A tree for All Seasons
Common Name: Katsura
Botanical Name: Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Form: oval to rounded canopy
Plant Type: deciduous tree with a single or multi-stemmed trunk
Mature Size: 30’ -50’ x 25’- 30’
Origin: Japan, China
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8
Foliage: 2-inch heart-shaped opposite each other, finely serrated. Spring leaves are coppery, reddish, purple or pink. They turn bluish green in summer and are grey underneath. In fall they turn gold, orange, yellow and red. Leaves have a red stem (petiole).
Flowers: early spring before leaves emerge, not showy, male & female flowers on separate trees (dioecious).
Fruit: small indistinct curved pods on female trees in summer and fall
Bark: smooth & tan when immature, turns grey, furrowed, shaggy upon maturity
Exposure: full sun for best fall colour
Soil: prefers rich moist organic loam, dislikes arid and sandy soils
Uses: specimen, shade tree, woodland, fall colour, winter gardens
Attracts: butterflies and bees
Invasive Tendencies: none
Tolerates: insects, diseases, deer
Propagation: seed, softwood cuttings
Pruning: not necessary, in late winter after extreme cold has passed – if needed
Problems: dislikes drought conditions, especially when young.
If you have the space in your garden and you need a spectacular tree that looks great in every season, especially in autumn, I recommend a Katsura trees, Cercidiphyllum japonicum. It’s a neat and tidy tree that’s very well behaved.
Katsuras have lots to offer from full oval canopies, nice branching habit, pretty little heart shaped leaves that smell of burnt sugar, caramel, ripe apples or cinnamon when they colour up in the fall. And boy, do they ever put on a fantastic show, with shades of gold, orange, red and yellow – it’s an artist’s paint pallet to envy.
That’s not all this fantastic tree has to offer. In spring their new foliage is a coppery pink that turns to a bluish green with grey undersides in the summer.
If your garden is too sunny, katsuras are an ideal shade tree. Their branches emerge high up in their full canopy with branches that spread to 30 feet at maturity. Their fallen leaves are small, up to 2 inches long, so they are easy to rake if they don’t blow away first. You might not want to rake them though as their golden leaves transform the garden with a blanket of gold and red.
Soil & Planting
Katsuras don’t like dry soil, especially when they are young. Protect them from hot drying winds to prevent moisture loss through their foliage. Provide them with moist, organic rich soil when planting and cover the ground with a 3-inch layer of mulch. Don’t place it against the trunk. Provide a tree bed for existing trees and new ones by removing grass around the base of the tree for a couple of feet or more.
Katsura’s claim to fame are their leaves, not their flowers. They are not flashy, nor showy and the female and male flowers are borne on separate trees. In early spring, before the leaves emerge, the female trees bear green flowers up to an inch long with deep red pistils to capture the pollen from male trees. Small banana shaped pods with seeds inside follow. The male flowers are also small but have pink pollen covered stamens that dangle down. Bees and butterflies are attracted to their flowers.
Katsuras trees may have one trunk or multiple. Immature trees have a smooth, tan bark that becomes furrowed and somewhat shaggy as the tree matures. When dormant, their naked twigs have distinctive buds that resemble little hooves opposite each other.
Katsura’s need very little pruning as their branches are well-spaced and neatly arranged. Remove branches that are too low but do so in late winter after the worst of the season is over. Go easy on the pruning! Only remove a couple of low branches a year, but only to provide clearance.
There are numerous wonderful versions of the katsura, including a weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendulum'). It’s very dramatic and grows from 15 to 25 feet. Other smaller varieties include Herkenrode Dwarf, Boyd’s Dwarf and Heronswood Globe. Red Fox is mid-sized, reaching 30 feet with a 16 foot spread. Ruby is a popular cultivar with blue leaves that have a purple tinge. It grows to 30 feet at maturity.