The Katsura is a deciduous tree with a moderate or fast growth rate. It is of medium maximum height, making it better suited to the average urban or suburban property than a very tall plant such as the American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia). It is known for the yellow color of its fall leaves, its rounded to pyramidal plant form, and the attractive way that its heart-shaped leaves line up opposite each other along the branches. Plant it in late winter or early spring.
- Botanical Name: Cercidiphyllum japonicum
- Common Name: Katsura tree, Japanese Katsura
- Plant Type: Tree
- Mature Size: 40 to 60 feet tall and 25 to 60 feet wide
- Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil Type: Rich, well-drained, and kept evenly moist
- Soil pH: Neutral to slightly acidic
- Bloom Time: March or April
- Flower Color: Plant is dioecious; flowers red on male trees, green on females
- Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
- Native Area: China and Japan
How to Grow Katsura Tree
Katsura trees' preference for rich soil means that you should not spare the compost in growing these trees. By mixing compost into the soil when you plant Katsura trees, you will not only be feeding your plants but also improving soil drainage.
Still, Katsura tree is rather easy to grow, because it tolerates a number of things that other trees may not, including
- Wet soil
- Clay soil
- Acidic soil
Origin of the Botanical and Common Names
"Katsura" is the name of the tree in Japanese. The genus name of Cercidiphyllum indicates that the leaf (phyllum) of the Katsura tree will remind you of that of the redbud tree (Cercis genus). You can easily tell the two apart, though, from how their leaves are arranged on the trees' branches: Those of Katsura line up directly across from each other, whereas those of redbud have an "alternate" pattern. The species name of japonicum reveals the part of the world the plant is indigenous to.
Because they are understory trees in the wild, Katsura trees can be grown in partial shade. In fact, in the more southerly areas of their range, giving them a bit of shade can keep their leaves from becoming scorched in summer. In the North, though, give them full sun, because they achieve better fall-foliage color under these conditions.
Their need for an evenly moist soil argues strongly for the use of mulch around them. By applying a layer of 3 inches of mulch over the soil surface after planting, you will help the ground underneath retain moisture.
The added benefit of organic mulches (such as bark mulch) is that, as they break down, they add further nutrients to the soil and improve its drainage, which is important to Katsura trees.
Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, being sure to soak the ground well afterward to ensure that it goes down to the roots.
Pruning Katsura Trees
You do not need to prune Katsura trees much. Just check in spring for any suckers or dead branches and remove these.
Varieties of Katsura Trees:
- Red Fox Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum Rot Fuchs): Smaller than the species tree (30 feet tall, with a spread of 16 feet), it is one of the most colorful types, bearing purplish-bronze leaves in spring, greenish-bronze leaves in summer, and orangey-bronze fall foliage.
- Weeping Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum Pendulum): 15 to 25 feet high, with a similar to slightly greater spread, the branches of this even smaller type droop down, increasing visual interest.
Landscape Uses for Katsura Trees
Katsura tree is widely grown in the Orient but is not as well known in North America. That is too bad because this plant has a few features that give it value. It is a nice choice for growers who are always looking for a unique plant that will set their yards off from their neighbors'. And you do not have to worry about growing it around children or dogs: Katsura trees are not known to be poisonous, either to people or to pets.
Katsura tree is valuable as a shade tree where a larger tree such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum), at 80 feet, would be too big. Its tidy form, attractive leaf shape, and fall color also suit it to use as a specimen. But if achieving great fall color is your main goal, grow the Red Fox cultivar. The small Pendulum cultivar, however, has the prettiest form of any of the Katsura trees.