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Paulownia, racing for the heavens… to provide blissful shade for all!

Paulownia, a fast-growing shade tree

Paulownia is a fast-growing tree that reaches a stupendous size, and its purple flowers that appear in spring are just as amazing.

Paulownia key facts

Botanical names: Paulownia tomentosa, Paulownia imperialis
Common name – Imperial Paulownia
Family – Scrophulariaceae
TypeShade tree

Bearing – round
Height – up to 60 feet (20 m)
Breadth – 25 to 40 feet (8 to 12 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – any type, well drained
Hardiness – hardy

Paulownia growth rate  – fast
Foliage  – deciduous
Flowering: spring

Flowers appear in spring, right before the tree unfurls its leaves. Oval fruits appear not long afterwards. These fruits are what help distinguish paulownia from its “cousin”, Catalpa.

Planting paulownia

Though it isn’t very picky regarding the type of soil, it does love growing in moist, well-drained and humus-laden soil.

Its most important requirement is exposure: you must give your tree a wide sunny spot for it to grow well.

Paulownia tree flowers and buds

When to plant?

Planting, for paulownia, should take place in fall if possible, in order to ensure proper settling in. You can consider planting in spring, but you’ll have to water much more often.

How to plant it?

Once you’ve found the right spot, follow these few steps to plant your tree:

  • Planting steps for paulownia tomentosa, here young leavesDig a planting trench that’s pretty large.
  • Along the bottom of it, rake some sand, soil mix (or compost) in, and mix it with garden soil.
  • If your pot was sold to you in a pot, remove it and delicately tweak the root ball apart. The goal is to spread a few roots out to all sides.
  • For a bare-root specimen, root dip will protect them and jump-start their growth.
  • Position the tree in the hole, and hammer a stake in near the trunk, but without driving it through any roots.
  • Backfill the planting hole, ridging some soil up in a donut to form a watering bowl. Press the soil down well.
  • Water abundantly to ensure roots and soil mingle together well.
  • Tether your paulownia to the stake with a special staking collar, tied in a figure-8 knot (the center knot being between the tree trunk and the stake).
  • Supply a generous layer of mulch all around the tree to lock moisture into the soil.

Paulownia care

There isn’t much care that you have to give the tree:

  • During the first few years of growth, add water during drought, as soon as the leaves start wilting.
  • In case of deep freezing, protect young saplings from the cold with winterizing fleece.
  • Regularly increase the amount of mulch, since it tends to break down over time.

Pruning paulownia:

Paulownia branches with flowers, expect pruning soonNot necessary. The few times you’ll actually need to prune it are:

  • structural pruning during the first years of growth;
  • eliminating dead, broken, or dangerous branches;
  • triggering growth of leaves that are even more impressive, since they reappear larger after a hard pruning.

Propagating Paulownia:

Seed propagation is the most successful type of propagationTo multiply your tree and get new specimens, simply sow the seeds in pots in a cold frame, with lots of light but sheltered from freezing. This may be started in fall or spring.

Diseases and pests:

Resistant and vigorous, paulownia is vulnerable neither to disease, nor to pests.

Uses of the paulownia tree

The blazing-fast growth and size of the Paulownia tomentosa tree means it’s used mostly in large gardens and parks, either as a standalone or to form large rows.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: Wendy Cutler, Michaela Wenzler, Jan Haerer, Andre Dilweg, Jaqueline Henning
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