The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) sometimes bears the name tulip poplar even though it has no relationship to the Populus genus. The tree has distinctive leaves, being four-lobed with crossing notches and ranging from 4 inches to 8 inches long. Tulip trees grow big, some towering upward of 100 feet tall, bearing flowers that look very similar to tulips. You can grow these stunning trees from seed in temperate climates (USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9) provided you have well drained soil and a partially sunny location. It takes eight years for a tulip tree to flower after seed propagation.
Gather seed from a tulip tree at least 8 years in age or buy seeds from a local nursery. If harvesting them directly from the tree, let the seed pod dry in place during August and September. Pop them open and pull out the seeds. Alternatively, harvest closed seed pods off the ground from around the tree. Put these in a dry location on a vented surface like a cooling rack. The pods pop open after about three weeks.
Start the seeds indoors during early spring. Use a mix of potting soil and peat moss and make sure the containers have drainage holes. The tulip tree seed is susceptible to rot and mold from too much moisture. Place the seed containers in indirect sunlight or under a grow lamp for four hours daily.
Transplant the seedlings into a sunny location after the threat of frost passes. Break up the soil for improved root growth using a cultivating tool, adding compost for fertilization. Dig a hole for the seedling that’s three times as wide as the current root growth, leaving just the top peeking above the soil. Tamp the soil in place.
Water the seedling carefully. Keep roots cleaned away from the developing tree trunk and support it with a stake once it gets big enough. The tree grows about 1 foot in the first year, so take precautions that safeguard it against ice or weather damage. For example, cover the ground around the trunk with hay. This keeps the soil warmer.
Continue maintaining moist (not wet) soil, adding mulch to the soil and pulling weeds that would otherwise compete for root space. By the end of five years, your tulip tree grown from seed will reach 10 to 18 feet tall.
Tulip trees attract hummingbirds. Have feeders prepared ahead of time for some great viewing.