Kentucky CoffeetreeGymnocladus dioicus
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The Kentucky Coffeetree is a drought-tolerant, hardy native tree that will grow in all types of soil and is free of pests or diseases. It makes an excellent specimen or shade tree and throws a light shade that will allow turf to grow right underneath, making it an ideal garden tree. It has an attractive irregular form, fragrant white flowers in spring and large seed pods decorating the branches in winter. In fall the leaves turn a vibrant yellow. This tree is an excellent choice that should be used in gardens much more often for its trouble-free habits and natural beauty.
Plant your young Kentucky Coffeetree in full sun or where it will grow into sun within a few years. It is easy to grow, thriving in all but the very coldest parts of the country, and in most soils, including areas that flood periodically. It has no pests or diseases, and grows quickly when young, giving an attractive specimen within a few years. No pruning is needed and it is very low maintenance.
There are a wide variety of shade trees available and sometimes a big selection means that some things get overlooked. The Kentucky Coffeetree is one of those overlooked shade trees that should be much more widely planted. If you want a trouble-free, attractive tree to grace your lawn or form the background of your garden, this American native tree is one of your best choices. It is extremely drought-tolerant, so even in hot, dry areas it will thrive once established. It will also grow in all kinds of soil, so there is no need to deal with fussy plants that need special soils. It will grow in urban, suburban and rural conditions. Best of all it throws a light shade so that your lawn will grow well underneath it, unlike some other shade trees that can come to be a problem in that way. Compared to many other more popular trees it is hardier, tougher and easier to grow. Of course being a native tree it also cannot escape and become a pest species, making it a good choice if you are an environmentally-concerned gardener.
The Kentucky Coffeetree is a large deciduous tree that is fast growing when young and slows as it becomes older, so a tree will easily reach 15 feet in just ten years. Mature trees can in time be 70 feet tall and 35 feet wide. It forms a single upright trunk. only branching 10 to 15 feet above the ground, so it is an excellent shade tree with good clearance. The trunk is sturdy and the branches are thick and strong. It has good resistance to damage from ice and snow. The leaves are one to two feet long, but divided into many small leaflets in a feathery fashion, so it throws only a light shade. The foliage is a striking bronzy-pink when it emerges in spring, turning rich green during summer and then a clear yellow in fall, making a bold contribution to the fall display. The branches are angular with thick bark and the tree has a deep-gray, grooved and ridged attractive bark.
In spring clusters of fragrant white flowers are produced, making an attractive display. These are followed by large seed pods, like giant brown beans, six to eight inches long, containing up to 8 large dark-brown or black seeds. These are very hard and should not be eaten, but they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. As the name suggests they were popular for this purpose with both early settlers and Native Americans.
If you have a large lawn area, or areas that already have larger trees on them, then you can grow this attractive native tree. It does grow large, so plant no closer than 20 feet from buildings, boundaries and roads, and don’t plant beneath overhead wires. It can be planted near water and along river banks, since it tolerates periods of flooding. It’s an easy native tree to grow, yet increasingly rare in the wild, so plant one and help this species survive. It throws light shade, so it can be planted on a lawn without killing the grass beneath it. Use it to enrich the ecology of existing wooded areas, especially if they have been degraded by construction and development.
The Kentucky Coffeetree is hardy from warmer parts of zone 3 all the way into zone 8 – across pretty much all of the country. It will grow best in the east and northwest.
The Kentucky Coffeetree should be planted in the sun, although like most deciduous trees it will tolerate some shade when young, as long as it grows into the sun within a few years. It will grow in all kinds of soil, from sand to clay and in acid or alkaline conditions. Once established it is very drought tolerant, but it will also tolerate periods of flooding. This is a tree for all situations and it is not planted as much as it deserves to be.
Water your new tree once a week for the first year until it is well established. It has no pests or diseases. Young trees will benefit from some tree fertilizer in the spring, but after a few years your tree will be entirely self-sufficient. No pruning is required unless you need to remove lower branches for clearance. Prune in late winter before the new leaves appear, or at other times if necessary.
The Kentucky Coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioicus is an American native tree that grows naturally from New York and Pennsylvania to Minnesota, Oklahoma, and in Kentucky and Tennessee. It is considered an endangered species in the state of New York, so you can do your bit for conservation by planting this tree. It was always a rare tree in natural woods and it has become much rarer.
The Kentucky Coffeetree is a special plant, so it is always in high demand. We regularly receive new stock but supplies can be limited, so order now to be able to plant this trouble-free, fast-growing tree in your garden.