Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - July 02, 2014

From: Pewaukee, WI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pruning, Trees
Title: Northern Catalpa Tree Doing Poorly
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

One of our Northern Catalpa trees appears to be dying. It is about 28 feet tall and this year only about 1/3 of it is producing leaves. It is next to our largest Catalpa tree (about 65 feet tall and about 25 feet apart) and that tree looks perfect, as it always does. We had a very rough winter here is Wisconsin. Could the winter have affected one tree and not the other? Is there any way to save the smaller one with careful pruning? Thanks for any help or insight.

ANSWER:

Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) is a distinctive tree with large heart-shaped leaves and showy white bell-shaped flowers in large clusters at the ends of the branches. Each bloom has yellow streaks and purple spots inside. The fruit is a long narrow bean-like pod that grows up to 18 inches long and persists into the winter. 
Since your younger catalpa is in the same location as an older and bigger catalpa, the soil, moisture, sun and environmental conditions should be favorable for it. Catalpa are not usually extremely long lived though. This is the case with many fast-growing trees.  So the younger tree may not have longevity in its genes. Catalpa are also not particularly drought tolerant. Perhaps the younger one is now suffering the effects from a past drought.
Northern catalpa are hardy to zone 4 which includes most of Wisconsin (except some of Douglas, Burnett, Washburn, Sawyer and Price counties), so it should be fine with temperatures down to -30 F. 
The Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder has more information about Northern catalpa if you visit their website. Ultimately, a certified arborist can advise you about the health of your tree. There are some rare but serious diseases that could attack catalpa such as verticillium wilt that could cause a rapid and fast decline as well.

 

From the Image Gallery


Northern catalpa
Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa
Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa
Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa
Catalpa speciosa

More Pruning Questions

Problems with Blackfoot Daisy from Lewisville, TX
April 23, 2013 - I planted a row of Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot Daisy) last spring at the front of the front yard, next to the sidewalk. It's full sun, east facing, unamended black clay gumbo soil. I put mulc...
view the full question and answer

Lifespan and pruning of cedar elm in San Antonio
October 03, 2009 - How long do cedar elm trees live? How can you estimate the age of one, or tell if it is nearing the end of its normal lifespan? Do you have any recommendations for selecting someone to prune it proper...
view the full question and answer

Controlling oak suckers in Austin
January 26, 2012 - I live in Austin TX and have one particular native Oak tree in my back yard with a large bed around it. I don't plan on planting anything else in the bed since it is already nicely landscaped along ...
view the full question and answer

Repair of broken branch stump on pecan tree
July 18, 2007 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, big fan. Recently one of my pecan trees had a large branch break off, about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. The strange part was there was no clear sign of what caused the damage, i...
view the full question and answer

When to prune Texas betony (Stachys coccinea)
May 28, 2007 - I bought Texas Betony plants several years ago at Wildflower Days. They are thriving, but a bit leggy. Somewhere I read that they should be cut back several times during the year. Now I can't find...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.