Also known as yellow poplar, tulip trees are a tall and visually grandiose tree, blooming each spring and creating a beautiful and fragrant addition to your yard and garden. Even better, their high boughs provide ample space for planting a shade-loving garden underneath. But just what are the best plants to plant under your favorite tulip tree?
The best plants to plant under a tulip tree are those that love moist, slightly acidic soil and grow well in shady conditions. These include plants like hostas, impatiens, Virginia bluebells, foamflower, Jacob’s ladder, bee balm, bleeding hearts, epimedium, ferns, and shade tolerant herbs.
Interested in learning more about what plants to plant under a tulip tree or what conditions a tulip tree thrives under? Read on for more!
Why Tulip Trees Can Be Great Yard Trees
At least, it might make a good yard tree, depending on the makeup of your yard!
The Missouri Department of Conservation reports a single tulip tree can grow to over 100 feet tall, with a 40-foot spread of branches. So if you have a large piece of property and plenty of empty space, a tulip tree might be an excellent option for you.
Tulip trees are also considered hardwood trees, which you can learn more about in this article on the topic!
If you like the look of the tulip tree but not the size, you don’t have to give up hope of a gorgeous flowering tulip tree just yet. If you want something smaller in your yard, it is possible to keep it from growing to quite that height.
You may choose to keep trees small by pruning them every other year. Although you can trim it at any time, the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science reports that little to no root growth happens in the fall, and the greatest amount occurs in the spring after winter has passed.
This means trimming during slow growth periods in the fall and winter will keep your tree the healthiest when there is the lowest risk of pests or infections.
Why Put A Yellow Poplar (Tulip Tree) In Your Yard?
The simple answer is that these tulip trees produce beautiful blooms in the spring! They also attract bees and ruby-throated hummingbirds, making them a great way to encourage natural fauna and pollinators to stick around your yard habitat.
However, there are other things to consider before you plant. For example, a study by researchers at Virginia Tech showed that tulip trees are intolerant of shade and are vulnerable to drought when compared to other trees.
This means depending on the natural climate where you live (as well as how your yard is set up), the tulip tree may or may not thrive for you.
Read on below for other things to consider before planting a tulip tree.
The Depth Of Tulip Tree Roots Can Vary
For the most part, tulip tree roots grow in the top three feet of soil, preferring to stick in the shallowest foot if possible. But their growing depth entirely depends on the type of soil they’re in.
If the soil is very loose, the roots will penetrate deeper. If the ground is squished and compacted together, tulip tree roots will stay near the surface.
So why does this matter to you?
Before planting a tulip tree, you’ll want to be sure that the roots won’t penetrate too deeply, affecting any piping or structures on your home and property. You’ll also want to avoid soil that’s too compact, which may create a shallow root system and a tree that’s prone to tip in high winds (especially once it grows to its full height!)
The location of your future tulip tree will not only matter for the tree itself, but also for any plants you would like to plant under it. If the tree’s roots are extremely shallow, you risk affecting the soil and upsetting the root systems of any future plants as well.
Tulip Tree Roots Can Spread Quite Far
You might think that since tulip tree root systems are relatively shallow, they also don’t spread very wide either.
However, roots can expand as far as three times the width of the branch spread. So, even if you aren’t planting directly beneath the tulip tree itself, any nearby plants can still be affected by the root system.
This also means you’ll need to take care when planting near structures, sidewalks, or anything that might lay underground like piping or wires.
If you’d like to encourage your tulip tree to grow as big and beautiful as possible, consider using a product such as Miracle-Gro Tree & Shrub Plant Food Spikes. Fertilizers such as this can help supplement poor growing conditions, encourage trees to remain healthy, and produce better blooms in the spring.
If you think your tulip trees roots are spread too far, it may be a good reason to cut it down.
These Are The Best Places To Plant a Tulip Tree
We’ve already mentioned considering soil density (although soil can often be compacted or loosened as required). But it’s not enough to only consider the type of soil you’ll encounter. You’ll want to think about the quality as well.
According to the North Carolina State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, tulip trees prefer moist, well-drained soil. This means avoiding installing them in a low-lying area of your yard where standing water gathers and stays.
You also may need to mix the soil with another substance (such as sand or rocks) to encourage extra water to drain away and avoid collecting around roots.
Tulip trees also thrive in slightly acidic soil, a fact you’ll want to remember when you consider future companion plantings. Although most plants prefer acidic soil, some flowers and garden shrubbery prefers alkaline soil and may not be a good match for underneath a tulip tree. Here’s a full tulip tree timeline if you’d like to learn more about how long they take to grow.
So What About Shade Versus Sun?
We already mentioned that the research shows tulip trees are not shade-tolerant plants. Instead, they want full sun to grow big and strong and spread wide.
This means planting well away from other trees, avoiding shaded areas from buildings, and ensuring that the tree won’t be blocked by any other tulip trees you may plant at the same time.
Finally, when you consider a location for your tulip tree, you’ll want a place that is well away from pavement, walls, and known piping for sewer, water, electrical lines, etc. This is to avoid future complications where root systems may invade piping or crack concrete and cement sidewalks or barriers.
If you’d like to plant underneath your tulip tree, you’ll need to give yourself plenty of room to do so. Although we’ve chosen plants that are contained and easy to maintain, you’ll want some space for plants to spread out and grow after planting.
Interested in planting and growing your own tulip three? This Tree Seed Grow Kit has everything you might need in one box. With it, you can be well on your way to enjoying the smells and sights of a full-grown tulip tree.
Plants You Can Grow Under Tulip Trees
Although most shade-loving plants can be planted underneath the boughs and limbs of a tulip tree, not all of them will thrive. You’ll want to choose a plant that tolerates little to no sunlight, likes moist conditions, and does best in slightly acidic soil to best match the conditions the plant will find underneath your tulip tree.
Before you plant anything, you might use a product such as this 3-in-1 Soil Tester. This tester will tell you the pH, moisture levels, and light levels of any soil you’re considering using for a garden, taking the guesswork out of the planting process.
Below are our favorite options for your future shady garden. These plants are not only beautiful, but they require little maintenance, and they all will happily grow underneath your tulip tree for years to come.
Also known as “plantain lilies,” these plants are a shade-tolerant option that requires very little maintenance and will return year after year.
Hostas love the same type of soil as tulip trees (moist and slightly acidic), which makes them a great option to plant under your tree.
Unlike hostas, impatiens like partial shade, so if you have a spot that will receive a few hours of sunlight a day, these gorgeous blooms may be a better option. Don’t worry if it’s a little shadier than you expected, though; the plants will still grow but will bloom less frequently!
Here’s one more important thing to know about impatiens: How closely you plant them together affects their growing height. Plants that are close together will grow taller, while those farther apart will stay low.
This is something to consider if you are planning to include several heights in your garden. Although impatiens are beautiful, you don’t want them blocking your view of all the pretty plants in the back.
These woodland plants are a brilliant choice to plant under your tulip tree, as they can be easily grown in full shade to partial shade.
However, because they are so good at proliferating, they can quickly outgrow the area under the tree and may need to be occasionally trimmed back.
More commonly called “Barrenwort,” epimedium is known as a semi-evergreen plant that makes for excellent ground cover under trees. These plants grow quickly, spreading to up to 36 inches wide and around 6 inches tall.
Although they won’t travel as far as the Virginia Bluebells, epimedium may still need to be occasionally trimmed to look their best before blooming the following spring.
Featuring bright white, towering blooms, foamflower is a tall perennial (meaning you only need to plant it once) that can tolerate partial to full shade.
In addition, this plant will grow well in moist conditions and requires no maintenance once planted (though you may choose to cut off blooms at the end of the season for cosmetic reasons).
With so many varieties to choose from, ferns are a great shade-loving option for those who want a plant that will not spread far and will stay green year-round. The one downside? Ferns like moist, humid conditions that may be too wet for your tulip tree to enjoy.
You may also consider searching for a local variety of fern that already grows readily in your area to avoid taking the chance on delicate ferns that are better suited to other types of climates.
Dicentra makes for a beautiful choice for those looking for a colorful addition to their shade garden.
Bleeding hearts may require some watering if there is a particularly dry spring and summer, but otherwise can be left alone. Pair this plant with another choice from the list, as dicentra is not good as ground cover.
Shade Loving Herbs
Having a small herb garden can do more than just provide you with fresh spices for your cooking and baking; it can help keep your tree healthy and ward off pests!
Unfortunately, tulip trees not only frequently suffer from aphid and fungal infestations but can attract large numbers of wasps as well. Tulip trees affected with scale will secrete honeydew (a substance that wasps love), meaning you may have a wasp problem even if your tree isn’t actively blooming.
To discourage wasps from hanging around your tulip tree, consider planting herbs that wasps hate, which thrive in the shade. Possible ideas are Corsican or Stone mint, or something that is partially sun tolerant, like citronella or sage.
Interested in attracting more pollinators? This shade-loving plant will help encourage bees to hang around your yard and garden.
Not only is this great for the planet, but the rest of your gardens will benefit from having bees around, as they pollinate both veggies and flowers alike.
This low-maintenance plant has both beautiful leaves and gorgeous blooms. Best of all, it not only does well in the shade, but it’s a favorite of bees, helping to turn your garden into a pollinator haven.
Other Tulip Trees!
If you love one tulip tree, you might even want more! Although you can’t technically plant one tree underneath one another, you can plant other tulip trees nearby.
Just be sure to keep up on trimming so the trees do not block one another from receiving a healthy dose of sunlight.
That’s A Wrap!
With careful planning and consideration, you can not only have a happy, healthy tulip tree in your yard and around your home but one with a variety of beautiful plants underneath its boughs.
Just be sure you’re taking care to plant your garden with soil quality, expected light levels, and future growth in mind, and you’ll be able to have a gorgeous yard for years to come.
Carter, David R., Robert T. Fahey, and Margaret B. Bialecki. “Tree growth and resilience to extreme drought across an urban land-use gradient.” (2013).
Kelly, R. J., and B. C. Moser. “Root regeneration of Liriodendron tulipifera in response to auxin, stem pruning, and environmental conditions.” Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 108.6 (1983): 1085-1090.
Krombein, Karl V. “Wasp Visitors of Tulip-Tree Honeydew at Dunn Loring, Virginia (Hymenoptera Aculeata).” Annals of the Entomological Society of America 44.1 (1951): 141-143.
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