Royal Empress Tree (paulownia tomentosa)

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by Ginger Cat, Oct 17, 2011.

  1. Ginger Cat

    Ginger Cat Member

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    We purchased a spindly, 3 foot high Royal Empress (paulownia tomentosa) cutting early last spring and planted it in our yard. The "twig" that we planted has now grown into a 5 foot high tree, with a 1 and a half inch diamter "trunk". This is our problem:

    Some sort of pest ate the upright bud off of the top of the cutting, and our tree is growing more OUTWARD than UPWARDS. We would like the tree to grow to it's full potential height of 40-50 ft, and have read on a paulownia growers website that if a tree does not reach at least 12 ft in the first season, one should coppice it (cut to the ground) and start over. We would hate to do this to such a thick trunk!

    The tree is healthy; some of the leaves measure 15 inches across. We are taking it out(when it goes dormant) of the confining circular planter it is in and re-planting it in the same spot with a good amount of compost. I have enclosed two pictures.

    Is anyone on here experienced with this tree? What should we do?
     

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  2. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    The trunk will straighten as it grows and thickens, you won't notice the kink after another years growth.

    The faster growth rate on the growers website likely refers to growth in hotter places with higher summer rainfall, like the southeastern USA. In BC's cooler, drier summers it isn't so fast.
     
  3. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    I planted an Empress tree two springs ago. The first year it went from a 1/2" diameter whip 3 feet tall to a 3" diameter tree 7-8 feet tall. This year it is now 5-6 inches diameter and 16 feet tall. This tree grows well and fast in the PNW, although our Squamish weather is hotter in summer and cooler in winter than the Vancouver area.

    I wouldn't worry about your tree, but certainly wouldn't dig it up either. Is it in a container or in the ground? If in the ground I would leave it be.
     
  4. Ginger Cat

    Ginger Cat Member

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    Thanks for the replies.

    The more people I talk to, the more it appears that the tree will be OK if I just let it grow. One more question:

    Should we take off some of the lower branches, as it grows higher? We do not wish for the canopy to be so close to the ground. We were told to take off the suckers, and did not do this, and now we have some larger "branches".

    Can I prune them off this winter, and let the tree focus on growing upwards in the spring? I think that it is pretty difficult to kill one of these, but we are new at this whole thing, and do not want to maim the poor thing, lol.

    *See picture in original post to get idea of how large lower branches are.

    Tree Nut: I am just curious: Did you plant your Empress from a seedling or a cutting?

    Ours was a cutting and resembled a twig, sticking out of a huge pot. It had three velvety purple/green buds on it that turned into it's first branches.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 18, 2011
  5. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Behavior seen here is small specimens dying back in winter for perhaps several years, then apparently overcoming this susceptibility and rocketing up - plenty fast for most people.

    The shade is dense and the litter from the fallen parts substantial. Hopefully you will not grow to resent the tree in that position.
     
  6. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Mine was a small whip/tree in a 1 gallon pot. It probably came from a cutting, as cuttings readily take root if put in potting soil early enough in the spring.

    In regards to trimming, yes cut off the lower branches at least a few feet above the ground and remove any suckers. That is why some people coppice the trees at the base. The next year they will grow 10 feet+ with no lower branches. I personally like lower branches, as this is a tree that kids will love to climb. There used to be a beautiful example at Van Dusen gardens right at the entrance, but the recent renovations there required it to be removed.

    I agree with the dense shade, as the leaves are large and let little light through directly below the tree. I haven't experienced any "litter" from the tree, but that will likely come after it flowers in the early spring once my tree matures in another year or two. No dieback for me at all and we got as low as -16C last winter.
     
  7. Ginger Cat

    Ginger Cat Member

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    After quite a lot of investigation, and after speaking with some experts on paulownia, we have decided to coppice the tree at the beginning of next month. We've been told that this is the best way to obtain a solid, straight tree trunk, as well as some super fast growth. (i am interested to see if it DOES grow faster than it did last spring/summer; i have never seen a cutting turn into a tree that quickly!)

    I am a little afraid to coppice it, but we REALLY want a tall, straight shade tree (something that we can walk/sit under) as well as some much needed privacy for/from our backdoor neighbours. It made it through the winter very nicely and it is turning into something of an interesting science experiment.

    Does anyone have any how-to's or tips on coppicing? Is it as simple as cutting the tree down to the base about 4 cm above ground level, on a slight angle? I would also like to try my hand at rooting a few of the cuttings and giving them to friends. Any tips on this procedure would be appreciated!
     
  8. dt-van

    dt-van Active Member 10 Years

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    I've never heard of coppicing to get one straight trunk. Isn't it usually done to produce many short bushy branches to harvest for firewood? I guess the Paulownia experts would know though.

    If your tree has one main trunk now I would just remove any suckers and the lowest branches and possibly rub off and newly emerging side buds to help restore apical dominance and encourage the plant to grow vertically. If it has already split into multiple trunks then keep the tallest, straightest or most shapely one and remove the rest. I agree that your plant is so young that you will never notice the "kink" once the trunk thickens.
    Raising the canopy to give the clearance you want is something you should do gradually as the tree ages. It doesn't mean that you have to stop the young plant from making any branches in the first 8'; just make sure it doesn't sure it has only one main trunk and no suckers. As the tree gets taller and its upper branches get bigger and wider you can remove the lowest ones. So your 5' tall tree might have a 2.5' canopy and at 8' a 4' canopy.
     
  9. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Cutting a tree down turns it in to a sprouting stump, you take a chance that there will be some structural issues at the tree's base as a result - same as when you top a tree high up in the air, the re-growth will not be part of the same contiguous structure that the original uncut tree had produced.

    Overall size increase of a tree or shrub is temporarily reduced by pruning. You will not get a bigger tree sooner by cutting it back.
     
  10. hapylica

    hapylica Member

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    Ginger, the three years I do with germination and growth of paulownia trees tomentosa.A big tree as you get with a lot of water to grow quickly.
    If a tree move elsewhere, instead remaining 3-4 trees will arise. Is very invasive in such cases!
    [​IMG]
     

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  11. Ginger Cat

    Ginger Cat Member

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    Thanks to everyone for their responses. I found an excellent blog called 'Words by Willow'. She has an ongoing blog about her 2 Empress trees, and I feel much better about cutting it back. Apparently, you can do it as many as 7 times! A link to her blog:

    http://wwwwordsfromwillow.blogspot.com/2010/06/royal-paulownia-or-empress-trees.html

    Below is a link to a video in which a man is growing multiple Empress trees. Some he coppiced and some, he let grow as they wished.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtA40jTcbVo

    Either way this goes, it is a fun and interesting experience!
     
  12. hapylica

    hapylica Member

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    Interesting blog, I posted the link I eGradini.ro forum in Romania. We do not too many growers are Paulownia!
    In the fall I bought seeds paulownia Fortuney and paulownia Tropical. In March put the germinated seeds.I want to get and different varieties of Paulownia!!
     
  13. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    I agree with coppicing low to the ground. Strong, straight new shoots are likely to to come from below the soil level with an increased vigor in these plants (then you select just one). In a couple years this coppiced tree will actually be bigger than than if you left the branched version.
    I propogate these by taking sharply-cut cuttings and just sticking them in the soil right up against the shady part of a big bush like a redtwig dogwood. I get about 50% to take that way with no real effort or potting. They also transplant very well in the winter, even if you are able to save very little of the root mass.
    Make sure to come back later this year to tell us how it did!
    I did see a coppiced P. tomentosa at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo reach over 10' by early September last year, but I assume it had bigger, older roots.
     

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