Shade in full

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2008 - 6:13 PM

Why would you care about a shade tree in February? In Minnesota our shade trees go bare for nearly half the year, so it's worth considering a tree's winter appearance.

Kentucky coffeetree

KENTUCKY COFFEETREE

Gymnocladus dioica

Why would you care about a shade tree in February? In Minnesota our shade trees go bare for nearly half the year, so it's worth considering a tree's winter appearance.

When dressed in summer foliage, Kentucky coffeetree makes a pleasant shade tree. But in winter, its coarse, striking silhouette adds drama to the landscape.

A native deciduous tree, Kentucky coffeetree grows 60 to 75 feet tall and 40 to 50 feet wide. Though late to leaf out in spring, this tree is noted for its double-compound leaves. A single main leaf stalk can be 3 feet long, but the actual leaflets arrayed along the secondary leaf stalks are only 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. When the leaves fall, Kentucky coffeetree's coarse branching structure and rugged, ridged bark is revealed. On female trees the chunky brown seedpods add extra winter interest.

Kentucky coffeetree makes an excellent shade tree -- as long as it has room to reach full size. Plant in full sun. Rich, moist, well-drained soil is ideal, but Kentucky coffeetree also tolerates drier, poorer soil. Mulch the root zone with a 2- to 4-inch layer of wood chips or another organic mulch.

Plant type: Large deciduous tree.

Hardiness: Zone 4.

Season: Attractive all year.

Size: 60 to 75 feet tall.

Available as: Trees in containers or balled-and-burlapped. (Because of its lack of side-branching, young Kentucky coffeetrees can look like a broom handle. But don't let that dissuade you from trying one.)

Fun fact: Early settlers reportedly roasted the hard brown seeds and used them as a substitute for coffee.

NANCY ROSE

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