Buckeye Tree Planting: Information On Using Buckeye As A Yard Tree


By: Jackie Carroll

Ohio’s state tree and the symbol for Ohio State University’s intercollegiate athletics, Ohio buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) are the best known of the 13 species of buckeyes. Other members of the genus include medium to large trees such as the horse chestnut (A. hippocastanum) and large shrubs like the red buckeye (A. pavia). Read on for information about buckeye tree planting and some interesting buckeye tree facts.

Buckeye Tree Facts

Buckeye leaves are made up of five leaflets that are arranged like spread fingers on a hand. They are bright green when they emerge and darken as they age. The flowers, which are arranged in long panicles, bloom in spring. Green, leathery fruit replace the flowers in summer. Buckeyes are one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, and also the first to drop their foliage in fall.

Most of the trees in North America called “chestnuts” are actually horse chestnuts or buckeyes. A fungal blight wiped out most of the true chestnuts between 1900 and 1940 and very few specimens survived. The nuts from buckeyes and horse chestnuts are poisonous to humans.

How to Plant a Buckeye Tree

Plant buckeye trees in spring or fall. They grow well in full sun or partial shade and adapt to most any soil, but they don’t like an extremely dry environment. Dig the hole deep enough to accommodate the root ball and at least twice as wide.

When you set the tree in the hole, lay a yardstick, or flat tool handle across the hole to make sure the soil line on the tree is even with the surrounding soil. Trees that are buried too deep are susceptible to rot. Backfill the hole with unamended soil. There is no need to fertilize or add soil amendments until the following spring.

Water deeply and in the absence of rain, following up with weekly waterings until the tree is established and beginning to grow. A 2 to 3 inch (5-7.5 cm.) layer of mulch around the tree will help keep the soil evenly moist. Pull the mulch back a few inches (5 cm.) from the trunk to discourage rot.

The main reason you don’t see more buckeyes as a yard tree is the litter they create. From dead flowers to leaves to the leathery and sometimes spiny fruit, it seems that something is always falling from the trees. Most property owners prefer to grow buckeyes in woodland settings and out-of-the-way areas.

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How to Transplant a Buckeye Tree

The buckeye tree is a popular native tree, particularly in Ohio where it is the state tree. It is often grown as an ornamental tree, in landscapes or public parks, where children gather during the fall to collect the green seedcases and extract the brown seeds inside. Buckeye trees are not very fond of being transplanted, so this can make things difficult for the amateur gardener, but with good care and attention, even a transplanted buckeye tree can grow very high, and produce lots of sweet buckeye nuts which squirrels and chipmunks will love to eat.

Transplanting a Buckeye tree

Planting a buckeye seed in its final destination is the best way to ensure that the buckeye tree grows to its full potential, but this is not always possible. If you have to replant a buckeye tree, it is best done once the tree has got a little older – younger trees can be put under too much stress, and they will die. Waiting two years to transplant a buckeye tree can mean all the difference between keeping the tree and losing it.

If you have bought the buckeye from a garden centre, then it is best to "harden" the tree by leaving it outside for a day or two before planting. This also gives you plenty of time to dig a nice deep hole, which will ensure that there is enough room for the taproot to lay.

Loosen the soil in an area about a foot wide, and as deep as the root ball of the tree. Lay the tree on its side, and remove any burlap sheeting and wire ties with a suitable clipper. Water the soil well, and then place the buckeye tree in it, making sure that it remains upright and in a straight position.

Half-fill in hole with removed soil, and add some compost. Water the tree thoroughly, and let the roots and soil soak up the water overnight.

The next day, add the rest of the soil, and then put a mulch on top to about 3 inches high. Water again, until a pool of liquid forms around the base of the tree. Return frequently during the next few weeks to continue watering and mulching the tree.

After transplanting

Buckeye trees can sometimes die back due to transplant shock after re-planting, so it is important to water and care for the trees as much as possible in the first two years after transplantation. During this period, leaves will turn brown and fall, and any seeds being grown will also fall away. This kind of early dormancy should be treated with careful mulching. It is also wise to inspect the tree for rust or other diseases which might cause these symptoms.

Prune the buckeye tree regularly after the first few years, to remove suckers and shoots from the lower portions of the trunk and the roots. Pruning is an ideal time to check the buckeye tree for signs of disease or infestation, and careful pruning also encourages the tree to produce stronger shoots and more seeds in following years.


Ohio Buckeye Trees In The Landscape - How To Plant A Buckeye Tree - garden

Unusual white flower panicles in Spring, fan-shaped leaves with good fall colour and a compact growth habit,susceptible to leaf scorch in dry sites, spiny seeds (nuts) may necessitate some maintenance. Leaves, bark and nuts are poisonous if ingested

Ohio Buckeye features showy spikes of creamy white flowers rising above the foliage in mid spring. It has dark green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The palmate leaves turn an outstanding coppery-bronze in the fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. However, the fruit can be messy in the landscape and may require occasional clean-up.

Ohio Buckeye is a dense deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This is a high maintenance tree that will require regular care and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It is a good choice for attracting squirrels to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Ohio Buckeye is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Shade

Ohio Buckeye will grow to be about 25 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 20 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 2 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.

This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is native to parts of North America, and parts of it are known to be toxic to humans and animals, so care should be exercised in planting it around children and pets.


What serves as the best method of propagation for bottlebrush buckeye? (seed, cuttings, grafting etc).. Why might one serve better than any other?

Seeds, which are collected in the fall, have a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. You can plant freshly collected seeds in a gallon nursery pot and keep them moist in sand until the seeds germinate in spring. Plants grown from seed will flower in about 3 years. The only caveat going this route is that I read that the possibility exists for seeds to not be viable after going through this process.

Root cuttings, done in late fall, are another option. You take pieces of root several inches in length and place them in sand under cool conditions. By spring you should start seeing shoots.

I have also read where you can take leafy single node cuttings in June/July, treat it with a rooting hormone and place them in moist peat/perlite. It was suggested that this was a more successful option than root cuttings.

So basically, it all depends. It seems to be a mixed bag on what method is better.


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Maple Tree · Gardenality Genius · Zone 10A · 30° to 35° F
The Ohio buckeye is the state tree of Ohio, and its name is an original term of endearment for the pioneers on the Ohio frontier, with specific association with William Henry Harrison. The Ohio State University adopted "Buckeyes" officially as its nickname in 1950, and it came to be applied to any student or graduate of the university.


Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)

Description:

An ideal choice for the small home landscape, with nice yellow flowers, good fall color and a compact growth habit, curiously fan-shaped leaves susceptible to leaf scorch in dry sites, spiny seeds may necessitate some maintenance

Ornamental Features:

Ohio Buckeye features showy spikes of creamy white flowers rising above the foliage in mid spring. It has dark green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The palmate leaves turn an outstanding coppery-bronze in the fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. However, the fruit can be messy in the landscape and may require occasional clean-up.

Landscape Attributes:

Ohio Buckeye is a dense deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This is a high maintenance tree that will require regular care and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It is a good choice for attracting squirrels to your yard. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration

Ohio Buckeye is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Shade


Deciding to plant a tree in the landscape can be a difficult decision. You worry not only about how much to spend but also where to properly plant the tree. Just like when making the decision to buy a new car or appliance, it’s likely you’re going to do some research to see not only what is available but also what fits your goals.

Some older trees have common problems

Many gardeners have grown wary of certain trees that have lost popularity due to insect or disease problems, such as American elms (Ulmus americana, Zones 2–9) or ashes (Fraxinus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). Our landscapes also provide challenges of limited space, tough soils, and the inherent stresses caused by rough Midwestern winters, droughts, or unseasonable and challenging weather in general. But there is a wide spectrum of adaptable plants coming out on the market every year. With breeding and trialing programs, many occurring over many years of observation, new introductions have typically been exposed to the vagaries of climate and other Midwest conditions and stand a good chance in our landscape.

Newer trees are bred with fixing common problems in mind

It’s interesting to see that newer introductions not only tout features such as improved disease resistance, better vigor, and certainly notable ornamental features, but they are also being developed for narrower forms and habits, increased hardiness, and a broader adaptability over a wide spectrum of growing conditions. I’d like to share six relatively new tree introductions from three different breeders that I think will add a lot of merit to a Midwest landscape and diverge from the limited palette of traditional selections that are becoming not only ubiquitous but dangerously close to overplanted in some locations.

Urban Pinnacle ® bur oak has glossy, jungle-green foliage and small, unobtrusive acorns. Photo: courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Urban Pinnacle ® bur oak

Quercus macrocarpa ‘JFS-KW3’, Zones 3–8

This is a wonderful selection of native bur oak that is quite narrow and upright and has dark green, glossy foliage. Featuring a strong, central leader and uniform branching, this variety will ultimately exhibit a narrow, pyramidal form. Urban Pinnacle ® prefers full to partial sun and will grow 55 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The yellow fall color is consistent, and the small acorns make this selection suitable not only for general landscape use but also for planting along streets.

Skinny Latte™ Kentucky coffeetree has a naturally narrow form that makes each tree always look like it’s just been pruned. Photo: Chicagoland Grows

Skinny Latte™ Kentucky coffeetree

Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Morton’, Zones 3–8

Native Kentucky coffeetree can become a very large tree in time. This selection is more manageable due to its narrow form (15 to 20 feet wide), which ultimately features a slightly wider base. It will reach 50 feet tall at maturity. This tree is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions but prefers full sun. The ascending branches hold very textural, frondlike, compound foliage that turns yellow in fall. This is a male selection, so you don’t have to worry about the messy pods. The bark is also quite ornamental with age, and this species has exceptional tolerance of urban conditions.

Beijing Gold ® has large, golden, lacey flowers that bloom prolifically on a shrubby tree. Photo: Chicagoland Grows

Beijing Gold ® Peking lilac

Syringa reticulata ssp. pekinensis ‘Zhang Zhiming’, Zones 4–7

I planted this selection of Peking lilac as a small rooted stick twenty years ago before it was commonly available, and I always look forward to the primrose-yellow flowers that bloom in early summer. The fragrant flower clusters are abundant and showy. The fall color is a nice yellow, and the cinnamon color and the slightly exfoliating bark are eye-catching, particularly over the winter months. Beijing Gold ® prefers full sun and will grow 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. This slow-growing variety is also salt and drought tolerant and has superior disease resistance.

In spring, Ruby Dayze ® crabapple has magenta foliage and delicate pink flowers. Photo: courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Ruby Dayze ® crabapple

Malus ‘JFS KW139 MX’, Zones 4–8

Crabapples in spring bloom are a common sight throughout the Midwest. Disease-ridden crabapples in summer that are losing leaves are also quite common. Ruby Dayze ® has excellent disease resistance and features purple-red foliage in spring that ages to bronze-green in summer and orange-red in fall. The magenta pink flowers are gorgeous and long-lived. Showy and persistent red fruits offer winter interest and attract wildlife. This is a great, modern selection of crabapple. It takes full sun and will grow 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide at maturity.

Northern Spotlight ® Korean maple has shocking, bright reddish orange fall foliage. Photo: North Dakota State University

Northern Spotlight ® Korean maple

Acer pseudosieboldianum ‘KorDak’, Zones 3–8

Selected at North Dakota State University after some very severe winters, this is probably the hardiest variety of Korean maple on the market and has been shown to withstand –40°F. Growing 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide, Northern Spotlight ® takes full to partial sun. The open, layered branches offer nice form, and new foliage emerges later in spring to avoid early frosts. The summer foliage is resistant to leaf scorch and tip burn (common with this species), so the canopy looks good throughout a hot summer. The outstanding orange-red fall color is particularly beautiful.

This cultivar is not currently for sale, although it has been in the past and likely will be again soon. Check out the NDSU Research Foundation for updates.

Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye has beautiful yellow flowers in spring (left) and foliage that doesn’t fade in summer heat (right). Photos: Chicagoland Grows

Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye

Aesculus glabra ‘J.N. Select’, Zones 4–7

Early Glow™ is an attractive and durable tree. It takes full or partial shade and has mature dimensions of 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The yellow-green flower clusters are showy and attract hummingbirds. The dark green summer foliage has superior resistance to leaf blotch and scorch and turns a reliable bright red in early fall. Many species of buckeye look pretty rough in the heat of summer, but this variety maintains its attractive foliage through the dog days. Avoid overly dry locations, but enjoy the toughness this selection offers in the Midwest.

—Mark Dwyer, former director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin, operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

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