Tulip trees are beautiful and fast growing trees, their name derived from their fragrant flowers, which closely resemble true tulips in shape and size. The tallest of North America's hardwoods, tulip trees are widely used as graceful shade trees in landscaping and have been valued for their timber for hundreds of years. While average height for tulip trees is around 90 feet, in ideal conditions they can reach a height of up to two hundred feet with trunks that can grow to a diameter of ten feet. Due to their immense size and lightweight wood, Native Americans found tulip trees to be very useful for canoe making, and early American settlers often used them in the building of log cabins. Interior trim in many homes is made from the wood of tulip trees, as are veneers used in furniture making. For those who enjoy watching the local fauna, tulip trees draw a variety of wildlife, the flowers a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies and their seed enjoyed by many types of birds and animals.
Growing Tulip tree seedlings at home is a fairly easy way to get started, or young trees can be purchased from the local nursery or garden center. To grow your own seedlings, seeds can be gathered from mature trees, which develop seed bearing fruit during the fall season. Simply allow the seed pods to dry on the tree, then break them open to harvest the seeds inside. Of course, seeds can be purchased also, from any number of commercial sources.
Sowing Tulip trees outdoors should be done in the fall, either directly in the ground or in buried pots. Fall planting allows the seeds to have a period of cold dormancy over the winter that prepares them for spring germination. Soil should be loose and well drained to avoid soggy conditions that could rot the seeds or cause them to mold. If planting in containers, be sure there are large drainage holes in the bottom to prevent them from flooding during rainy conditions or when snow melts in the spring.
Starting seeds indoors is best done in the late winter or early spring. Seeds kept over the winter should be placed in a plastic bag or container, either wrapped in moist paper toweling or submerged in moist peat moss, and refrigerated to simulate the natural period of cold they would experience if planted outdoors.
Planting is best done in a sunny location, although tulip trees will tolerate light shade. Rich, well drained loam is the ideal soil for planting, but tulip trees are fairly adaptable, often thriving in less than ideal conditions. Whether transplanting purchased seedlings or ones started at home, be sure that soil is loosened well around the area for easy root growth, enhanced with a bit of compost. Place the young tree in a planting hole that is three times the width of its rootball, and backfill the hole, being sure to tamp the soil gently around the roots to avoid leaving air pockets.
Keep the soil moist around your young Tulip trees during the first few seasons of growth, but be sure to avoid over watering, as soil that is too wet can be worse than overly dry conditions for your seedlings. Adding some support is a good measure to take, either staking or caging new trees until strong roots develop. Mulching often helps young tulip trees grow more quickly, helping to maintain moisture in the soil and discourage weeds that would otherwise compete for soil nutrients.