The Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a great shade tree with four season interest. It’s also a tree I WON’T let my wife talk me into planting at our new house (more on that below).
Katsura tree = Year around interest
The Katsura tree can make an excellent specimen or shade tree in landscapes. According to the green industry bible, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, this is one of tree guru Michael Dirr’s favorite trees. In fact, he likes it so much he says if he could use only one tree this would be his first choice.
I can understand why. It has clean fresh looking foliage throughout the growing season. It has an attractive pyramidal form when young that will spread as it ages. They also have good Fall color and an attractive bark.
Katsura trees provide interesting foliage year around
One of the best things about this tree is it’s foliage.
It has heart shaped leaves much like a red bud are only about a third of the size. It’s leaf color varies throughout the growing season to provide a source of visual interest in the landscape.
In the Spring, it’s leaves emerge reddish-purple. They then change to nice subtle blue-green color as they mature. In the Fall, they again change to a rich buttery yellow to apricot color.
Besides looking attractive, the Katsura has this neat trick of giving off a subtle sweet smell as it turns colors in the Fall. To me it smells like cotton candy.
What makes it more interesting is it hard to locate. You can pick up individual leaves and try to smell but you won’t be able to. Instead you smell it when you walk near the tree as it’s subtle aroma drifts through the air. I have to admit that it definitely adds pleasure to raking up their small leaves in the Autumn.
I imagine jumping into a pile of them from a large Katsura tree would be a joy for children (and adults) of all ages. So much so, I planted one at my old house just for that purpose. While it didn’t get big enough to make large piles of leaves to jump into, it did add the sweet smell to parts of my yard every autumn.
Hardiness Zones: Zone 4 – 8
Exposure: Full sun.
Mositure: Moist well drained soil.
Height: 40 – 60 feet
Width: This varies some trees may only get 20 – 30 feet wide while others will grow as wide as they are tall (40 – 60′).
Features: Clean disease free leaf foliage with Medium – fine texture and a blue-green Summer color. colored, sweet smelling fall foliage. Attractive slightly shaggy bark with age.
Growth Habit: Pyramidal to wide spreading with age
Fall Color: Buttery yellow to apricot orange.
Native: Nope, it’s not a North American native, it is from China and Japan. It grows in woodlands in Japan but in China it is mainly found in open areas with rich moist soils.
Wildlife value: Minimal. Not invasive.
Katsura Tree Care and Growing Tips:
The Katsura is a tree that like birches, must only be dug to be planted in the Spring. If it’s in a container or was dug in the Spring waiting patiently to be bought at a nursery, that’s OK and they can be planted anytime, but ideally they will be dug and planted in the Spring.
They do require well drained, rich and moist soil. If you have dry sandy soil, this is not the tree for you. Ditto with sun baked hard dry clay.
They are tolerant of different soil pH but they may have better fall color on an acid soil according to Dirr.
The key thing to remember is they will require supplemental water during hot dry periods for the first few years after planting. After they are established, they should only need supplemental water during droughts.
They can tolerate pruning fairly well (I had four at Anderson Japanese gardens that I used to take care of). I however think they look better if allowed to grow to their full size instead of trying to keep small to fit the scale of a Japanese garden. They do have a tendency to grow multiple trunks, so some training during their early years can help to provide a strong single trunk if that is the look you want.
The Kastura tree has several neat cultivars that might fit you landscape better then the species. These include:
Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendulum’ – This is a weeping form that will grow to 15 to 25 feet tall and a bit less wide than tall.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping’ – This is another weeping form whose branches are more upright growing when young and has large leaves. It should grow to about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide in a garden setting according to Iseli Nursery.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Heronswood Globe’ – This very interesting hard to find cultivar was introduced in 1991. It has dense globular habit. It is slowly growing to 15-20’ tall. I have seen this one and it has a rounded head form that looks like a miniature version of a full sized shade tree.
OK, so why won’t I plant one?
As a non native, it supports very little wildlife. This is a minus for me as well as others who are interested in supporting the biodiversity of our local wildlife. It is also a tree that is not drought tolerant (especially in it’s younger years), so it will require supplemental water during droughts.
Given my new small lot size and the fact I already have a large Honeylocust shading my backyard, I have limited space for shade trees. If I do plant a shade tree, it will be a native that supports our local wildlife.
So do you recommend the Katsura or not?
Although as a non native it does not support our native insects and the birds that feed upon them, there are cases where it is a good choice. Even though it is a non-native tree, it is highly ornamental that not only looks good but also helps our environment. For instance, the Katsura tree does:
- Provide shade which can lower energy costs and fossil fuel usage.
- Sequesters carbon through it’s growth.
- Lacks serious pests and is also from Asia so there is less likelihood of an exotic insect from Asian (like Emerald Ash Borer) devastating it due to total lack of resistance.
- Not require pesticide treatments.
- Not have invasive tendencies. So you won’t likely see it displacing native trees and shrubs in natural areas, unlike for instance the awful Norway maples (Acer platanoides) that nurseries still sell by the boatload.
So while the Katsura tree is not one I will be planting in my yard anytime soon*, it might be just the tree you are looking for.
*Well, maybe if I run across a ‘Heronswood Globe’ ?
Leslie Facchini says
I live in Seattle, and someone gifted me a small Katsura tree. I planted it on the north side of the house to hold it there until we are able to plant it in the place we want it. We’ve been doing construction, so I didn’t want to put it where it will be. Now we’re ready to plant and it’s September, should we wait until Spring to move it? The tree looks very healthy.
Kathleen Nelson says
My experience is very different from yours. I planted a katsura many years ago because it was supposed to be fast growing – and it was. It is growing on a shady hillside in very well drained gravelly soil and is as happy as can be. It got extra water only when first planted. However, I fear the species may become invasive. I have seen two sites near where I live in western Connecticut where katsuras have seeded quite heavily. My original tree is a male. I had a second tree for a while, but realized it was a female when it started raining large quantities of seeds. I cut it down immediately. I also have a weeping katsura. Mine has never bloomed. I dont know if all weeping katsura are sterile.
I have a Katsura that was planted 30 years ago…in the Pacific Northwest. It is about 50′ now and really too tall for our yard. Plus the side facing the north has really been thinned out by wind…and the south side has really heavy foliage. I would like to take off some height and thin out the south side and remove some of the spreading branches. Is that possible?
Stacy Takagawa says
Hello Jim. This is a beautiful tree and we are thinking of getting it for our average sized yard in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Does it have the same root system problem as the aspen, of being potentially damaging to water pipes and also sprouting seedlings in unwanted places? Could a full size Katsura have problems with surface growing roots damaging nearby cement? We would like a smaller size variety that looks like the same – would the Red Fox Katsura be a good option? Thank you in advance for your advice!
Erin Kinrade says
I have worked around many Katsura (30-40 year old)trees and never experienced the issues I did with Aspen root systems but I will share a bit of info about older Katsuras. “Katsura tends to send roots out to the sides, running very shallow near the surface.
In older specimens, they swell in size and become very appealing and beautiful.
Don’t plant this near cemented areas or try to lock the tree in with masonry.
These surface roots don’t like being run over or trodden over with cars or machinery.
Remember that roots extend to as far as the drip line does.
Any masonry within this area will tend to throttle the tree.
If the masonry doesn’t run very deep, the tree may slip under it and cause buckling and cracking.”
Nadya King says
Fun fact, Katsura is one of the trees found in fossils in the John Day area of Oregon from the Oligocene ~ 20-30 million years ago, along with Ginkgo, Dawn Redwood and Sycamore – back when Oregon was tropical! Thomas Condon was one of those who began collecting and classifying fossils in the 1860s.
Metasequoia is now our state fossil – it was only known by the fossil record until 1941, when living trees were discovered in China.
Marcy Gifford says
I have a 5 year old katsura that has not really thrived or grown much but it has always had leaves. Just recently, all of the leaves died and are falling off but there are tons of buds on the branches. Any idea what is going on?
Root problem? Girdling root or left on rootball cage?
Doesn’t tolerate drought, you need to water them, when it hasn’t rained for a while.
We have a 15 yr old Katsura in our front yard in Connecticut. It was a struggle for a few years because, as you say, needs more water so we had a water bag surrounding it. It is fine now but has a lot of low growing small branches in its low section It looks attractive but wondering if these should be trimmed?
Eventually, before the get too thick.
I was gifted 3 tiny Katsura seedlings late last summer. Two somehow survived the Central Pennsylvania August Heat AND a relatively mild winter. They are only about foot tall, but sturdy and healthy. They are planted in a bed that formerly supported a giant white pine, so I believe the soil is slightly acidic. I would like to replace the pine with some evergreens that complement the Katsura but am having difficulty finding more than a few suggestions for companion/complementary trees. Do you have any ideas?
Hi Jim, I’m deciding between two trees (one being a Japanese Katsura). I’m leaning towards the Katsura but just want to make sure it is a fast growing tree first. I like my trees to grow relatively fast. Any idea if it is in the fast growing category? Thanks so much for the answer.
Yes I would say it is moderately fast growing.
I live in southwest PA and have a 30’+ Katsura tree. The spring of 2019 i noticed that the central limb at the crown was not leafing out and some of the side branches beside the crown had buds and also was not leafing out. The rest of the tree had completely leafed out. We love this tree and are afraid of losing it. Any thoughts? Thankyou
I don’t believe Katsura are susceptible to verticilum wilt which would be my first guess from the symptoms you describe. You may want to consult an arborist.
Ernesto Soltis says
I really enjoy examining on this web site , it has good articles . “We find comfort among those who agree with us–growth among those who don’t.” by Frank A. Clark.
Janis Thompson says
Perfect quote! I’m using it again.❤️❤️
Do you know if there would be an issue with planting a Katsura at high altitudes? I’m in a hardiness zone of 5, but I also live at over 6000 ft above sea level.
Ron Curtis says
I live near Ottawa Canada and would like to get some Katsura seeds and try to propagate them.Any idea where such seeds would be available in Canada?
Lissa Bjornson says
Katsura is on the list of City of Ottawa Trees in Trust program. They might plant it for you if you want it at the front of your property. If you’re still looking…
I am devastated that a porcupine is having it’s way with our mature Katsura. It was the first tree we ever bought, and we planted it before we built our house anticipating it’s shade which we really need in the summer.
What can I do to help it thrive again from all the damage?
Jake Mayer says
Cant get a reply from Fast growing trees Want 2 plant a katsura or 5 Mix em up for a divider Anything local (NORTH CAL) Central Cal Can pick up as far as Oregon Call 916 217 6908
I bought mine at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen CA (Sonoma County). It’s 3 years old now and doing great in Santa Rosa CA, about 9’ tall and beautiful.
Thank you for the informative and interesting article!
We are strongly considering (3) Katsura trees for our empty backyard (based on a landscape design we had drawn up a couple years ago).
We are in Zone 5 Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan, which is Alkaline Soil (pH I think is generally near 6.5 in the area, as we are located on the Niagra Escarpment). There can be a strong North wind on the site. I am good about watering, so drought should not be an issue. The land is former agricultural/farmland, so it has good drainage.
Both my wife and I love everything about the Katsura tree, and it would fit our vision perfectly. Do you feel this tree would survive in these conditions? We had considered other Native options, but do not love them as much as the Katsura. We are also worried about Borers, as they are decimating so many trees in this area.
I think the wind could be an issue with drawing excess moisture from the trees. The pH should be fine.
Note Katsura are not recommended in the Chicago region for plantings that are supposed to last greater than 35 years due to global warming models. You might be a bit cooler which could help but I don’t know what the specific weather pattern change that was predicted to impact these. See https://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/tree_alternatives for more info.
I figured the wind may create an issue with drying, but I am hopeful that (regardless of which trees we plant) it would be more of a factor after the trees are dormant.
The nursery had a couple more options, which we have been giving some consideration. We weren’t drawn to them as much as the Katsura, but would appreciate your insight, nonetheless.
Will this tree be suitable in perth Australia? Hardiness zone 11 I think.
Also will my lawn suffer from rising roots.
I dont know, sorry way too different climate. Roots not a big issue here.
Mary Keeler says
We live in Iowa and our soil is mostly clay. We planted a Katsura tree about 4 years not realizing it was not the best choice. During the dry times of summer we water it regularly. I do enjoy the fragrance it give off.
Do you have any suggestions for helping it to thrive?
Water it frequently during the summer, especially during the first several years to well established. Katsura need a lot of water but a bit less as they get larger.
Marianne Lazarus says
I have a katsura that volunteered in a tight spot in my front yard and has now grown to about 8 ft. tall. Love its heart-shaped leaves. Planning on selling the house and would like to move it this summer or fall to my new home nearby. Would it be difficult to move (what are its roots like?)? and is it likely to survive?
I doubt it will survive the transplant, especially as I believe Katsura need to be dug in the spring to survive (I am not positive on this one though).
Clinton Jones says
Where to buy a Katsura tree in Seattle? Seems all Katsura are out of season, not looking for Japanese. Have a neighbor with a beautiful tree, shows every season, just love it. Can’t find anywhere, only seeds. Willing to buy online, but rather buy local
I would just recommend that you call around more.
Sheila Mensching says
not sure if it’s cool to share a link – but fast-growing-trees now has a 4-5 foot treeling and they ship fast.
You need to understand these are pencil thin – and will take about 4 weeks after planting to get over the transplant and transport shock. I will also require diligent watering in the first few years until well established. I had to remove the withered leaves right away and they really do smell fantastic!
I found a dwarf variety at Woods Creek Nursery in Monroe, WA a couple years ago.
Sheila Mensching says
Hello from Minnesota!! We were heartbroken when our 25 year old Kentucky Coffee had to be taken down and I have been researching replacements for the past 7 months, I have decided on the Katsura and even have one coming from North Carolina this week. This site only sells very small treelings -( potted, 2-3 ft tall) I would have gladly paid more for a larger tree – but for $40 bucks figured I’d give it a shot.
My question is: The Kentucky Coffee was large and we had the stump and surrounding area ground down extra deep. The area is very loose and I am concerned that there might not be enough ‘support’ to keep the tree growing happily. Do New dig ins need compacted support at the bottom of hole? I understand the root habit for Katsura tends to stay near the surface- I can move planting spot a few feet away if necessary. Thanks for your input!!!
When do Katsura start to bud? We planted it in late August & I’m anxious to see if it made through the winter. We’ve got buds on the Maples planted at the same time. FYI, we live in NY & had an especially long, wet winter. Thanks.
The first year after planting any tree can be late. Relax its been a slow Spring. If you don’t see anything by June you can start to worry.
Good to know. Thanks!
Gregory Garville says
We live in the NY Metro area and are considering purchasing a 12 foot Katsura tree from a nursery which has it wrapped in burlap. Is it OK to plant now or should we wait until spring ?
No you should plant it ASAP. You want them dug in the Spring.
I’m thinking about a Katsura but the location can be very damp and in spring may have some standing water. Can it deal with this? Or can I modify the soil in some way to encourage drainage. I love the tree
i’ve visited anderson gardens a couple of times and really love this tree, there is a beautiful one in the front of the garden (as i’m sure you know). i think they are also fairly widely planted in the portland area. how do you think this tree would do in texas (dallas)? we are zone 7b/8a
It likes water, I dont think the dry hot Dallas climate would be good for this tree. I would pass.
Genese Hewston says
Even though we planted our Katsura at a good depth for the root ball, which was over 10 years ago, the roots seem to be growing exposed above ground. Is it ok to just cover with topsoil or leave exposed above ground?
They have a tendency to do that like a lot of trees. You can cover them with a bit of topsoil, compost or mulch or just leave them exposed (I kind of like that look on Katsura).
Robert Ernst says
Hi. I live in Seattle and am growing a miniature Katsura I purchased about a year ago from a local nursery. Last year the plant did well at first but then had issues with some of the leaves turning black and wilting in spots. I figured it was a fungus affecting the tree, since if it was over watering all of the leaves would be affected. I tried to dig up some of the potting soil and root out some of the major fungus last summer. Also tried to dry out the soil and water minimally last summer. Now that spring is here the new leaves took off pretty well but now I am seeing signs of the black splotchy wilting again but not so much fungus in the soil. No signs of slugs or pests either.
Have you seen this before? My next guess would be nutrients, new soil, or ph balance? Wish I could send photos.
Susan Mae Glendening says
I have a museum . Unfortunately we have to replace a huge Copper beach that was lost
I am trying t decide between this Katsura or another copper beech
what are the pros and cons to help me decide
thomas keefer says
just bought a katsura for $450 & am being charged $262 to deliver & install. Tree is 7 feet tall, & the cost does not bother me as it was cultivated @ at a local reputable nursey dug up in 2009 & looks georgeous very excited to have it planted in my garden to the right of a cats eye dogwood
To Nicholas Try Bonsai Boy I purchased many bonsais & never was disappointed
I live in zone 9b in california. I love this tree…would it work if I planted in my lawn area so it gets watered every other day?
I doubt it.
Hi i live in Canada what tree do you recommend that doesn’t shed and looks beautiful?
I need a little more details to give a good answer. Canada is a pretty big country with different climate zones. Also what do you mean by beautiful? To me nothing beats a mature Bur Oak, but I also love Japanese maples. Both are trees but completely different in form and effect.
Jean Claude says
Hi I live in SE Calgary zone 3 and have a katsura tree in my front yard. Although it’s planted in hard yellow clay and it’s totally dependent on rain water (no city water where I live) and Calgary is classified as semi-arid climate it seems to be doing well. I did start it from a seed and trees started from seed are a lot more hardy then trees you by from a nursery and I don’t baby them. I grow trees that are from as far as Florida even Africa but they are all started from seeds. Sometime you have to try 100s of seeds until one has the right genetics to be hardy.
thanks jim.do you know were i could buy a bonsai katsura.been looking online,with no success.
Just surfing the web and I saw these seeds. Started researching to see if I could grow some trees.
hi, could i put a katsura in a big pot?i love this tree and would love one in my garden,but i only have a small one.
Hmm. As a Bonsai yes. Otherwise, probably not a realistic long term resident of a pot. One of the dwarf weeping cultivars could probably be grown in a very large tree pot for quite a few years but it won’t be fully winter hardy.
Hi. Do you think it’s realistic to be able to keep a non-weeping Katsura tree in a large pot until it gets to around 5 feet? I hoping that’s not too big for the tree in a pot.
Also, is it a fast or slow grower?
If grown and treated like a large Bonsai, yes. That means regular root pruning and extensive pruning. If not, no.
Lala F says
Did you end up planting the Katsura? If so, how is it doing? I am curious as to how far away should the tree be planted from sheds/houses and other bushes? Thanks
No I have not planted another Katsura. IF I had room for another shade tree I would plant an oak or a hickory.
Lala F. says
Hi Jim, I live in Mchenry IL and am considering this tree for my landscape. My local nurseries want over $350 for it, but my friend swears by an online nursery that has it for less. I have two questions:
1. Can I purchase from this place to be delivered in the fall and plant with success?
2. Will it withstand the wind since it’s known to be weaker than other trees? It will be planted in the front of a corner lot.
Yes if it is already dug. I would not dig it in the Fall, Katsura are Spring dig plants. Online nurseries sell small plants. Hard to compare to a big tree. I have seen nice Katsura at Countryside before if that’s the nursery you are talking about. Should be on sale now or soon. They will need regular watering this and next year for sure!