10 Reasons To Cut Down Your Tulip Tree (And When To Do It)

Summer foliage of a deciduous tulip tree liriodendron tulipifera

Your tulip tree may be near and dear to your heart, but sometimes that just isn’t enough reason to keep a plant around. Even if you absolutely adore your tulip tree, you might have had to consider cutting it down a time or two.

Your tulip tree may need to be cut down if it’s too messy, housing pests, is in a sensitive area, or is dying and may fall on its own. Tulip trees are extremely messy, shedding sap and leaves shortly after blossoming which can cause issues when planted too close to homes.

Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) can be a beautiful addition to your yard, but sometimes it’s time to say goodbye, sadly. Let’s talk about the reasons you might need to cut down your tulip tree and the best time of year to do it.

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1. Your Tulip Tree is Too Messy

So, you may not expect a tulip tree to be very messy. Right?

Wrong. 

Just after the spring bloom, the ground around your tree will be littered with flower petals that have fallen from your tulip tree

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, tulip trees flower from May to June, and the mess will be worst during those months.

If this sounds like the worst of it, you may be thinking… well, that isn’t too bad.

Unfortunately, the fallen flower petals are the easy part of the mess that tulip trees create.

When the tree drops its petals, you can rake them up or allow them to naturally decompose back into the soil around them.

The real culprit here is going to be tulip tree sap.

Tulip trees are absolutely notorious for getting their sticky sap everywhere. You will especially want to avoid any vehicles being parked under a tulip tree unless you want a mess that takes forever to clean up.

If your biggest goal is to manage your space and not have a mess, there is not much else to do than remove your tree.

Both fallen petals and sap can be managed, but it’s up to you to decide whether that is worth it for you.

You can even clean your car using a product like Goo Gone Automotive Cleaner, it’ll just take you some time to remove all the mess from the surface.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to deciding if you should work to keep your tree and its space clean, or if removal is the way to go.

Pets

If you have pets that like to run around your yard (and maybe even roll around in something like flower petals) there is quite a good chance that their fur is going to end up caked in sap.

Eventually, this may become more frustrating than it’s worth.

Your Car

Things can get pretty sticky (pun intended) when there is sap that ends up on your vehicle.

Not only is it a potential safety factor if sap is on your windshield and blocks your view, but it is not great for your car to constantly have a sticky mess that needs removed.

If you have to park your car in the same area where the tree lives, this can very well build up sap and frustration over time.

Sidewalks

If your tulip tree hangs over a sidewalk, the neighbors may end up with some qualms as well.

If pets, kids, or bikes have to go through fallen petals and/or sticky sap, you might even get some complaints about your tree. Public opinion is important, whether or not we like to think so.

According to Cornell University, there is a bit of good news when it comes to the messiness of tulip trees.

Flowers and fruits are first produced when a tulip tree is 15-20 years old, so if you have a relatively young tree, you may not have to worry about one aspect of the mess after all.

While messiness might seem like a silly reason to remove an entire tree, it could be the best decision if you are unable to maintain your space in the way that you see fit.

2. Ongoing Drought Conditions Are Damaging It

There are many reasons you may need to cut down a Liriodendron, or tulip tree, named after its flowers’ resemblance to tulip flowers.

One of those reasons could have to do with the amount of water in the soil around your plant.

If your tree is suffering from drought conditions, it is going to be much more susceptible to infestation by insects or possible diseases. 

When there are drought conditions, you can do a few things to sustain your tree before throwing in the towel. 

If you have access to water that you can use to give your tree some extra support, try to utilize that. 

You can turn to a product like the Rain Bird Drip Irrigation Blank Distribution Tubing to help you manage the water that is distributed around your tree. Not only can this help you manage the process, it can help to conserve water and assure that your tree gets what it needs.

This ensures that no water is wasted, especially in a drought. 

You will want to utilize watering times by using a balanced fertilizer like Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food. Fertilizer is such an important component to keeping a tree sustained and healthy, even in conditions that are less than favorable. 

Drought may not be the main concern for you, but there are certainly other reasons that your tree might need to be removed.

One flower of tulip tree liriodendron on a branch. Horizontal.

3. Your Tulip Tree Is Dying

Dying trees are often one of the most prevalent reasons that they have to be removed. It may even be the first thing that came to mind for you.

You can get pretty lucky if you catch the issue early on, but so often that is not the case.

If you do get lucky, utilize the Fiskars Bypass Pruning Shears to help you remove the damaged area without having to cut too much of the tree away. This is a great way to manage your tree, and pruning should be incorporated into your general tree maintenance in one way or another.

Like most things, if you have the right tools and the right timing, you are likely to find success.

If you have a situation where it is too late to trim your tree and solve the issue, it may be time to shift from upkeep to a damage control mindset. This will be seen when disease is in the later stages or if it has spread too far to take care of.

Remember that you can utilize a local arborist that can give you a real-time, in-person view of your options.

If you’re interested in pruning on your own, check out the best time to prune large trees.

4. Some Tulip Trees Can Be Invasive And May Need To Be Cut Down

This is a less common issue, but there are some species of tulip tree that can be invasive. In this case, your tulip tree may be negatively impacting the environment where it is located.

The African tulip tree is invasive in tropical climates. For the United States, this would be places like Hawaii, Florida, and other regions of the southwest and the deep south.

This species of tulip tree will come into an environment and has a knack for out-competing the native species that live there.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the African tulip tree is one of the most popular flowering ornamentals, but is also fast growing and is often planted successfully outside of its natural range.

This means that the species can be planted in a wide variety of places where it does not belong and where it can significantly impact the surrounding environment.

The African tulip tree can extend throughout the tropical climate areas of the United States, growing in dense thickets that interrupt and easily overtake native plants.

If you have this type of tulip tree on your property, and especially if it is interacting with your other plants, you should consider removing this species. This will give your other plant life a better chance to survive and thrive.

Most species of tulip tree are just fine, but you can always contact a professional to help you assess your concerns.

5. Your Tulip Tree’s Roots are Too Big

Roots can get tricky, especially when your tree is one that has roots that grow and extend rapidly.

The roots of a tulip tree will often extend when the tree itself is not receiving enough of its basic needs, such as water and nutrients.

You can refer back to the first section on drought for suggestions for an irrigation system and balanced fertilizer that might help nip this problem in the bud. (Pun intended, thank you very much.)

So, back to the root of this section: roots!

Not only are they a pain to mess with, but they can also cause safety issues.

If your tree’s roots have started to overgrow and stick up above the soil, they may create a tripping hazard.

Aside from extending upward in search of nutrients or water, roots may also extend outward. The roots of a tulip tree can go quite far (around 30ft) which means that they may even start to interfere with your home or any other buildings that are close.

If tree roots get too out of control, they might start to damage the structure of a building that they run into. This could cause serious issues with the integrity of your foundation which, in turn, will cause more issues with the structure overall.

If the roots get to be an issue in this way, it is time to remove the tree to prioritize your space. 

Roots can be annoying to mess with, but they can also cause issues that impact other parts of your space.

I might start to sound like a broken record here but you can always…say it with me… check in with a trained professional to help you. This may not only look like an arborist but also someone who specializes in evaluating homes and structural integrity.

6. You Want To Mitigate Potential Storm Damage

Speaking of potential hazards to your home, there is another consideration that may lead you to take down your tulip tree.

If your tree has grown too close to your home, it could cause some serious damage if a bad storm comes through and takes down your tree before you get a chance to.

While it may be hard to make the decision to remove an otherwise healthy, stable tree, you’ll want to consider the danger and cost of damages if it has gotten too close for comfort.

If there are any specific branches that could be removed to buy some time, this might be a good first step.

However, when the tree itself has grown bigger and there is a better chance of it causing damage to your space, you’ll want to consider taking grander action.

Avoiding a branch coming through your window in a lightning storm is more important than keeping your tree around, as sad as it may be.

If you feel that your tree has become unsafe, make the call to do what is best for you and get it removed. Especially if any other factors have weakened the tree. 

This could look like prior storm damage, infestation, disease, or any other external factors that may make your tree (and home, by extension) more susceptible to storm damage.

The last thing you need is a hardwood branch damaging your home. (Yes, tulip trees are hardwood trees, not softwood!)

7. Too Much Tulip Tree Upkeep Is Needed

A lot can go into this one, but what it comes down to is this— if your tulip tree has become too much of a burden in any way, it may be taking more time and work than it is worth. 

Any of the reasons above are enough to make the call to take your tree down, but if you are dealing with a combination of issues you might be way in over your head. 

That’s okay. 

As much as we want to care for our plants and prioritize things like that, it is not always possible. If your tulip tree is costing you more money than you have to put in, or if there just isn’t enough time in the day to keep your tree cared for, removal is an option.

Pink flower of a tulip tree

8. You Have Insect Infestations In Your Tulip Tree

Insect infestations are another common issue that may lead to the tree needing to be taken down, in a similar way to disease in trees.

Here are two insects you might have to deal with:

Tulip Tree Aphids

According to the North Carolina State Extension, tulip tree aphids and scales are the biggest issues when it comes to an infestation in your tulip tree. 

We’ll talk about tulip tree aphids first. 

These are similar to other aphids, but simply opt to infest tulip trees, specifically.

You can recognize them by their dark antennae and cornicles on a yellow body. 

These insects will feed on the underside of leaves and, when infestations are heavy, they can also cause leaves to drop off the tree entirely. This can cause lasting damage that manifests as a thinned-out canopy and reduced tree growth overall.

These tulip tree aphids also produce huge amounts of honeydew, which makes the surrounding area of the tree, and other nearby surfaces, black with mold.

Tulip Tree Scale

The next culprit when it comes to infestation is the tulip tree scale. 

With a brown body, these insects appear to be brown lumps on the branch of a tulip tree. Make no mistake, they are living creatures that are actively harming your tree. 

You can apply certain oils and treatments in the dormant season to help remove these insects. However, since they are both pretty difficult to spot without specifically searching, you may miss this issue until it has weakened your tree beyond repair. 

In cases where damage from other sources has occurred, insect infestations will have a particularly damaging impact.

9. Your Tulip Tree Is Getting Too Close to The Property Line

So, say that your tulip tree is doing well and does not have any major health issues. 

What on earth else could lead you to removing the tree?

One factor to consider is your property line. Your tree may be growing under, or even too far over the top of a fence. If your tree begins to invade your neighbors’ space, you may need to take action.

First of all, this may be mandated by many Homeowner’s Associations, but you could also just want to keep a good relationship with those that live around you. That means making sure that your tree does not overtake their yard.

It’s always worth a conversation first, if your neighbor has not brought up the issue. Maybe they don’t mind, but they certainly might.

10. Your Tulip Tree Just Doesn’t Look Right

If you cannot place your finger on a specific issue, you might still be able to notice that something is just off.

In this case, figuring out the culprit might take you more time or money than you have to put toward the issue.

Unfortunately, as much as we try to have all the answers, some tree decline can be pretty mysterious.

If removal is your best bet due to your circumstances, know that this happens sometimes and you are not alone.

With that, let’s talk about when to cut down your tree if it doesn’t require immediate removal.

When To Cut Down Your Tulip Tree

Regardless of the reasoning, you should know when the optimal time to remove your tree will be.

Part of this question will have to do with the reason. If you are avoiding damages or need removal immediately, that takes priority.

If your purpose is more aesthetic or related to the management of your space, waiting until the dormant season to cut down your tree is ideal.

Early spring, or even late winter, are the best times to take down your tulip tree because there will be less bloom to navigate, as well as less sap to make a mess of things during the removal process.

If you’re tulip tree had healthy wood, you could also season it as use it as some of the best firewood!

Why You SHOULDN’T Cut Down Your Tulip Tree

There are some hindrances that may be leaving you discouraged, but I want to remind you that the choice to keep or remove your tree is always up to you to make.

Ultimately, you have to follow the best interest of not only your space but yourself, and what you have the capacity to do.

If you are still questioning at this point in the article if you should really be removing your tree, the answer might be no.

I’d urge you to consider the value your tree has beyond the work it takes to be kept up. If the value of your tree outweighs the work you put in, it could be worth keeping.

Trees can hold fond memories, especially ones that have been around for quite a while. Maybe your tulip tree was once a fun childhood playset or there are memories of sitting under the tree on a summer day with friends.

Maybe your tree is simply healthier, or less work than you thought upon opening this piece. Comparison can be the thief of joy, but it can also remind you about the good things you’ve got.

Your tree might not seem like such a pain, after seeing other issues that could have occurred.

Sometimes your tree will have more potential than you thought, or the value feels too great to let go of. 

If you feel sorry to see your tree go, don’t let this article be the only resource you rely on!

Call a local arborist to help you officially determine what is best for your situation. I can give you the facts, and even advice, but I can’t see your individual tree to tell you what exactly your situation needs. Most will advocate to keep the tree around rather than take it down if it can be helped.

Now, if your tree is potentially a hazard or causing some more serious issues in any way, sentimentality unfortunately also isn’t enough to save it. So, try to find the balance between your decision-making mind and your attachment to the tree.

Wrapping Up!

Now it might be time to let your tulip tree grow. Even if you love the tree, cutting it down could be the best decision for you. 

Now, lets recap all that good stuff we talked about.

You may need to cut down your tulip tree if:

  • Your tulip tree is too messy
  • Ongoing drought conditions are damaging It
  • Your tulip tree gets an infection
  • Some tulip trees can be invasive (African tulip tree)
  • Your tulip tree’s roots are too big
  • Potential storm damage
  • Too much tulip tree upkeep is needed
  • Insect infestations in your tulip tree
  • The tulip tree is getting too close to the property lines
  • The tulip tree just doesn’t look right

Remember that your situation could vary, and these are all examples of reasons why you might need to cut down your tree.

Taking in all of the factors and evidence is important, and can help keep you assured that your choice is the right one.

When it is time to make that call, the dormant season is going to be the best time to cut down a tree that does not need immediate removal.

Call a professional arborist if you have concerns or if your tree is causing safety issues and needs to come down ASAP.

If this piece helped you decide to remove your tree, I’m sorry that it has come to that.

This is just one step on your tree journey, and I wish you the best!

References

Burns, D. P., & Donley, D. E. (1970). Biology of the tuliptree scale, Toumeyella liriodendri (Homoptera: Coccidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 63(1), 228-235.

Choi, O., Choi, O., Kwak, Y. S., Kim, J., & Kwon, J. H. (2012). Spot anthracnose disease caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides on tulip tree in Korea. Mycobiology, 40(1), 82-84.

Labrada, R., & Medina, A. D. (2009). The invasiveness of the African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata Beauv. Biodiversity, 10(2-3), 79-82.

 

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