How to Grow: American Tamarack

Learn about American tamarack or larch, including varieties and how to plant and grow them.

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How to Grow: Larch

Larix laricinaTamarack

 

Other Name

Larch

 

Sun Requirements

Full sun

 

Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Grown for its bluish-green colored needles that turn a bright yellow in autumn

 

Mature Height x Spread

50 to 80 feet x 20 to 30 feet. Some dwarf and weeping versions stand less than 10 feet tall.

 

Added Benefits

Native, fall color, deer resistant

 

This native, eastern North American tree is unique. It has needles like other evergreens, such as spruce and pine, but it’s a deciduous tree. The bluish-green needles are attractive in summer and turn a golden yellow in late fall. American tamarack is one of the last trees to turn color in autumn. I’ll often see wild stands of tamaracks in late fall with brilliant golden foliage, often standing out in an otherwise defoliated deciduous forest. However, the needles then drop for winter. Tamarack trees have a slow to medium growth rate. They are best grown in groves for the most dramatic effect, but dwarf and weeping versions look great in gardens. Tamaracks do produce cones, but they are small, egg-shaped and not particularly ornamental.

 

When, Where and How to Plant

American tamarack is very hardy throughout New England. Purchase trees from a local nursery and plant in spring or summer on well-drained, acidic, moist soils. American tamarack also grows well in wet sites. Space trees 20 to 30 feet apart.

 

Growing Tips

American tamarack needs cool, moist soils to thrive. Plant trees near streams or in wet areas. American tamarack is most suited to a naturalized setting. Fertilize young trees with compost and an acidifying fertilizer. Once established, they should grow fine without additional plant foods.

 

Regional Advice and Care

American tamarack trees don’t grow well in lawn settings, in the shade, near air or water pollution or on hot sites. European larch (L. decidua) is more tolerant of these conditions. It really is a native tree that thrives in its natural environment. Birds and other wildlife enjoy these trees for food and shelter. Remove dead limbs anytime as they occur. Aphids can be a problem on new growth. Spray insecticidal soap to kill them on young trees. On tall, mature trees let ladybugs and other predators come to feed on the aphids.

 

Companion Planting and Design

Plant in a woodland setting, abandoned meadows, wetland areas and generally in any location where wild American tamaracks will thrive. Plant in groups or groves for the most dramatic fall color effect. Plant dwarf versions of these trees in the garden as an unusual specimen tree. Weeping tamarack has a cascading growth pattern that makes for an interesting small tree in a garden. American tamarack is also commonly used as a bonsai tree.

 

Try These

Most nurseries only carry the native species of American tamarack. ‘Blue Sparkler’ is an improved selection with very blue needles. ‘Deborah Waxman’ is a dwarf selection that grows only 4 feet tall and wide. ‘Newport Beauty’ hardly reaches 2 feet tall and is a slow grower. ‘Pendula’ is a weeping form of American tamarack. It grows 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide wit ha cascading growth habit. ‘Puli’ is another weeping from that has a narrow, upright growth.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

Podcast Transcript

LarchThis tree has highly prized, rot resistant wood, good for building. In fact, the city of Venice, Italy was built mostly with this wood. It grows in the bleak tundras of Canada and Siberia, but also is abundant in European forests. It’s used to make bonsia trees and is one of the last trees to turn color in the fall. What tree is it? It’s the tamarack or larch tree.

The most common larch are species native to Europe and North America. They grow in cold, northern areas, and are hardy to zone 2. They’re unusual because although they have needles like pines, they’ re deciduous and drop their needles in winter. Their late fall golden color is striking especially since is occurs often after all the other deciduous leaves in the forest have fallen. Larch is a large tree that can grow to more than 100 feet tall, although the eastern larch in our area grows a bit shorter. They grow well in wet soils and look best planted in groves.

But you don’t need acres of land to enjoy larch trees. There are dwarf and weeping versions that make for interesting specimens in the yard. Weeping larch only grows as tall as it’s staked and, if not staked, can be pruned to grow like a ground cover. Dwarf varieties, such as ‘Deborah Waxman’, only stand 6 to 8 feet tall and can be pruned to grow in a more bush-like form. All larch have soft, light green needles in spring that turn a bluish-green in summer before their fabulous, golden fall color.

From the Vermont Garden Journal.

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