Ginkgo biloba, also called maidenhair, is a large broadleaf, deciduous tree with a sculptural pyramid shape. While it loses its leaves in winter, this ancient tree is classified as a conifer and is dioecious, meaning that some trees are male while others are female. Native to China, slow-growing ginkgo biloba trees, broadly speaking, will grow well in USDA planting zones 4 through 9.
The gingko biloba's uniquely fan-shaped leaves start out green but change to golden-yellow in the fall. Before the whole leaf turns golden, there is sometimes a stage during which the leaf is two-toned, with separate bands of gold and green. The common name "maidenhair" was inspired by the fan shape of the leaves, which reminds people of the maidenhair fern (Adiantum spp.). The bark on older specimens of the tree becomes deeply furrowed.
The seeds, which are only present on female trees, and to a lesser extent the leaves, are toxic to humans and pets.
|Common Name||Gingko, maidenhair|
|Botanical Name||Gingko biloba|
|Mature Size||50-80 ft. tall, 30-40 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||4-9 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, toxic to pets.|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Ginkgo Biloba Trees
Gingko Biloba Care
Ginkgo biloba trees are attractive enough to be used as specimen plants in your landscaping, particularly because of their golden fall foliage color. Most of the recommended cultivars grow best in full sun in the North (partial sun in the South), have average water needs, and stand up well to pollution and road salt. In fact, as salt-tolerant plants, they are good choices for those who landscape near the ocean.
They are also disease-resistant and tolerate urban pollution.
Plant ginkgo biloba in an area that receives full sun to part shade.
The ginkgo is not fussy about soil type or most soil conditions and will tolerate both acidic and alkaline soil as well as compacted soil. It prefers well-drained sandy soil or loam with a pH in the 5.0 to 8.0 range. They are more tolerant of compacted soil than many other types of trees.
Water as needed to keep the soil moist, provided the site is well-drained. Moisture is particularly important when the tree is young; it is relatively drought-tolerant at maturity.
Temperature and Humidity
Ginkgo bilobas are commonly grown in urban sites in many regions, proving their tolerance of a wide range of moisture conditions and temperatures. However, they can struggle in hot, dry climates.
Young ginkgo biloboa trees can benefit from a spring feeding of tree fertilizer. For the amount, follow the product label instructions. Mature trees typically do not need to be fed.
Varieties of Male Ginkgo Biloba Trees
- 'Autumn Gold' (zones 3 to 8) is a popular male cultivar. It grows to 40 to 50 feet tall, with a spread of 25 to 30 feet and has a broadly spreading canopy.
- 'Saratoga' (zones 4 to 8) has a similar size and shape to 'Autumn Gold'. What makes this cultivar different is the V-shape of its leaves, which strays from the usual fan shape.
- ‘Fastigiata' (zones 3 to 8) is another popular male cultivar and is a good choice if you want a tree that is narrow (column-shaped). It becomes 30 to 50 feet tall but just 10 to 15 feet wide.
- 'Princeton Sentry' (zones 3 to 8) is also columnar but matures somewhat larger, at 40 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide.
- 'Fairmont' (zones 5 to 8) is a tall, skinny tree, reaching at least 50 feet in height but just 15 to 18 feet across.
- 'Pendula' (zones 5 to 8) is a good choice for a small space. It's a slow-growing male cultivar that has a stocky build and reaches just 8 feet tall at maturity, with a maximum spread of 10 feet. While the cultivar name 'Pendula' usually suggests a weeping form, in this case, the tree is more umbrella-shaped.
Many types of ginkgo start out narrow while young but then become quite wide as they age, growing into shade trees. You can slow down this process a little by pruning them while young so as to force them to produce a single leader. But a much better solution is to select a cultivar known to have a narrow shape.
At the other end of the spectrum, they are also used for Japanese bonsai.
Propagating a Gingko Biloba Tree
Gingko can be propagated from cuttings. Here's how it's done:
- In May or June, take a 6-inch stem cutting of young wood from a male gingko tree.
- Fill a 4-inch pot with potting mix and water it thoroughly until the soil is evenly moist. You can use one pot for a couple of cuttings but leave at least 1 inch space between them.
- Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone. Make a hole in the soil with a pencil or stick for each cutting and insert the cuttings in the holes.
- Place the pot in an outdoor location in bright, indirect light out of the hot sun. Keep the soil moist at all times but not soggy.
- Once one of the cuttings has rooted, cut the other one to the soil level (don’t pull it out, or you will disturb the tender new roots).
- When the roots start to grow out of the drain holes, repot cuttings to larger individual pots and let them grow in pots for a couple of seasons. The stronger the sapling is when transplanted, the better its chance of survival in the landscape.
Growing Gingko from Seed
While it is possible to grow a gingko from seed, the safest way to ensure you are growing a male tree is through cuttings, as described above.
Common Problems with Gingko Biloba Trees
The male trees are preferred (unless you have allergies), because they are fruitless. Female trees bear a fruit-like product, actually a seed ball. It not only emits a foul odor but also is slippery when it drops down on sidewalks or driveways. The problematic "fruit" is about the size of a cherry tomato.
Female Trees Drop Smelly Fruit
Cleaning up after female Ginkgo biloba trees is a high-maintenance task. Fortunately, all-male cultivars have been created through grafting. Buying one of these cultivars gives you a way to experience the beauty of the tree while avoiding the mess.
What is special about gingko trees?
Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living tree species, it has remained on earth about 200 million years, which is why it is also called a “living fossil”. A gingko tree can live for more than 1,000 years.
Are gingko trees rare?
They used to be rare but not any longer. Gingko biloba is a popular street tree because of the shade it provides, its longevity, and its resistance to pests and diseases.
Are gingko trees invasive?
Gingko biloba. NC State University Cooperative Extension.
Kiyomizu, T., Yamagishi, S., Kume, A. et al. Contrasting Photosynthetic Responses to Ambient Air Pollution Between the Urban Shrub Rhododendron × Pulchrum and Urban Tall Tree Ginkgo Biloba in Kyoto City: Stomatal and Leaf Mesophyll Morpho-Anatomies Are Key Traits. Trees, 33, 63–77, 2019, doi:10.1007/s00468-018-1759-z