How to Grow a Yellowwood Tree

Yellowwood tree branches with rounded and ribbed leaves hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The yellowwood tree will brighten your yard with a showy floral display in spring and when the leaves turn yellow in autumn. But that won't happen until the tree is about 10 years old. Once it blooms, the intensely fragrant, wisteria-like flowers droop in long terminal panicles of about 10 to 15 inches long and will cover the mature tree in late spring. A profuse bloom may only happen every couple of years, however. After the blooms are pollinated, they form brown leguminous pods.

The tree is best transplanted in the late winter and early spring when it's balled and burlapped or transplanted from a container-grown nursery stock at any time during the year. It will grow somewhat slowly, reaching 9 to 12 feet in about a decade. Its mature size will reach 30 to 50 feet high and equally as wide, forming into a vase shape. Each leaf will measure up to 12 inches long and will be made up of seven to 11 leaflets. They will change to yellow in the fall.

Botanical Name  Cladrastis kentukeaCladrastis lutea, Cladrastis tinctoria
Common Name Yellowwood, American yellowwood, virgilia, gopherwood, Kentucky yellowwood
Plant Type Deciduous
Mature Size 30-50 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Part sun, full sun
Soil Type Well-drained, loamy, sandy
Soil pH Alkaline and acidic
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color  White, pink
Hardiness Zones  5-8 (USDA)
Native Area  Southeastern United States, especially in Kentucky

Yellowwood Tree Care

Known as a shade tree, the yellowwood even works well in urban conditions thanks to its drought tolerance. While the floral display is a key feature of this plant, it can be erratic. Some years, the blossoms will be plentiful; other years, there will be sparse to none. It is still a valuable tree for its fall show, tolerance of a variety of conditions, and the fact that its flowers are favored by honey bees. Its interior is of value, too. The yellowwood name came about because the heartwood is yellow and can be used to make dyes.

Yellowwood tree with full of branches with green leaves in front of wooded area

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Yellowwood tree trunk and sprawling branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Yellowwood tree with rounded and ribbed green leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Yellowwood tree with bright yellow and yellow-green leaves during fall

Howard Rice / Getty Images


Site this tree in a spot where it will receive at least part sun. Full sun is best to encourage flowering.


Alkaline and acidic soils are both handled well by this tree. It can also tolerate the full range of soils from sand to clay.


This tree does handle drought as long as the roots have had a proper chance to spread through a growing season of regular watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Yellowwood is adaptable but does prefer isolated forest environments with good air circulation. It can be found in well-drained limestone soils in river valleys, slopes, and ridges along streams.


The yellowwood is one of the Fabaceae family members that does not utilize nitrogen fixation. You may need to fertilize it if tests show N levels are low and symptoms like yellowing foliage appear. Test to be sure as conditions like drought or overwatering have the potential to also cause yellow leaves.

Yellowwood Tree Varieties

The yellowwood belongs to the Fabaceae (pea) family. This is a large family with species like wattles (Acacia spp.), silk tree (Albizia julibrissin), thornless honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis), and the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).

If you prefer pink flowers, look for the 'Perkin's Pink'/'Rosea' variety.


You should start pruning when the tree is young to help it keep good branch angles. The branches tend to grow close to each other and the wood can be brittle. Take these steps for adequate pruning:

  1. This tree tends to bleed sap from wounds made in the winter, so pruning should be performed in the summer or right after flowering is complete in the late spring.
  2. Make sure there is a central leader.
  3. Remove crossing branches.
  4. Create strong branch angles that are wide to help keep the tree healthier and make sure new branches are farther apart.
  5. Be careful when working on this tree as the bark is thin and can quickly become damaged.

Common Pests & Diseases

This tree does not have many pest or disease issues that crop up. It is possible, however, that verticillium wilt, cankers, rots, and decay could strike.