How to Grow Tricolor Beech

Tricolor beech tree with copper colored leaves in middle of red and yellow tulip garden

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Tricolor beech is a unique type of European beech, a striking deciduous tree that you won't soon forget. Tricolor beech has low branches and smooth gray bark, and it is often used as a specimen tree due to the variegated leaves that may include many shades of green, pink, and white. From a distance, the tree usually has a rose-colored appearance. The leaves are wavy and oval, 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, which turn an attractive copper color in the fall. Non-showy, yellowish-green flowers appear April through May. Its seeds are small tri-cornered nuts, commonly known as beechnuts, which are edible in small amounts.

The tree grows very slowly when first planted, but as it matures, it may add as much as one foot per year in height, reaching a mature size of 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide, although it's often much smaller. This variety is a more manageable tree than the standard European beech, which often grows to 60 feet. Take extra care if planting this tree in the fall, as the tricolor beech is more sensitive to being transplanted at that time.

Botanical Name Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor' (also may be listed under F. Sylvatica  'Roseo-Marginata' and 'Purpurea Tricolor')
Common Name Tricolor beech, tri-colored European beech, Roseomarginata European beech
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 24-40 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Part shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5.0-6.5; slightly acidic (but tolerates neutral soils)
Bloom Time Early spring
Leaf Color Green, pink, white, and copper
Hardiness Zones 4-7 (USDA)
Native Area Southern England, Denmark
Toxicity Nuts are mildly toxic to people and dogs
Tricolor beech tree stem with copper red and brown leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Tricolor beech tree stem with copper brown and yellow leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Tricolor beech tree with gray bark on trunk and extending stems with yellow-green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Tricolor Beech Care

Tricolor beech can be a wide tree, so give it plenty of space when choosing a location. Its slow growth allows it to serve as a screen or large hedge when planted in rows. Tricolor beech has both male and female flowers on the same tree and will produce edible beechnuts that can be harvested.

Tricolor beech trees are among the most popular trees in public parks and gardens across North America and Europe. One of the oldest and largest public parks featuring tricolor beech trees is in Brookline, Massachusetts, near Boston. The beech trees at the Longwood Mall were planted prior to the Civil War, making them the oldest stand of this type of beech tree in the country.

Light

Most beech trees grow in forests and prefer partial to total shade. Full sunlight may burn their leaves or stunt their growth. Tricolor beech is best suited as an understory tree and part shade conditions.

Soil

This tree prefers well-drained, moist, and slightly acidic soil, though it is quite tolerant of neutral soil. But it does not do well in waterlogged soils. Although considered less fussy than other beeches, tricolor often reacts badly to urban conditions or salty soils.

Water

Since beech trees grow slowly, water regularly for the first two years to establish the root system. Keep in mind that tricolor beech is intolerant of salt in soil or water. Do not plant it near sidewalks, streets, or driveways where de-icing salts are used. This tree reacts badly to wide fluctuations in soil moisture, so make sure to water during dry spells.

It also best to mulch around the base of the tree to keep it moist, but not mulch directly up to the base. Use the space around the base of the tree that is free from mulch to plant ground covers or other plantings since the prominent surface roots make it hard to mow grass.

Temperature and Humidity

Beech trees can tolerate cold climates during the winter, but the trees are sensitive to spring frost. It prefers cooler climates with an average high temperature that doesn't exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The leaves of tricolor beech are prone to scorching if they are not sheltered from the hot sun or dry winds. This is a tree that requires some shade, especially in warmer climates. But in the right environment, tricolor beech will draw attention with its unique appearance.

Fertilizer

Feed your tricolor beech once a year before the appearance of new growth in spring, typically around March. Spread a general granular fertilizer (such as Tree-Tone) over the area under the canopy, then water well.

Related Tricolor Beech Varieties

There are several other popular varieties of European beech to consider:

  • Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea': One of the oldest and most popular is the copper or purple beech, which has purple leaves that turn a dark shade of green in late spring and early summer.
  • Fagus sylvatica 'Tortuosa': This dwarf beech tree is easily recognizable by its twisting trunk and gnarled branches.
  • Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula': A weeping beech, it looks similar to the weeping willow.
  • Fagus sylvatica 'Zlatia': This golden beech has leaves that turn gold in late spring.

Pruning

Routine pruning includes removing any suckers that sprout up and removing broken or dead branches as they appear. Where branches rub together, remove one of them to prevent bark injury where fungal diseases can take root. Pruning is best done during the late winter dormant season.

Tricolor beech can be planted close and pruned to become a hedge, as it tolerates pruning well. However, do not prune until it has become established, which can take one to two years.

How to Grow Tricolor Beech From Seed

It's best to plant tricolor beech as a sapling as cuttings and seeds can be tricky to propagate. Propagating cuttings is typically not recommended for the tricolor beech tree because it has a hit or miss success rate. Growing the tree from seed can be done, though that, too, takes dedication to see the process through correctly. The seeds are typically harvested on the ground shortly after they fall from the tree in October in many regions of the U.S. The triangular nuts turn a shiny brown color when ripe. Here's the long and involved process of growing the tree from harvested seed:

  1. When harvesting, bring a large bowl or container of water with you.
  2. Open pods and drop seeds into the water; eliminate any floating seeds because those are not viable.
  3. Take the seeds that sink to the bottom of the bowl and dry them for two days while they sit in a cool, dark, and dry place.
  4. Moisten a large handful of all-purpose sand or potting sand and put it into a plastic bag that zips closed.
  5. Place seeds in the bag and cover with sand (the sand keeps them from drying out too much). Seal the bag.
  6. Put the bag in a refrigerator for three months for seed stratification.
  7. After 90 days, transfer each seed into its own 4-inch diameter pot filled with a mix of two parts potting soil to one part sand.
  8. Plant the seed about 1/2 inch to 1 inch into the mixture.
  9. Place pots in a bright spot that is not in direct sunlight.
  10. Water pots every few days but never enough to make the soil soggy.
  11. When seedlings develop leaves, begin to add 10-10-10 fertilizer to water and use the solution every two weeks.
  12. Move seedlings to a larger 1-gallon container when they are larger and repeat the watering and fertilizing process.
  13. Plant matured seedlings when they are outdoors in the late winter, early spring, or even in the fall.

Common Pests & Diseases

Beech scale is a common insect problem, best treated by systemic pesticides or insecticidal soap sprays. Caterpillars may feed on the leaves, but rarely to such a degree that harms the tree.

The most common disease problem with beech trees is canker disease, a fungal disease that can cause bleeding wounds on the tree. These are most likely to appear on trees that are stressed through extremes in soil moisture. They can be prevented by taking good care of the tree, and treated with a proper fungicide applied around the lower trunk of the tree.

Beech leaf disease is a relatively new but mysterious problem for tricolor beech trees in some states and in Canada. The leaves begin to take on a dark stain, then shrivel and die, but the cause is still unknown.

Tricolor beech trees can be affected by powdery mildew, which rarely affects the health of the tree, and it can be treated with fungicides.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fagus sylvatica European Beech. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

  2. Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  3. Kenaley, Shawn C., Rose, Clifford, Sullivan, Patrick J., Hudler, George W. Bleeding Canker of European Beech in Southeastern New York State: Phytophthora Species, Spatial Analysis of Disease, and Periodic Growth of Affected Trees. Journal of Environmental Horticulture, 32,3,113-125, 2014, doi:10.24266/0738-2898.32.3.113

  4. Michigan Invasive Species Beech Leaf Disease. State of Michigan.