Larger specimens that have already developed a strong network of roots cannot always tolerate a change of location. Mainly because the far-reaching roots are injured and significantly reduced in scope. Older tulip trees can then only be dug up using machines and a large ball of earth. Even then, the survival of the plant is not guaranteed.


Tulip Tree Care

Once the tulip tree has found its place – gets plenty of sun, but is protected from persistent rain and, above all, cold wind – its care is very easy.
Water a lot, fertilize a little and cut occasionally – neither the healthy, real nor the fake tulip tree needs more to flourish and develop a sea of ​​flowers or decorative leaves.

Pour in moderation

Tulip trees have a very high water requirement, which, depending on the weather, should also be covered by additional watering. Especially when the ground is rather dry and rain is a long time coming.
Waterlogging must be avoided, as well as persistent drought.

Tip: In the case of smaller tulip trees, place a stone circle as dense as possible with a little distance from the trunk and only pour into this. This brings water to the roots in a more targeted manner and can thus reduce the amount required.


The trees that decorate, whether large or small, consume a lot of nutrients. Additional fertilization is therefore recommended.

The most suitable are rhododendron fertilizers, phosphorus and other means that are slightly acidic. The time interval and amount depend on the size of the plant, the nature of the soil and the time of year. Tulip trees should only be supplied with additional nutrients during the driving phases, i.e. in spring and summer. In the cold months, however, the roots are no longer able to absorb fertilizers.

When to blend

If the tulip tree has to be cut because individual shoots are sticking out or parts of the plant have dried up, it should be done as gently as possible. Radical cuts can do more harm than good. So it is better to cut it regularly every year than to cut it every three years. Green and lignified parts can be removed.

The best time for the shaping cut is April or May.

How do you blend?
Wilted inflorescences that do not fall off by themselves, twigs bent by the wind, parts of plants that have been infected by diseases or pests should be removed immediately. The tool used for this must be as sharp and clean as possible.

The rule of thumb for waste is: As little as possible, as much as necessary. So it shouldn’t be too squeamish or too radical.

Hibernate properly

Tulip trees are hardy per se, so they can withstand frost without any problems. However, they suffer greatly from the cold wind. This is why choosing a protected location is so important.
In addition, the plant should have been planted in spring so that it has enough time to develop roots.

Tip: For smaller tulip trees or locations that are suddenly unprotected in winter – for example because surrounding plants have shed their leaves – use garden fleece as protection from wind and cold.

Protection against late frost
As hardy as the tulip trees may be, late frost harms them. Especially with the tulip magnolia, it is quite common that the first flowers die off due to late frost. To prevent this freezing, garden fleece should be placed over the tree at night or on very cold days.


Propagating the tulip tree is possible, but it is very difficult and requires some patience. Propagation can be done by sowing seeds and planting cuttings. Another, somewhat faster, type is reproduction by grafting.

All the variants mentioned are difficult to implement, require knowledge of the exact type and entail long waiting times until the first visible success.

Propagation via seeds
The seeds of the real tulip trees are winged and are quite easy to grow in the beginning.

  1. Place seeds in potting soil from September, cover lightly with the substrate.
  2. Pour soft water and cover with foil, cover with a plastic bag or place in the greenhouse.
  3. Choose a bright location that is as evenly warm as possible. Draft-free window sills and temperatures between 20 ° C and 26 ° C are ideal.
  4. Prick young plants only when they have reached a height of at least ten centimeters.
  5. Only gradually get used to a normal room climate.
  6. The plants should only be put outside when the first lignification shows. However, they are not yet winter hardy.

Since the extraction of seeds is only necessary after flowering and is still very uncertain, numerous attempts may be necessary before this type of propagation is successful.

Propagation by cuttings
The shoots obtained when cutting in spring can be used directly as cuttings.

  1. Put cuttings in potting soil.
  2. Pour soft water.
  3. Cover shoots with foil or move to a greenhouse.
  4. Keep the substrate evenly moist. The ambient temperature should be between 20 ° C and 26 ° C.

Tulip trees usually take a long time to develop roots. Successful rooting is shown by new leaves and shoots.

Tip: Use a root aid as a support.

Typical diseases and pests

Tulip Tree diseases and pests

Tulip trees are quite unsusceptible to domestic pests. Nevertheless, it can happen, often when the tree was imported or was close to other introduced plants, that parasites feast on it.
Holes in the bark, unusually soft, spongy areas on the trunk, weaving and traces of eating indicate an infestation.

The tulip tree is also relatively resistant to disease. There is only a certain predisposition to putrefaction. However, this can only occur if moisture builds up in the substrate or if there is insufficient ventilation. The right location and the right soil mix as well as sufficient distance to other plants prevent this. As well as removing fallen leaves and flowers. If the rot has already broken out, a fungicide tailored to the plants can help.

Brown spots on the leaves
Brownish discolorations on the leaves and flowers are not uncommon in the tulip tree. These arise either from a lack of water or from contamination of the soil with salts. Turning off the trigger usually quickly leads to an improvement.

The so-called leaf blotch disease can also be a trigger. Regular administration of copper sulfate solution can help against this.

Are tulip trees poisonous?

Leaves, flowers, bark and all other parts of the tulip tree are poisonous to humans and pets. Children and animals in particular should therefore be kept away from the plants. The large, colored petals in particular could tempt the offspring to pick up parts of the plant.

If, despite all caution, parts of the tulip tree are eaten or accidentally swallowed, a doctor must be consulted immediately.

Assuming the choice of an optimal location are tulip trees – both the real variants and the tulip magnolias – easy-care plants that garden owners with a green thumb can confidently do without. Due to its sometimes immense dimensions, the position should really be selected with foresight, because it is not always possible to transfer it without problems. And, especially with larger, older tulip trees, this involves considerable effort.
If this is considered in advance, nothing stands in the way of the decorative flourishing of the blossom-rich tree. Only the toxicity of the plant should then be considered.

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