How to Grow a Basswood Tree

Lone linden tree in a field against a bright blue sky.


anmbph/Getty Images.

In This Article

Basswood, lindens, and lime: they're all describing trees from the same genus, Tilia. This genus is a collection of trees that spans the globe. In continental Europe and on the East Coast of the United States, the tree is often referred to as a linden. In the United Kingdom, it is referred to as the lime tree, and in the Western United States, the tree itself and its wood are referred to as Basswood. To confuse things even more, all wood from linden trees is usually called basswood. Tilia is a perfect example of why botanical names are so important.

Trees in the genus are often used as specimen trees or shade trees that line urban streets. The linden's canopies create deep shade with branches covered in densely bright green leaves with an asymmetrical heart shape. The real aesthetic draw of these lovely trees is their sweet-smelling white flowers that bloom every spring. The flowers are a matter of controversy, though, as research shows some Tilia spp. are toxic to bumblebees while others are not. It is worth noting that this only affects bumblebees; linden has been used for millennia to create honey, but bumblebees are prime pollinators and not profuse honey makers.

If looking for a wonderfully ornamental shade tree suitable as a specimen or being planted in an allee, the genus Tilia offers several excellent selections readily available in the nursery trade for you to use in your landscape design.

Common Name Basswood, Linden, Lime
Botanical Name Tilia spp.
Family Name Malvaceae
 Plant Type Deciduous tree
 Mature Size Malvaceae
 Sun Exposure Full sun
 Soil Type Average, medium moisture, well-drained
 Soil pH Varies
 Bloom Time Late spring
 Flower Color Pale yellow
 Hardiness Zones Varies
 Native Area Varies

Basswood Care

For the most part, the Tilia is exceptionally hardy and easy to care for. It will not take a lot of planning other than accounting for the tree's large size and the one caveat that all Tilia owners must consider: it attracts insects that love its sweet delicious sap, and these insects sometimes secrete a sugar-based fluid, excreted by certain plant-sucking insects, called honeydew. This secretion can cause a mess on your property and be a nuisance and unsightly, and if left on cars, can damage finishes.

Other than avoiding that sticky situation, doing some research on what species is right for your area or if there is basswood native to your region might be a good idea. It is always a great idea to plant native if possible.

Light

You will find that most basswoods prefer full sun and will produce the most amount of blossoms under this condition. Some species have a slight tolerance for partial shade, but you will notice a distinct reduction in flowers when enough light is not present.

Soil

The soil conditions for various Tilia species will mostly hover around the average to the moist range, ensuring that the soil is well-drained. Throughout the genus, the pH scale will vary from species to species, with some being more inclined to tolerate higher alkalinity, like the Tilia cordata, the small-leaved linden. By contrast, American basswood (Tilia americana) will not tolerate alkaline soils.

Water

One of the wonderful things about planting native trees or trees that were not specifically cultivated for ornamental use is that they will usually not require supplemental irrigation once they are planted and established. Of course, this does not apply if they are planted in zones completely foreign to their range or are very drought tolerant.

Basswoods are not drought tolerant, so if you live in an area prone to drought, you may need to do some supplemental watering or consider water-wise gardening or xeriscaping.

If a tree in the linden genus is the right tree for you, you will need to water it well until it is established, following the standard rule of 10 gallons per week per inch of trunk diameter. Continue watering like this for the first two years.

Temperature and Humidity

There are around 30 species of Tilia from around the globe, with most able to hybridize with the others. The species all vary greatly on their tolerance for temperature and humidity, and it is best when looking to design your landscape you do some research to see what is the best fit for your hardiness zone.

Fertilizer

Most trees not bred in cultivation will do just fine without supplemental fertilization. But, if you apply a slow-release granular fertilizer in the fall, basswood is a genus that you will notice a difference in. A general-purpose tree or flowering tree fertilizer should do the trick. You are looking for healthy foliage and bloom production, so a higher N and P number is best in the NPK formulation.

Types of Basswood

  • Little-Leaf Linden (Tilia cordata): This type of basswood grows in USDA zones 3 to 7, though it's native to Europe. It grows 60 to 70 feet tall, and 40 to 50 feet wide.
  • American linden (Tilia americana): Native to the Eastern United States, the American linden grows up 50 to 80 feet tall, and 40 to 60 feet wide. It grows best in zones 2 to 8.
  • Silver linden (Tilia tomentosa): The silver linden, native in the area that ranges from southeast Europe to Turkey, grows in USDA zones 4-7. It can grow 50 to 70 feet tall, and 40 to 50 feet wide.
  • Henry's lime (Tilia henryana): Native to Eastern China, Henry's lime grows best in zones 6 to 8 where it can grow 70 to 80 feet tall and 50 to 60 feet wide.
White and yellow blossoms of the little-leaf linden
Little-leaf linden

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American linden about to blossom
American linden

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Rain soaked leaves of the Tilia tomentosa
silver linden

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Close up of Henry's Lime Leaves
Henry's lime

Ptelea (talk) 15:26, 23 June 2008 (UTC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons