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Catalpa Aurea - how much water?

I planted a Catalpa Bignonioides Aurea earlier in the spring and, with the recent hot and dry weather, I’m not sure just how healthy it is and I don't have another one to compare it with.  The leaves look very floppy during the day with far more visible veins than when they first opened.  I’m not sure if it’s the temperature or the amount of water I’ve given it or this is normal (and the burned leaves I’m definitely putting down to the extreme temperatures). 

I have been watering it every night or two for the last 3 weeks, and use a watering can full (4.5l) or more a time.  This is much more than I would normally water a new plant but after a quick google, I found an article suggesting 20l every other day (  After overwatering and killing some yew plants, I’m wary that I might be using too much already but am happy to be corrected by some more knowledgable gardeners.


As further background, it's planted in full sun in a big hole filled with compost in a clay-based bed with a fairly neutral ph.  North East England.


  • PlantmindedPlantminded WirralPosts: 1,285
    I have an 8 year old Catalpa which has been showing signs of water and heat stress recently, although not as severe as yours.  As the roots of your plant will still be getting established, l would follow the advice given by Barcham trees during this hot dry spell and see if your tree improves. The water needs to soak in deeply, 4.5 litres will only moisten the top couple of inches of soil. I would also move any plants close by which may be competing for water and nutrients. 

  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,653
    The tree probably looks as expected for a recently planted specimen experiencing the weather we're having this year so I wouldn't worry unduly. I would excavate and examine the state of the soil around the roots though. You mention that you dug a big hole in clay and filled it with compost. There is a risk that the hole you dug will retain water within the compost, making it soggy and potentially causing problems for the tree's roots. The best way of planting would have been to plant the tree into existing soil (loosened, and modified with compost worked in at the surface if you like) rather than create a compost-filled hole. Perhaps even to plant on a slight mound if the drainage is poor. 

  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 20,554
    When I lived in London, I once picked up some seeds from the ground in Kew Gardens and from them grew 15 Catalpas. 😊 The trees ranged in colour from dark green to golden and from fairly spindly to very robust.

    When they were about a year old, I donated 12 of them to various places and kept three for myself.

    When we moved from London to Derbyshire I brought two of them with me. In London they had romped away, in Derbyshire they only grow a few inches each year. 

    So far as I know all the trees were found homes in fairly ordinary soil and received no special care and all did very well, considering.

    I have read that they don’t like to be waterlogged. I was wondering, if your soil is really very heavy clay and you have created a composty hole in it for the tree if perhaps you have created a sort of sump where the water you apply is unable to escape into the clay and is forming a waterlogged “prison” for the tree? 

    Also, the yellowing/green pattern of the leaves suggests chlorosis. Maybe have a look at the Ph of your soil and test it and maybe apply iron to correct it?

    We have recently had some very hot sunshine but my Catalpa aurea is not looking like that. Is your garden extremely windy or near the sea and laden with salt?
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,653
    The chlorosis is almost certainly due to lack of, or too much water rather than nutrient deficiencies in the soil itself. Not unusual for plants to struggle a bit as their roots get established, but the more I think about it, the more likely it sounds that the tree is sat in a sump. 
  • FoxwillowFoxwillow Posts: 34
    Thanks everyone, I’d best be getting my spade out tomorrow then to check!  

    @pansyface: I’d read that Catalpa could cope with sitting in the damp but I do appreciate that what a young plant can cope with is not what a more mature tree can accept. It’s not in a windy or seaside location.
  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,653
    It's the combination of permanently saturated soil with high organic matter that can cause the problems (anaerobic conditions i.e. lack of oxygen). Have a whiff of the soil, does it smell fresh or is it a bit 'eggy' or foul smelling.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded WirralPosts: 1,285
    This is how my Catalpa looks at the moment @Foxwillow.  These symptoms are definitely down to dehydration - I have very free draining, sandy soil.  There's been a lot of wind too, adding to water loss.  I know that symptoms of too much water and too little water can be similar.  @Loxley's advice to check whether you've created a sump is the best way to rule out overwatering.  Hope this helps!

  • FoxwillowFoxwillow Posts: 34
    Thanks @Loxley and @Plantminded - those pictures are a very useful comparison.  Summer weather arrived in the North East yesterday so the tree got a good watering before I was able to check properly! I’ve dug a hole alongside to the depth of the bottom of the roots and there’s no smell so I assume it may be under watering.  

    Having thought about it, the tree is planted in a bed on a slight slope, 3 feet away and at a higher elevation than a hole dug for a water feature reservoir so I think there’s a fair chance most excess water from the bed runs in there (or it certainly did earlier in the year as there was a great big puddle on the grass beyond the water feature.  

    I’ll up my watering and see how we go. 
  • PlantmindedPlantminded WirralPosts: 1,285
    See if you can create a mound of earth in a half circle on the slope below your tree to retain the run off - my tree is in a similar position, on a bank.  A mulch of organic material around the base of the trunk will also help to retain moisture.  I've noticed that the side of my tree that gets afternoon sun is worse than the other which gets less intense morning sun.  Good luck and happy watering!
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