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Learning to Grow: The Katsura – a tree for all seasons

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 11:46 a.m. CDT

As August winds down, thoughts of fall loom on the horizon. Children have returned to school and our summer gardens begin to fade.  Pumpkins and mums will soon appear. Perhaps you will find a nearby orchard to visit; fresh baked apple pie sounds appealing on a crisp fall day! Many of us in northern Illinois welcome this change of season as it brings the beauty of brilliant fall colors to the landscape.

One of my favorite trees, the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) will soon feature eye-catching leaves that vary in color from yellow to orange to apricot. As the leaves drop, one can detect a slight odor of cinnamon or cotton candy.

I planted this tree many years ago, long before it became a popular specimen. The Katsura is a tree recommended for northern Illinois by the University of Illinois. Native to Japan, this deciduous tree grows at a medium rate. The Katsura can grow 40 to 60 feet in height and is often broader than it is tall. I planted this tree in a back corner of my yard and, within a few years, the spreading tree offered a beautiful privacy screen for my in-town yard. In time, the tree appeared somewhat pyramidal.  

It is important to plant this specimen tree where it can mature into a healthy mature tree. The Katsura favors moist, well drained soil. Place this tree in a spot where there is shade or partial sun.

This adaptable tree is best planted in the spring. The Katsura is a tree that suffers during a drought. A young tree will need additional watering during hot, dry spells. The Katsura, like most plants, trees, and shrubs, is usually pest free if it is planted in the proper environment.  

As I mentioned, the fall colors on this tree are beautiful. In the spring, the new, heart-shaped leaves of the Katsura emerge with a hint of red. As summer unfolds, the leaves turn bluish green. In winter, the leafless tree is still pleasing to the eye; the slightly exfoliating gray bark provides visual interest. 

I find this beautiful tree to be one that can be enjoyed throughout all seasons. You may wish to find a suitable spot in your garden for planting this exceptional tree next spring.

• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166.

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