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

Passiflora and Leucophyllum together in Texas
April 23, 2015 - I've got a Passiflora incarnata that has self-propagated around a cenizo sage. My question is, will the passionflower vine choke out or otherwise damage the cenizo? Do I need to cut back the vine? ...
view the full question and answer

Pruning non-native Chinese fringe flower from Austin
June 24, 2013 - When is the best time of year to prune Plum Delight? And how severely can it be cut back?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on pruning Clematis
August 26, 2005 - I would like to know about pruning clematis. The one I have is getting very large. Should I cut it back, and if so, in the Spring or Fall? I live in Michigan. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Pruning Citrus Suckers
October 06, 2014 - Mr. Smarty Plants, you are the only person that has "not" insisted that the little balls on Satsuma and lemon trees were clumps of bugs. They are surely what you described in the answer to my previo...
view the full question and answer

Goldenrod not blooming in Lecanto FL
September 19, 2010 - My goldenrod(fireworks) grows only like a groundcover(3" tall) and does not flower. It is in full sun in my garden in Lecanto, Florida(zone 9A). What could be wrong? Thank you.
view the full question and answer

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