Is it a tree or a stick in the mud? Some people ask that question when they look at the larch tree in a garden. But that’s not fair of course. The larch tree is a whole tree in every sense of the word. From the trunk and the bark to the branches and leaves, the larch is a tree well worth the name and designation in the horticultural world.
So why does the larch tree get this bad rap and why is it unfair? To answer this long-winded question, we need to get up close to this conifer and see what makes it stand out. Then we look at how you can plant it in your garden and take care of it all year round.
The Larch Tree at a Glance
When you have a tree that grows to 120 feet such as the larch tree, that’s reason to be proud of not something to look down upon. The towering giant of a tree is a native of Northern Europe where the climate is colder than usual. This means that apart from the Eastern Larch, it’s not easy to find it in the United States growing naturally in parks or forests. However, you can still grow it in your garden as we’ll show you later.
Unlike other conifers, the larch tree (Larix) is deciduous. Yes, it’s a giant of a tree with cones and needles just like pine or a fir tree. However, come winter and they shed their needle-like leaves and brace for the freezing winter. But not before their foliage turns into stunning gold in the fall. So much for being a stick in the mud.
In its native Europe, the larch tree grows in mountainous regions where its top quality wood is exported to all corners of the world. And while you won’t grow the larch tree in your yard or garden for its wood, the landscaping values of this wonderful tree are beyond doubt.
One of the first things that get your attention to this tree is the leaves. They look like flat needles and have a light green hue that looks almost translucent in the sunlight. The leaves explode into little clusters of 30 to 40 needles in each group. The bark of the tree is rather thick. It is often brown with some pink highlights.
Larch Tree Varieties
While flowers are not the most distinguishing feature of many larch varieties, these blooms still make a small splash in the summer. Before the cones materialize, you’ll see pink flowers growing shyly among the needles. They’re usually too small to have an impact on the foliage, but the tree looks brilliant green and later dazzling gold even without the need for large blooms.
As with all landscaping trees and plants, the more variety you have, the better. Everyone wants to make their garden or lawn unique. The larch tree comes in many varieties and you can pick one or two to create that landscape that makes your garden stand out and make the neighbors jealous.
- European Larch: One of the largest and most expansive larches you can come across. Often called the King of Larches, the intricate branches of this conifer require plenty of space that most gardens don’t have. However, it’s a magnificent tree notwithstanding the size.
- Eastern Larch: The only larch that claims US soil as its natural habitat. It prefers wet and acidic soil such as in the Midwest. Often known as Tamarack, this larch is often seen growing near lakes. It’s still too large for many gardens and lawns.
- Pendula: Also known as the Weeping Larch, this is often favored for its ornamental value and its relatively small size. The cascading leaves give an amazing spectacle especially when they turn gold in the fall.
- Japanese Larch: While very much similar to the European Larch both in stature and foliage, this variety is a little different. It boasts of bluish needles and drooping branches that you don’t often see in other larches. It still prefers acidic soil over an alkaline one.
- Varied Directions: A unique name to a unique tree. It has the same features as the Pendula with the cascading leaves but with one exception. This variety only grows about 15 feet high and about 30 feet wide. That’s still a lot of space, but this tree deserves every inch of it.
- Blue Sparker: The smallest of the larches. It only reaches 12 feet at full maturity. If you have a small garden or want to plant a larch in your backyard, this is the tree to grow. It also has those bluish needles that made the Japanese Larch so famous.
How to Grow the Larch Tree
As with many conifers, there are two ways to grow a larch tree. You can grow it from seeds or using a cutting. The seed method is rather lengthy and requires plenty of time and patience. If you want to get a good head start, then we recommend you use a cutting. Here are the easy steps of growing a larch tree from a cutting.
- The best time to make a cutting from a mature larch tree is in the early morning when the branches are soft and flexible.
- Pick a straight branch about 6 to 8 inches long and make a cutting using a sharp knife.
- Make sure the branch has a few nodes to facilitate the growth of leaves.
- Cover the cut end of the branch with wet paper towels and keep it in the fridge to prevent it from going dry.
- Meanwhile, you get your soil ready. Pick a medium-size pot with plenty of drainage holes at the bottom.
- Fill the pot with equal parts, soil, peat, and perlite. This is the type of slightly-acidic soil that your larch enjoys and thrives in.
- Take out the cutting from the fridge and cleanse the end with alcohol.
- Remove all the leaves from the branch before planting.
- Make a hole in the pot about 4 inches deep and plant the cutting.
- Fill the hole with soil and pack it lightly to make sure the branch is standing upright on its own.
- Water the pot until the excess water flows out the drainage hole. Keep the soil moist but don’t overwater it.
- Keep the pot in a dim-lit room for a couple of weeks. Once the roots grow, you can move it to a room flooded with light.
- When the plant is used to the light and conditions outdoors, you can plant it in its permanent place in the garden or lawn.
Larch Tree Care
Care for the larch tree is about looking after the new tree in the first couple of years of its life. Once it soars high in the sky, all you need to care about is a little pruning and collecting the cones that fall to the ground.
It’s important to get the water needs of the growing larch just right to prevent damage to the roots and keep fungal infections at bay. The larch prefers moist soil but not too wet. You’ll need to let the soil go dry before you irrigate it. To help you get the moisture level correctly in the soil, you can use mulch around the base of the tree. Don’t let the mulch touch the trunk. Spread a thick layer (about 3 inches) of oak bark or wood shavings to improve water retention and stop weeds from growing there.
No matter how rich the soil you grow the larch tree in, it’s not enough to sustain this behemoth conifer. You still need either a chemical fertilizer or an organic one. The best time to fertilize the larch tree is in mid-spring before the growth spurt. Try a 10-8-6 fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen to improve the growth rate of the tree. To do that you need to dig small holes in a circle around the tree. Fill the holes with fertilizer and cover them with soil. Now water the tree as usual letting the fertilizer melt slowly with every irrigation and nourish the roots of the tree.
When you have a tree that spreads its intricate branches 20 or 30 feet wide, that means you have a pruning problem on your hands. Pruning is probably the only issue you’ll have with the larch. To make it easier for you, you should focus on the main branch. Every tree has a main branch where most of the growth takes place. Prune this branch as regularly as you can when the tree goes dormant. Most experts recommend you create an umbrella shape of the canopy. You can achieve this by going after the branches that grow both up and down. Leave the branches spreading wide to fill up the umbrella. If this seems like too much work, you can always leave the tree to grow naturally.
Diseases and Pests
Both the wet soil and the needle-like leaves make the larch a target of many diseases. Most common among them are black spots, brown spots, lesions, and streaks. They all affect the leaves and bark and are the result of fungal infections. Bad air circulation and trapped humidity are the causes of this fungus. Make sure the tree has enough space and get plenty of air circulation around it.
An infestation of sawflies and aphids is not something to take lightly. They can ruin the beauty of the foliage and impact the growth of the tree. Spray the leaves and branches with a mixture of water and insecticidal soap to get rid of these pests.