The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens

May Observations: The Damage You’ve Done (and the Tulip Tree in June)


“Hey, did you see that?”


That was May whizzing by in a blur, speed: super fast with nitro injection (did I ever mention I used to date a drag racer? I don’t like to dredge it up much). May was very unlike the **** (four letter word) Winter which crawled by at a pace so slow one could observe every minute, painful detail (never did date an annalist). Yet these two paces meet up in my observations for May: The Damage You’ve Done. Yeah, if I had a dollar for every shredded leaf you’d make me a millionaire and it wouldn’t repair the damage you’ve done to my garden, Winter baby.

Which brings me to the sad state of my Tulip Tree I am sorry to report. I have been following this tree along with Lucy at Loose and Leafy. It is a good thing I am, too, because at my current pace I may not have noticed how unhappy my Tulip Tree is until too late!

sad tulip tree

I have consulted with my cooperative extension because I am very concerned. I thought that maybe it is suffering from Verticillium Wilt, but the nearby Dogwood shrub, Pin Oak and the neighbor’s Silver Maple are robust and happy if not downright cheerful. If my soil had this fungus, everyone should be showing some sort of sad sign. There also isn’t any evidence of bark striations or a dark ring in a cross section I cut. We have had plenty of rain. If I dig an inch into the soil it is moist, but not too wet, so rule out too much or too little water.

Neighboring Silver Maple

Neighboring Silver Maple

pin oak

My happy Pin Oak

The extension and I have concluded that the tree may be planted too deeply.

This is entirely possible since I did plant the tree as a very young sapling – difficult to see any sort of “flare” – and its base was swaddled in Vinca Vine. It would also explain why this tree hasn’t grown as fast as I think it should be from all I have read or heard. The nearby Elm is double the size of the Tulip Tree and it was also planted as a sapling (a sprout from my neighbor’s tree).

tulip tree leader

Time is of the essence! (And it is the one thing I don’t have- arrrghhh!) The question is, do I simply dig out around its base? Or do I dig it all up and replant it higher? I think I will dig out the base, cut away the Vinca, and see if there is any improvement.

I just love this tree and love these leaves – especially when they look happy and healthy.

The beautiful leaves of the Tulip Tree

The beautiful leaves of the Tulip Tree

As I look around, though, I wonder if the tree simply had a rough go of Winter. (Many of my other shrubs are damaged.) Stay tuned as I continue to follow the Tulip Tree … your prayers and well wishes for this tree are welcome!

So, what is the damage Winter has done? It is evident now at the end of May and into June (already!). The Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, surprisingly, have suffered and are very slow to leaf out. No blooms, but they are still young so that didn’t worry me. The branches are supple and the base of these shrubs is nice and green. I’ll wait a little longer and cut back anything not leafy.


Yet, just down the row, Pagoda Dogwood is loaded with blooms!

pagoda dogwood blooms

The same leg up symptom is true of my Sambucus Black Lace which was so incredibly beautiful last year. No blooms, slow to leaf out, but a healthy comeback at its base.

black lace winter damageblack lace comeback

It will get the same treatment after waiting just a bit longer. The Cranberry Viburnum and Ninebark along the drive, however, are fully leaved and fully loaded with blooms!

cranberry viburnum happy ninebark

The NJ Tea? Well, R.I.P., sniff, little guy. No signs of any leaves even at the base and not very supple stems. Oh, the damage, the damage you’ve done to me.


Let’s hope that will not be the same fate of my beloved Tulip Tree!


Author: Kathy Sturr

Artist, master gardener, plant-based chef. Florida's Nature Coast / Indian River Lakes, NY

14 thoughts on “May Observations: The Damage You’ve Done (and the Tulip Tree in June)

  1. Hoping! Loss is such a factor in gardening!

  2. I enjoyed my visit to your blogs and will now be following. I too have had a lot of winter damage in the gardens here along the shores of Lake Michigan in USA. Lots of winter die-off. Two of my Sambucus – Black Lace are completely dead. It was sad to see others, like you, have had a similar problem, but now I do not feel so alone! JC

    • I feel for your loss! The Black Lace are so beautiful (my compromise for Japanese Maple here in Z4). I also lost a Sweet Autumn clematis but it is on the invasive list and I am happy to report my native Clematis Virginiana is doing really well!

  3. such lovely leaves … hope you can rescue it!

  4. Oh, so do I Diana, so do I! I love this tree!

  5. I can totally relate to loss, but different plants here in our zone. I think your plan is a good one. The Black Lace looks like a simple trim to the bottom and she will return. My black lace is protected + I pruned her as a small tree, but she came back in a protected corner. My roses just died and I had new growth at the base, so I just cut them back and gave some fertlizer + epsoma bone meal and they are blooming beautifully right now. I lost other things, but I always have a “new” plant that needs a h ome, so I compost and move on, but a special one like your tulip tree is hard to deal with since it was “special” and one of a kind!

  6. Did you ask the extension people about replanting versus trenching around the base of the tulip tree? I just wonder if replanting isn’t a better solution long-term, though more traumatic short term. I don’t really know, though. My spicebush had a little die back but not too much except for one of the shrubs. My cranberrybush also took the winter totally in stride. One of the forsythia died completely to the base but is sending up new stems. My ‘Sally Holmes’ rose also died down to the base (never done that before) but is now coming back very healthy and even with lots of flower buds.

    • Yes, either way could harm the tree more but after reading some of the material on the excellent sites Lucy sent to me, digging up the tree and taking a good look at its root system might be a better remedy in the long run. Still, that would really stress the tree. I’ll see what I find after clearing the Myrtle away and examining the base.

  7. Nerve racking! I’m wondering if you know the site ‘Forest Keepers’

    there’s an article there about choosing a healthy tree from a garden centre (including about the flare)

    and one about developing a strong root system

    Tree Keepers is a commercial tree care company in Cape Cod but I find the site interesting and the Tree Care Tips Page specially readable

    I’m beginning to sound like an advert. Oh dear! It’s just that I like the site. I wish they updated it in the way of a blog.

    I hope by next month your little tree has begun to recover.

  8. We’re nursing a tulip tree back to health here as well. Transplanted it in October (bad time) & it was huge (10-15 ft. – too big for transplanting, but a bargain price). We did all the right things, but winter was brutal, even here in Chicago’s banana belt. The top 3/4 has buds that look healthy, but no leaves. Lower portions are leafing out one beautiful leaf at a time. Slowly, but surely, so I’m hopeful. I lost a row of boxwoods & my gardenias (even “winter hardy” gardenias were a gamble, but fun for a few years). The sugar maple and Morton elm we planted at the same time (both also too large but bargains) were late to leaf out but are now glorious. Hoping for the best with the tulip tree. I’ll be interested to hear how recover proceeds in your garden.

  9. Catching up finally Kathy. I hope your tree survives. My white fringe, redbud and serviceberry bit the dust. Some bushes are growing only at the top and others are blooming or barely growing a foot like roses and hydrangeas. I took out my black lace elderberry and opted for a native which is growing great as the Black lace struggled. Winter really beat up so many poor plants but not my weeds 🙂

    • Oh, so sorry for the losses. Did you plant our native Elderberry in place of the Black Lace? Curious! I would love a Redbud! The Tulip Tree is doing better I think – not wilting and there are new leaf buds but the leader shows no signs of life – yet. I dug it out a bit, cleared the vinca from its base and just recently mulched. I left it bare for awhile but the mulch will help keep the moisture in the soil. My weeds are also doing extraordinarily well. Jewel weed is taking over!

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