There’s something about a grove of quaking aspens. Maybe it’s the fluttering, whispering leaves. Maybe it’s the melancholy beauty of white-gray trunks standing one behind the other. Or it could just be the way the sunlight shines through the golden-yellow leaves in autumn. Now a quaking aspen cultivar, Prairie Gold (Populus tremuloides ‘NeArb’ Prairie Gold), is on the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s GreatPlants list for 2008. Prairie Gold has all the beauty and charm of the species, and it seems to be disease-resistant and more tolerant of heat and humidity. Not a bad way to start your very own aspen grove.
Common name: Prairie Gold quaking aspen
Botanical name: Populus tremuloides ‘NeArb’ Prairie Gold
Plant type: Deciduous tree
Zones: 1 to 6
Height: 35 to 40 feet tall
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Rich, humusy, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: Prairie Gold aspen will sucker. If you don’t want to start a whole grove of quaking aspens, plant the tree in a contained area or surround it with grass and mow down the suckers.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed, cuttings, or division.
Pests and diseases
• Leaf miners, caterpillars, scale insects, and borers may attack trees.
• Prairie Gold is said to be resistant to the diseases that commonly affect the species, including canker, leaf spots, powdery mildew, and dieback.
• P. tremuloides is found in the wild from Alaska to Mexico. Its distribution is wider than any other North American tree. It does prefer cooler weather, and in the western U.S. it thrives at high altitudes.
• Quaking aspens spread by suckers to form groves or colonies of clones (genetically identical trees that share a root structure). Though each individual tree is short-lived (starting to decline after 40 to 60 years), a grove may last thousands of years.
• Depending on the site, P. tremuloides can grow 3 or more feet per year.
All in the family
• Other native North American trees in the Populus genus include Eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides), bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata), and balsam poplar (P. balsamifera).
• Aspens, poplars, cottonwoods, and willows are the members of Salicaceae most familiar to gardeners.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Populus tremuloides ‘NeArb’ Prairie Gold courtesy of Todd Faller.)