How to Grow American Yellowwood – Cladrastis

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American yellowwood, Cladrastis, is a deciduous tree that grows to a wide-spreading rounded form. Yellowwood trees have bell-shaped slightly fragrant white flowers marked with yellow borne on one-foot terminal clusters in spring. Yellowwoods can be grown as specimens or as shade trees in small yards.

Yellowwood is the common name for the genus Cladrastis. Yellowwood is most commonly applied to Cladrastis lute which is native to the Southeast United States.

Yellowwood is a deciduous smooth-barked tree with shining leaves and open branches that give an airy effect. Its white flowers in racemes a foot long fill the air with fragrance or a great distance.

Yellowwood is deep-rooting and drought-resistant. It is a good choice for planting in home gardens, along streets, and in parks.

Yellowwood can be grown from seeds sown in spring and root cuttings kept cool and moist over winter and rooted in spring.

Get to know American Yellowwood

  • Plant type: Deciduous flowering tree
  • Growing Zones and range: 6-8
  • Hardiness:
  • Height and spread: 30’-50’ tall, 40’-55’ wide
  • Form: Upright form with spreading lower limbs; smooth pale gray bark looks silvery; bark peels revealing orange-brown bark underneath
  • Foliage: Coarse-textured, compound leaves emerge bright yellow-green in spring changes to bright green in summer; gray-colored bark is smooth and looks like beech bark
  • Flowers: Bell-shaped, fragrant white blossoms on 1-foot long terminal clusters; flowers resemble wisteria; flowers attract bees.
  • Bloom time: Spring and early summer
  • Uses: Single specimen, shade tree for small spaces, good city tree
  • Botanical name: Cladrastis kentukea
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Common name: American Yellowwood, Virgilia
  • Origin: Woodland in China, Japan, and United States

Where to plant American Yellowwood

  • Plant yellowwood in full sun. In hot summer regions, plant yellowwood where it is partially shaded in the afternoon.
  • Grow yellowwood in humus-rich, well-drained soil. Alkaline soil is optimal.
  • Thrives where summers are hot and winters are cold.

When to plant American Yellowwood

  • Transplant young balled-and-burlapped or container-grown plants in fall or spring.

Planting and spacing American Yellowwood

  • Space yellowwood at a distance so trees can reach full maturity.

How to Water and Feed American Yellowwood

  • Keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize yellowwood by spreading aged compost around the tree to the dripline at least once a year.

American Yellowwood care

  • Protect yellowwood from strong winds.
  • Prune yellowwood in summer to reduce bleeding sap.

American Yellowwood common problems

  • Yellowwood bleeds profusely if pruned in winter or spring. Prune only in late summer or fall.

American Yellowwood propagation

  • Sow seed in fall.
  • Take root cuttings in winter.

American Yellowwood varieties to grow

  • ‘Rosea’ has pink flowers

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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