How to Grow and Care for Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead, Populus x jackii

Hornbeam Arts / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Balm of Gilead is a deciduous tree that grows at a fast rate, reaching up to 100 feet tall at maturity. It is a hybrid tree resulting from a cross between the poplar and cottonwood tree.

These trees have oval leaves with pointed tips that are dark green on top and whitish-green on the underside. The veins often have an orange color to them, giving the leaves a rusty appearance. The leaf buds are coated in resin and put off a pleasant turpentine aroma, particularly when unfurling. As a result, the buds are often collected and used for scents or herbal medicines. The flowers of this tree are not showy. However, like other poplar trees, they do produce seeds attached to fluffy, white fibers that float through the air. Some people enjoy the flurry of these seeds, but others avoid planting these trees due to the mess from spreading seeds.

 Common Name  Balm of Gilead
 Botanical Name  Populus x jackii
 Family  Salicaceae
 Plant Type  Tree
 Mature Size  100 ft. tall, 40 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure  Full
 Soil Type  Loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained
 Soil pH  Neutral
 Bloom Time  Spring
 Flower Color Red, yellow, green
 Hardiness Zones  2-7, USDA
 Native Area  North America

Balm of Gilead Care

Balm of Gilead is a hardy, deciduous tree that is very easy to grow. It prefers moist, cool soil in a location near water sources. Because of the tree's fast growth and large size, this hybrid species should be planted away from buildings.

These trees do not require much attention other than watering. They are generally problem-free, though they may struggle with bacterial canker and poplar or willow borers.

Light

This tree prefers full sun and can tolerate partial sun. However, it cannot tolerate shady conditions. 

Soil

Balm of Gilead prefers rich, moist, cool soil with a pH level that is circumneutral—between 6.5 and 7.5. It thrives near freshwater sources.   

Water

Balm of Gilead enjoys damp soil, such as that found near rivers, lakes, or other cool water sources. If you are growing this tree away from readily accessible water, be sure to water regularly to keep the soil moist. It is best not to allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  

Temperature and Humidity

Balm of Gilead is grown in USDA hardiness zones 2-7. This tree is not suited to growing zones with warmer temperatures. It thrives in the upper regions of North America and easily withstands freezing temperatures.

Fertilizer

Because of its naturally fast-growing rate, Balm of Gilead should not need much fertilizer. Prepare the soil before planting by mixing in a healthy amount of compost. If soil conditions are poor or the tree's vitality seems to be subpar, apply compost or a well-balanced fertilizer in the spring each year to encourage healthy growth. 

Propagating Balm of Gilead

Propagating Balm of Gilead trees can be done with suckers or cuttings. For cuttings, be sure to take the current year’s growth. For suckers, it is best to cut them in the spring. To propagate cuttings, you will need sharp garden snips, moist, well-draining soil, and a small pot, if desired. Here’s how to propagate through cuttings: 

  1. Using clean, sharp snips, trim a cutting 7 to 12 inches long. 
  2. Remove any lower leaves. 
  3. Plant the cutting in moist, well-draining soil. You can use a pot placed in a protected area, or plant the cutting in the tree's permanent landscaping location. 
  4. If started in a pot, keep the soil moist and the tree protected until roots form. Once this occurs, plant the tree in its permanent location. 

To propagate through suckers, you will need a small shovel, sharp garden snips, and moist, well-draining soil. Then follow these instructions: 

  1. Using the small shovel, gently loosen the soil around the sucker. 
  2. With the root system exposed, use the shovel or garden snips to cut the sucker and its root system away from the mother tree. 
  3. Plant the sucker in moist, well-draining soil in its permanent location. 
  4. Keep the soil moist as the tree establishes.  

How to Grow Balm of Gilead From Seed

Starting balm of Gilead from seed is very easy. However, because this tree is a hybrid, seeds will not produce an exact replica of the parent tree. To start a new tree by seed, follow these instructions:

  1. As soon as the seeds ripen in the spring, collect them. Plant them immediately. 
  2. Plant the seeds in moist, well-draining, rich soil. Lightly cover them and keep them in a protected area, such as a cold frame. 
  3. Keep the soil moist. 
  4. Once the seedlings sprout and are several inches tall, plant each seedling in its own pot. 
  5. If the seedlings are strong by summer, plant them in the ground. If not, continue to grow them in a protected area until next spring. Then plant them in their permanent landscaping location.

Overwintering

Because Balm of Gilead trees are naturally found in areas with frigid winters, they do not require special attention to survive the cold temperatures. If you wish, simply apply an extra layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help insulate the root system.  

Common Problems With Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead trees don't suffer from many common issues. However, the most common problem to plague these trees is bacterial canker, which causes lesions on the trunk or branches.

Lesions on the trunk or branches

Bacterial infections, called cankers, may cause sunken, water-logged lesions to appear on the tree's branches or trunk. Sometimes the areas above this infection will stop growing. The leaves may turn yellow and curl.

This problem can occur when the bacteria responsible for the canker infects the tree from a wound or cut. To treat this, remove the infected areas, if possible. Be sure to remove a section around the canker to ensure complete removal of the bacteria. Always use a tree pruning sealer to seal any open cuts on the tree. Additionally, it's important to clean any pruning equipment before and after pruning activity.

FAQ
  • What is Balm of Gilead?

    As referred to in North America, balm of Gilead is a deciduous hybrid tree from poplar and cottonwood. These trees are fast-growing and can reach a height of 100 feet at maturity. Their buds are often used in herbal medicine.

  • Where do Balm of Gilead trees grow?

    The balm of Gilead tree is native to North America. It is often seen in the eastern part of the U.S., throughout Canada, and up into Alaska.

  • How big do Balm of Gilead trees become?

    Balm of Gilead is a fast-growing tree that can reach up to 100 feet tall with a canopy 40 feet wide at maturity.