Great Plant Pick: golden catalpa

Bold acid-yellow foliage is the hallmark of this small deciduous tree.

  • Friday, August 12, 2022 1:30am
  • Life
Golden catalpa. (Richie Steffens)

What: Bold acid-yellow foliage is the hallmark of this small deciduous tree. In mid-to-late spring huge heart-shaped leaves explode from an open frame of branches creating one of the most dramatic foliage displays possible. The new leaves can have a slight blush of red that quickly gives way to a brilliant golden yellow. Once the foliage has fully opened it is surprisingly resistant to burning in full sun. Although a fast grower in youth it will quickly slow as the tree matures. Catalpas are known for being extraordinarily tolerant of poor garden soils and once established can be quite drought tolerant.

Where: It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, including heavy clay, as long as the drainage is good. The best growth and brightest color occurs in full sun or light to open shade. The leaves of young trees may brown at the edges in the first year or two, but once the root system is established it is resistant to burning.

Size: Grows to 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide in 10 years.

Care: Golden cigar tree is easy to grow. If left to grow as a tree, it will be relatively drought tolerant once established, only requiring occasional watering during prolonged dry periods. Little pruning is necessary. Dead, broken or poorly formed branches can be removed during winter. This deciduous tree can be cut to the ground every two to three years in early spring to create vigorous new shoots that have the largest and boldest foliage. These cut back plants should be grown in rich soil and have additional summer watering to encourage the robust growth.


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