Tri Color Beech for Summer color and winter bark

Last post, I recommended two purple leaf beech trees for the residential garden.  In it, I covered the purple fountain beech.  Now, I will cover the Tri color beech.

Tri Color Beech = Big Color Splash

The Tri color beech grows shaped more like a regular beech than the Purple Fountain beech, only smaller.  It has a rounded outline and if not pruned will grow branches from the ground up.  These look a lot more like a normal shaped tree than the Purple Fountain beech.

Tricolor beech spring foliage

My Tricolor beech in spring

Tri color beech screams specimen

It is not its shape that draws attention, but instead its unique leaf color.  You see it has a purple leaf with a variegation that has pale rose color.  Hence its name as ’Roseomarginata’.   The overall effect of the two color leaf is what appears to be a purplish pink tree.  The tree looks terrific when back lit by the rising or setting sun.

Tri color beech back lit

Back lit leaf
photo credit: Henry McLin via photopin cc

It works great as a tree next to a patio.  In fact the first one I ever saw that really wowed me was one at Rich’s Fox Willlow Pines in Woodstock that was sitting next to a patio.  It was probably about 20 feet tall and was a fabulous tree to sit next to and just stare at it.  I believe Rich donated it to a botanic garden or sold it, so it is no longer there.

The size of the Tri color beech will get to perhaps 30 feet high and 20 feet wide in most locations.  It might take two or three decades to get that size.  Depending of course upon how big it is when you plant it.  The edges of this tree’s leaves will burn in August unless it gets some afternoon shade.

Seasonal interest

Tri color beech has wonderful fresh late spring early summer purple pink leaf color.  The color fades in the sun of the summer and if not shaded the leaf edges will get a little shall we say “crispy”.  This does not hurt the tree, but it just looks better if it gets some afternoon shade.

It gets a light bronze fall color that is nice.  Mine does not tend to hold many leaves in the winter but perhaps a bit less summer sun may improve this.  The smooth gray bark gets provides winter interest once the tree gets larger.

Finch in beech tree

This tree is for the birds!
photo credit: Steve took it via photopin cc

Plant Details

Hardiness Zones:  Zone 4

Exposure:  Light shade.  Afternoon shade best.

Height:  20-30’

Width 10’-20’

Features: Striking purple foliage with irregular pinkish-white and rose borders, Ornamental Bark, Slow Growing.

Growth Habit:  Upright oval to rounded form.

Fall Color: Light tan/Bronze

Tricolor Beech larger specimen

A more established tricolor beech from a garden in Woodstock, IL

Beech Tree Care and Growing Tips:

Water deeply as needed, particularly in hot, dry weather

Mulch them with a good bark mulch to retain moisture, BUT DON’T MOUND IT AGAINST THE TRUNK OR A BUNCH OF TREEHUGGERS WILL PICKET YOUR HOUSE AND HECKLE YOU ON TWITTER.  Well not really, but this post was getting a little boring.

Beeches are best pruned in late winter once the worst of winter has passed.

Deer don’t particularly care for beeches and will usually leave it alone.  It has few pest problems unless you are near areas where native beech forests have been decimated by beech bark scale.  If you are away from the woods or in Illinois or west, you should be fine.

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  1. Patty says

    We have a beautiful tri-colored beech that we planted last year. We have been excitedly watching the leaf buds form until today when we found the trunk and several branches covered in a light, off-white powder. I’m not sure if this is scale or some other issue. Do you know if this is a common problem in upstate NY, and do you have any suggestions on how to take care of the issue? Thanks for any help you can offer.

    • says

      Patty, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but from your description is does sound like it could be the scale that starts the disease. New York state is definitely infested, so I would assume it is the case or at least probable. The good news is unless it is already pretty far gone, you can kill those suckers!

      You also can use some very safe chemicals to do it. No need for the nasty stuff we have to use to kill some bugs. A highly refined summer Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap may both be used to kill the scale and should be applied when the immature form of scale — crawlers — are present. Of course the bad news is you will have to at least be on the lookout and perhaps treat the scale every year. Heck, according to Michigan State (See below) you can even scrub them off. That sounds kind of gratifying, like picking off Japanese Beetles from my peach tree and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.

      “Left untreated, the disease may be fatal. Eliminating the scale insects controls the disease. Look for beginning scale infestations on the trunk of large trees, often near branch stubs or other rough areas. Remove scale insects from the lower part of the tree by brushing with a soft brush or by using water from a high-pressure nozzle. If horticultural oils are used, apply them only when the tree is dormant.” – Michigan State University (

      I would probably contact your local extension office or the Plant clinic at the closest arboretum or botanic garden and see if they can give your any further advice as far as chemicals to use or timing of the application.

  2. Patty says

    Thanks for the speedy reply. We followed your advice and checked with a nearby source. They recommended using a specific soap and brush. After a good scrubbing we are hopeful that our tree will survive. Of course we plan on making this an annual event if necessary. We greatly appreciate your help!

  3. Mindy says

    Great post :) I’m in love with this tree! I’d like to plant one in our front landscaping but I read it has fiborous roots so other plants can’t grow “under” it…I’m a gardening newbie…is this true? We would only have a few small plants near it (hostas, lilys, coral bells, etc.) so in my total unexpert opinion it seems ok…thoughts? Oh also, I’m in Michigan and it would only have morning shade…thats ok, but not ideal I gather? Thanks for any insights you can share!!

  4. says

    Hi Mindy, Beech trees do have shallow roots, but I think if your plants are existing they will do fine. It is harder to plant under an established Tricolor beech, but if you are just planting the tree your existing plants will do fine. If the lilies are close to the trunk of the tree they will eventually have a problem.

    These trees do prefer afternoon shade in the hot summer months. It will survive (mine is in full sun in Chicago area), but the leaves will look pretty rough at the end of summer. A nice layer of much and regular watering will help them. If you have another spot with some shade in afternoon that would be a better spot, but in Michigan you should be OK in your spot.

  5. Jeff duncan says

    I am on my second tri-color beech. It’s in full sun, but I water it daily. The leaves are looking droopy and I am not sure what else to do, so I am looking for help!

    • says

      Don’t water it daily. Even in high heat thats too much. A long deep watering one or twice a week should be sufficient. If its over a hundred maybe three times a week. If you soil is sand then maybe every other day only during extreme heat. Natures funny in that the symptoms of overwatering look a lot like underwatering. I think your leaves are dropping due to excess moisture. Let the soil dry out between waterings.

      Make sure you give it a long deep watering when you do water it.

  6. Christine says

    Hi Jim, I was wondering if a tri-colour Beech would do in Ontario, Canada just north of Toronto Zone 4b? Have a sheltered in back yard with a morning sun afternoon shade area I was thinking of planting one. They sell them locally here but there’s confliting information with regards to there hardiness. Any thoughts?

  7. Stephanie says

    We have a beautiful tri-colored beech at the house we just moved in to in November. I’d guess it is about 20′ tall. The problem is, I think it was planted waaaay to close to the house. It is about 5-6 feet away from the house, and I am worried about this because the canopy of the tree is already touching the house and I’m sure the roots are up against the foundation. I don’t know what kind of root system this tree has, could it be causing damage? Would it even be feasible to think we could move this tree? If not, I’m afraid we are going to have to cut it down. :(

    • says

      Hi Stephanie,

      Your tree is probably too close and will probably cause problems eventually. You could trench close to your house and protect your foundation using some copper coated materials. But at 5 feet it is really too close for this to be a long term solution as the tree will grow into the house. Ten or 12 feet away, that might work, but 5 is really close.

      The tree probably can be moved. IF you can hire a tree spade and they can get ACCESS to the tree. The good news I don’t think you are in an urgent time frame here. What you will want to do is have the tree root pruned inside the diameter of the the tree spade. Do this a year before the tree is to be moved. This will give the tree a chance to grow feeder roots closer to the trunk which will aid in it’s survival.

      If you can find a tree care company that knows what they are doing, you can move this tree. I would Google “tree moving” and maybe even look in the yellow pages to see who is in your area. Call them, describe what you have and see if they can give you an idea of what they would charge. Definitely contact at least 3 companies if you have that many in your area, as the prices they charge and their means of moving the tree may vary widely.

      If you can root prune the tree a year in advance and wait to move it till the dormant season, you odds of success will increase. See what the companies suggest. If you want to get really geeky, here is a info sheet that talks about moving larger trees (

      I hope that helps.

      • Stephanie says

        Thanks you very much for this info! I measured it last night and it is a little farther away from the house than I thought – closer to 8 feet. I’ll look into some local companies and go from there.

  8. Brian says

    HI Jim.
    I planted a tri color beech beside my deck- loved it the first time I saw one while riding in the neighbourhood. Trouble is I thought it would grow to 12- 15 feet, but now I see it is really hitting its stride. Is there a way to prune it to keep it manageable and shorter than 30 feet? Would you say the roots are about twice as wide as the branches? Gotta go measure if it is too close to the house. Thanks. Brian from Toronto

    • says

      They most definitely can be pruned to stay smaller. European beeches are often used as hedges in England, so they do take pruning well. Making them look natural while keeping them small does take some skill and practice. If you keep the tree small, I would not worry about it’s roots getting too aggressive. They are not like willows. If you are willing to be dedicated to pruning it you can definitely keep it smaller, that is a big part of what we do at Japanese gardens as pruners.

  9. Christopher Barone says

    there is also a tri color columnar variety, any info? was thinking of planting one in the fall if I can find one .

    • says

      I was not aware of that. You may want to try Rich’s Foxwillow Pines ( if you are anywhere near Northern Illinois. They do have premium prices, but have an incredible variety of plants and are good people too.

  10. Jennifer Burbank says

    Hi Jim,
    We have what I believe to be a tricolor beech on our property in CT but it seems to be struggling. The branches have leaves on the ends but the center is sparse and appear to be wrapped in places with what looks like lichen. This lichen prevented many of the leaves from opening this spring. A greenhouse did indeed diagnose it as lichen but said it was not harmful to the tree. They also recommended that I try feeding the tree in hopes it will push through this tough ‘phase’. Does this seem accurate to you?

    Thanks so much!

    • says

      Mine also has a fair amount of lichen on it and yes it is harmless. See the comment above and my response regarding beech bark scale to make sure you don’t have that as it is a serious pest of beech that may or may not be common in your area.

      Last year in much of the US, Tricolor beech probably had a rough time with the excessive summer heat and drought. You may be seeing symptoms of this if it was similar in your area last summer.

  11. Julie says

    Hi Jim:

    I am wondering if you have any good recommendations as to what perennials might do well and look showy in front of the tri colored beech.

    Thanks, Julie

    • says

      Hmmm, They have some real strong visual energy so I think you would want something that was mellow. I think I would go with something with green foliage and a flower than was pale or white perhaps, no oranges or yellow as I would think that they would clash. I actually have a green with white variegated Hosta by mine that looks nice. The variegation echoes the Tricolor but is still pretty mellow as it is white and green.

      Nothing with colored foliage as I think that would be too much. The beech does have shallow roots and casts a dense shade, so consider that depending upon on how close the perennials will be to it. Pachysandra both Japanese and Allegheny spurge may be good choices for a ground cover under it.

      Anybody else have any ideas out there?

      • Sheilah says

        I have put grey/silver plants with my purple beeches and it is stunning: lambs ears, dusty miller and artemisia. Chartreuse plants work well too.

    • says

      Is it all purple leaf? I have heard and seen a branch or two do this for a year, but never a whole tree. I have to plead ignorance on this, I will look into it and see if anybody can give me an answer on this. How much sun does the tree get?

    • says

      I checked with Rich’s to see if they had any ideas. They said they saw some of their trees have little varigation last year and speculated that your trees issue may be related to heat and drought from last year.

      I am not sure where you are located but drought being a factor sounds like it might make sense.

      I think your tree will probably leaf out normally next year, although it may be a couple of years if it is drought induced. I am really speculating here though.

  12. Christi says

    Hi Jim,
    I have a young Tri-Color that was planted very late June, lower Michigan. It was doing beautifully for a few weeks, it seemed. After seeing other posts, though, I think I may have watered it too much, even though we had a scorching heat spell for a few weeks following its planting. In a very short span of time the leaves have browned and curled, but do not feel dry nor have fallen off. The heat spell passed, and I backed off on the watering, though we have had many cool rainy days. The branches are not dry, but I do notice variegation on the little branches that depart off the trunk (a gray variegation). I am so sad if this pretty little tree is dying, but something makes me hope maybe it will recover from shock? It does get morning and afternoon sun but has very(!) large pines planted to its southwest of it to shield it from later afternoon sun. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Keep watering it if needed and hope for best. Next year if it does not leaf out right away give it a few more weeks. They do leaf out late spring too. Not past any have though!

  13. rene says

    I have a beautiful Tri-Color Beech that i am crazy about. So many people out walking have stopped to ask what type of tree it was. The branches are down really low and in the way when mowing. I was reading your advice on pruning how far up can you prune? I do not want to harm my tree.

    • says

      It depends on how big the tree is. You can limb it up a bit, but beech branches do tend to droop. I would consider extending a mulched bed under the tree to eliminate mowing under it.

  14. Jennifer says

    I really want to get a tri-color beech for me front yard, but I have the deer issue. Should I be concerned about the deer eating the leaves if I get one? I haven’t had them eating leaves off of my other trees, but I’m wondering if perhaps this one is tastier to them. Thanks!

    • says

      They are considered moderately susceptible to deer damage. They are not their favorite food, but will eat if hungry enough.

      They are usually not severely damaged.

  15. Bridget Goldsmith says

    We have a tri coloured beech that was planted last fall. It gets great afternoon shade. I noticed when it leafed out that the leader did not get any leaves. Also it has lichen on it. This week one day it had leaves and the next day they were gone. Something ate them in a day (or night) like a swarm of locusts had come through. What was it and what can we do about it? We are still in our warranty period.

    • says

      Boy I am not sure what’s going on with your tree. Did the leaves drop or are their still parts attached to the tree with most of the leaf eaten off.

      It could be early leaf drop due to stress, but it could be worse. I would definitely contact the nursery to see what they say. Tell them you think it may have died and at least they can be on noticed and maybe they will extend your warranty till next year instead of them having to replace the tree this year.

      • Bridget Goldsmith says

        I am pretty sure they were eaten as there were no leaves around the tree as you would expect from leaf drop. It was planted last fall and leafed out beautifully this spring and then as I said last week overnight it looked like a swarm of locusts went through and not a leaf left.

        • says

          Well the good news it is late enough in the season that those leaves probably produced enough sugars for the tree so that it will survive this defoliation.

  16. Judie says

    I have a tri-colored beech that is about 5-6 years old. I just noticed the ends of the leaves are turning brown, we live in Ohio and we did have a rather cool August. I am wondering if this is normal or should I be worried about a disease?

    • says

      If I am understanding you right, That sounds like a normal late summer, too much sun symptom. Mine does the same thing. Is it the pink part that is turning brown and are they dry?

  17. Bridget Goldsmith says

    Another question, at the same time we bought the tri colour beech we also bought a Mountain Ash and it is looking very sorry for itself. Not many leaves, some of the branches never did get leaves, do you think it is a goner? It is hard when you have trees delivered and planted in Nov as they have no leaves. The other species we had planted are doing really well.

  18. Lois says

    Hello Jim,
    I just purchased a Tricoloured beech on the advice of a nurseryman. It is now planted on a hillside in sandy loam, wide open to the south and west on the topside of a hill. It will not receive any shade at all. I called the nursery when I read the ticket suggesting that this tree should have afternoon shade and they said as long as I water it it should be fine. I live in Canada in zone 4a -4bbut this tree is exposed to the prevailing west winds. Should I persevere? They gave me a one year warranty but I’m worried that this tree may not withstand the open spaces.

    • says

      That may be an especially tough site for that tree, but it will probably survive if you are diligent with watering especially the first three years and during droughts. I am sure by late summer it will be look a little rough.

  19. Shannon says

    We just bought a tri-colored Beech to plant off of our backyard deck (which is 14 feet off the house, but there is a shed that is only 5 feet away from where we will be planting this tree. We also have a waterfall 8 feet away. Is there a way I can keep this tree pruned so that it doesn’t grow too large? Is there a website that will tell me how to prune it so that it doesn’t end up a shrub? I love the leaves and the bark with the lichen, I just can’t have a 20 foot wide tree in this spot. Will this tree work for me do you think or should I return it? (I just bought it and haven’t planted it yet). We live in Northern Nevada (high desert), so we get hot summers and snow in the winter. We’re zone 5-6.

    • says

      How hot and dry are your summers? These beeches certainly like a little shade in the hot afternoons in my area (Chicago) or their leafs will scorch by the end of summer. If you are getting temperatures in excess of the upper 90’s this tree will REQUIRE shade, mulch and attentive watering during the hottest parts of the summer. The winters should not be a problem for it.

      If these are being sold in your area by local nursery and landscapers, you might as well give it a shot. It is a slow growing tree under best conditions and if it is under stress from heat, it will be even slower. European beeches are often used as hedges so they certainly can tolerate pruning.

      If you don’t mind the tree eventually engulfing the are around and above your shed, you should be able to remove branches growing directly toward it. Those distances you mentioned will require pruning, but they don’t scare me as being too close. If you need to you can always remove the tree later. If you get twenty years out of it and decide it has outgrown it’s space you are allowed to remove it. My guess is the shed and maybe the waterfall will be gone before the tree.

      As far as a website that will tell you how to prune it. I would say I think you found it. I will certainly be covering everything you need to know before you need to prune it . In fact I would suggest you take a look at some of my pruning posts

  20. Cameron says

    We just got a tri-colored beech and the nursery is coming to install it so I thought I would look into how to maintain it. You mentioned that it has a low root system. We are planting this next to our walkway up to our house as well as it is next to our driveway. Should we be concerned that it is going to damage them both. It is at the corner of where they both meet. Is there a specific distance we should be away from them?

    • says

      Beeches do have shallow root systems. This is a concern with trying to grow plants under established trees but can cause sidewalk issues as the trees get larger.
      I would try to plant it as far away as possible, but I don’t think it would be a major problem.

      The main reason is that it is going to be a smaller cultivar of the European Beech. If you were planting a Riversii or another of the ones that get 40-60 feet tall and wide, I think you would have a larger problem with sidewalks.

      The Tri color will probably be about 30′ tall and 20′ wide when it matures, so you do want to give it room to spread out a bit, but it’s not going to be a monster sized tree.

      I think it’s root system won’t cause issues with sidewalks if it was at least 10 feet away from them. I have seen a pretty decent sized one planted as a street tree oddly enough and it was probably 5 feet from both the sidewalk and the road and not causing any problems to either. So you could probably go a bit closer then 10 feet if you wanted.

  21. Lisa L says

    I have a tri-color beech tree in my front yard. I planted it about 8 years ago. It has always done really well in it’s location. This year as the leaves opened I noticed the leaves on the top half of the tree are drooping and look dried out. The bottom half looks normal and healthy. Do I have a problem that I can fix??

    • says

      It does sound like you have a problem that could be a big one. Did you experience a hard frost after the leaves were opening?

      I would also look at the trunk at the point above which the leaves are showing symptoms, is there any injury or other things that look odd there?

      Definitely look in the above comments for the one on beech bark scale, if you are in an area that has this problem, this may be something to look for. If it is, there are measures you can take to save your tree.

      Has there been any odd things happening to the soil such as a water leak from an irrigation system, etc?

      Any pesticide or fertilizer applications since the leaves have come out?

      There are a lot of things that it could be, as far as what to do it will depend upon the stress that caused the issue. But in general if you keep it well watered (not too much though, once or twice a week if it is very hot should be enough) during the summer hopefully it can recover. Don’t be in a rush to cut out branches that look dead, there could be dormant buds that open later in the summer if your current leaves fall off.

      Good luck.

  22. Char Carlson says

    We have a fairly young tri colored beech tree that we planted 2 years ago. This year, although it has lots of leaves, it actually looks like a weeping variety! The leaves are full and show no signs of stress, but all the branches are arching down. At first, we thought that maybe the tree was mislabeled at the nursery, but the leaves are the nice tri color. Any ideas what’s going on with the tree?

    • says

      If it is still a very small tree, it is probably just normal till the branches grow a bit thicker. I don’t know of any weeping form of the tricolor beech.

  23. elijah says

    Hi, Great write up.

    I just bought one and have a couple of questions abou the growth habit.

    1) The trunk is somewhat twisted. Will that straighten with age as it thickens up? Or will it always look somewhat crooked.

    2) The leader on top (at around 6 feet) forks sharply to the sides. Is it preferable to train one straight or is that the typical growth habit?


    • says

      The trunk won’t straighten out but it will be less noticeable as it thickens. This is not uncommon on beeches and usually adds a bit to their character as they grow.

      It is preferable to train one of the branches straight to be the leader.

  24. Joel Bradshaw says

    I live on a moderatly busy small city street in Grand Haven Michigan. Next year my street is being completely rebuilt and I am losing my 50 year old basswood tree which I love! Its location is in the boulevard portion of my house between the sidewalk and street (12 feet)
    And faces east. I have lusted after a tri-colored beech for years and have had no where to place one. I now plan on replacing the soon doomed basswood with this tree….. Does this sound like a viable option, or am I spending too much money ($250.00) on my new specimen?

    • says

      I have seen a Tri Color beech used as a street tree in Rockford, IL. Given your location in an area that does have Beech bark disease and native beech present I think I would consider another tree. There are some other reasons that make it questionable as a street tree. The thin bark is a magnet for vandalism from bored teens walking by and the branches do have a tendency to grow close to the ground.

      If you really want it, you can always give it a try. If it works out and gets decent sized it will be a show stopper in early summer especially. I personally would go for a tree like the Kentucky Coffee tree which is also native to your area (or just a county or two south of you).

  25. Deb says

    Jim, I planted a four foot American Beech last fall in central Michigan. It is near a river and receives some wind protection. The top 3 feet have died I assume due to the harsh winter but the lower branches have leafed out and it is doing okay this summer. I did not prune the dead leader off and am wondering if I should prune it this fall/winter in the hopes that a second leader will develop. Or, since it is a young tree should I just replace it. Or should I prune it and pretend it is a shrub.
    thanks for any advice

    • says

      I would probably cut it off at some point. It won’t impact whether a new leader grows of not, but if you leave a bit of it, you can tie a shoot to it to help use it to train the shoot to be a new leader.

  26. Janice says

    Years ago we saw a tri-color beech tree while camping near Cincinnati Ohio. We live south of Nashville TN. Is it possible to grow this tree here?

    • says

      Tri color beeches are typically rated as good for zones 4 thru 7. Nashville and the area around it is a zone 7. I think you will be OK as long as you site it to get afternoon shade and maybe late morning too. Heck maybe almost all day. The heat in the summer will require it to have shade or it’s leaves will fry. You will also need to keep it watered well during exceptionally hot or dry periods in the summer months.

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