Populus - Growing Guide

Caring for Populus


There are about 35 species of poplar but Burncoose stocks only four. One is a common species which is seen growing wild in most UK counties and makes a good windbreak in exposed or coastal conditions and will tolerate dry situations (P. alba). The others are specimen or feature plants generally grown in parkland or more formal settings so that their foliage and, in one case, fluffy seeds can be appreciated and enjoyed. Poplars have very invasive root systems and should not be planted near buildings or septic tanks.

Poplars have spectacular growth rates and ovate or triangular leaves. Their flowers are in the form of male and female catkins which may appear on the same or separate trees. In some species the female catkins then become fluffy white tassels of seeds. Many poplars produce suckers at the base of the tree or near the trunk if any roots rise above the ground. These all need removing annually as they appear. Poplars are most easily propagated from hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn and set in an outside plot.

P. alba, the white poplar, can grow to more than 70ft. These trees have white, hairy young shoots and the undersides of the wavy margined green leaves are thickly covered in white hair on their undersides. We use this tree frequently in our coastal or moorland landscaping projects for its extreme hardiness and wind tolerance.

Populus alba click for larger image
Populus alba
Populus alba click for larger image
Populus alba

P. candicans ‘Aurora’ (P. x jackii ‘Aurora’) is a broadly columnar tree growing to around 50ft in height. It has very irregular conspicuously marked white, cream and pink leaves within its foliage. Branches and twigs frequently revert to being plain green and these should be removed where possible. The best effect from this tree, with its huge ovate heart-shaped leaves, comes from its new growth so it may be an idea to pollard this tree back hard every few years to see the best of it.

P. deltoides ‘Pink Tower’ is another very large upright growing tree with 5in long leaves that are glossy dark purple. We grow this in a younger part of the woodland garden for its foliage impact. Who would have thought that a purple leaved poplar existed?

P. lasiocarpa, the Chinese necklace poplar, has to be my own personal favourite. It grew at Caerhays in the deer park to a height of perhaps 40-50ft. The large heart shaped leaves are 12in long and appear enormous on the tree. However it is the fluffy seed heads that develop from the yellow-green female catkins that are the joy of this species. When nearing ripeness they look like great bunches of cotton hanging on what we used to call ‘the cotton tree’ as children.


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