Gold Medallion Tree (Cassia leptophylla) Questions

Question from Dee:
I am considering planting a couple of Gold Medallion (Cassia Leptophylla) trees.

My location is Carlsbad, CA. 92011
1) What zone is it?
2) Also is this a good time to plant this tree? August

Thank you.

Answer from Pat:
Gold medallion tree (Cassia leptophylla) is one of our best small to mid-size flowering trees, good in patios or as a street tree. It is almost evergreen along the coast and semi-evergreen inland and flowers for a long season, mostly in summer. Though this tree has the reputation of growing rapidly to 20 or 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide, it can easily be kept to a compact umbrella shape by pruning. It is easiest to begin with a boxed specimen that is fairly large and already trained into a well-balanced umbrella shape on a single sturdy trunk. If you purchase a tree in a 5-gallon can you will need to prune and train the tree carefully in youth to encourage a sufficiently tall trunk, strong branch structure and even shape without lop-sided growth.

If you purchase a boxed tree, for the first year of two while the tree is getting established, prune it after bloom only enough to remove seed pods and dead wood and maintain a good even shape. Once it is the size and shape you want, cut it back annually after bloom. The right time to do this is in early fall (mid-September.) Remove all dead wood, if there is any, and cut back the branches on the sides and top of the tree to maintain a nicely rounded umbrella shape. By cutting back all over the top annually in early fall (after, not before, bloom) you can keep a cassia tree exactly the size and shape you want for many years. Make sure that the trunk is staked in such a way that it can move with the wind. This will make it grow strong.

Regarding your climate zone, if you look at the map on page 54 of the most-recent edition of Sunset Western Garden Book or follow this link: http://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/sunset-climate-zone-san-diego-area-00418000067314/ , you will note that Zone 24 extends several miles inland in Carlsbad. In northern Carlsbad, Zone 24 extends approximately half way from the coast to Vista and in southern Carlsbad slightly further inland than Palomar Airport. This unusually wide band of Zone 24 is caused by the fact that the land slopes gently upwards for several miles from the ocean and this causes the warming influence in winter and cooling influence in summer of coastal winds, air, and fog to slide inland as far as the hill slopes upwards. These coastal conditions of Zone 24 don’t change to the slightly more extreme conditions (cooler in winter, warmer in summer and sunnier year-round) of Zone 23 until you reach the other side of the first hill away from the ocean. Additionally, in any climate zone you will always find some anomalies, called “micro-climates”. These are caused by sudden changes in topography, such as small valleys, canyons, dips, mesas, or even man-made structures like walls or buildings. Some of the larger and more easily recognized micro-climates created by the natural lay of the land in Carlsbad include south-facing properties just north of Batiquitos, Agua Hedionda, and Buena Vista Lagoons that are protected from ocean wind. These areas enjoy salubrious micro-climates a few degrees warmer year-round than most of Zone 24 and thus they are conducive to growing many subtropical and tropical plants, including orchids, bananas, mangos and other tropical fruits.

To answer the third part of your question, yes August is a fine time for you to plant this tree, especially considering your warm mild climate. Cassia is a subtropical tree and therefore its roots will become better established in warm weather. Be sure to provide good drainage. (See page 40 of my organic book for detailed directions on this topic.) Keep well and deeply watered after planting. In the town where I live two large boxed cassia trees in excellent condition and flowering massively were recently planted into holes cut in sidewalk. Despite my repeated cautions, the owners of the property failed to water deeply enough to soak the entire root ball and both trees wilted. Lay the hose on the ground within the watering basin under the tree and allow the water to run slowly for several hours so that it really penetrates the ground. Sprinklers are not enough. Here is an additional tip: If you will apply humic acid or John and Bob’s Soil Optimizer according to package directions to the ground, this can help the roots of newly planted trees to get established quickly.

Comments

  1. Diana Beardsley

    Hi Pat: That was very helpful. I am having a problem with my cassia. I live near downtown LA. My Cassia is about 15 years old. This year the tree has been very late to get foliage and the foliage so far is sparse and smaller than usual. Last year it was full and spectacular. We had less rainfall this year, but the lack of foliage is really dramatic. We have not had very many hot days. I am wondering if this could be effecting the tree. My tree is always the last one in the neighborhood to get its foliage and bloom, but is usually fine by mid-june. Might it need more water. Any suggestions. I don’t want to lose the tree if possible. Thank you

    • If you think your cassia tree has not had enough water this year, be sure to give it a deep watering now. Attach a sprinkler to the hose and let it run ever so slowly and move it around the tree at intervals. Before watering, fertilize the entire root zone beginning 18 inches away from the trunk and continuing to the branch tips with an all-purpose balanced fertilizer and then allow the water to thoroughly irrigate the fertilizer in the ground. March is the correct time to fertilize the basic landscape but I gather you might not have done that. Many times trees are planted in lawns and the lawn grass robs the tree of all nutrients and water too. (If you had a tensiometer you could check the level of moisture in the soil.) You are correct that we have had a cooler spring and summer in Southern California so far, even in Los Angeles, which is usually warm at this time of year. I have been in Hollywood a couple of times recently and noticed how cool the weather was there compared to usual summer temperatures. Gold medallion tree is a subtropical tree and prefers warm sunny locations so yes the weather could be affecting its behavior this year. Los Angeles is in a valley shaped like a basin and cold air can collect there at night. Also it might be breezy. Cassias abhor cold wind. The owner of a business in the town where I live asked me if he could plant a gold medallion tree as a street tree last year and I said sure he could but it might not be a good choice since it probably would never bloom because of cold wind and no reflected heat where he wanted to put it. He planted it anyway. The blossoms immediately wilted last year and many of them fell off, but I think that was because they didn’t water it enough. This year, so far it has not bloomed and shows no signs of blooming. It also leafed out later than usual. Another possible problem occurs to me also and that is if your tree was planted on the north side of a building so there is a heavy cool shadow or so that it is not planted in full sun. Many times people plant subtropical and tropical flowering trees and never notice that they chose a spot to plant it where it is in heavy shade for part of the day. All cassia trees need full sun.

      • Do the cassia need staked when planted and for how long? We have strong Santa Ana winds at the church where I want to plant the tree. It sounds like the roots will go deep if properly watered?

        • Cassia trees don’t like cold wind and often bloom less or more briefly when grown in wind. Olive trees and Calfornia pepper trees (Schinus molle) are two among several tree species that are long-lived, can take wind and also look beautiful, though pepper trees are messy and one might need to find a fruitless olive tree. Yes, young cassias need staking. Use three stout, strong tree stakes and arrange loose ties to each one so the tree can sway in the wind and thus grow a strong trunk. Rigid staking makes for weak trunks. In three years or when the tree has developed a strong trunk, remove the stakes. Roots of cassia do not normally run on the surface of the ground unless the tree was improperly planted in hard ground or over hardpan and then watered shallowly. Plant into well-drained native soil and dig a round hole the same size as the root ball. Then dig 4 trenches extending outward from the round hole and deeper than the root ball like a cross, in order that the roots can get out there into the surrounding soil. There is no tree species that sends its roots straight down, as can be seen when old trees fall. All trees spread their roots out into the surrounding ground with most roots existing in the upper two or three feet of soil, but you want them to go as deep as possible. Watering deeply and extending the time between waterings (once the tree is established) accomplishes this.

  2. Hi Pat, I’m considering planting a couple of gold medallion trees in my backyard. I live in Scotts Valley, CA and receive sun all day long. Will my zone allow these trees to thrive? Thank you.

    • If your home is in Zone 15 you can grow gold medallion tree. Cassia’s are subtropical trees, and Zone 15 is a relatively mild area when compared with other zones close by, but it is borderline for this tree. Thus when you ask “will it thrive?” my answer is you could most likely find a flowering tree that is better adapted to your climate and more likely to survive longterm. Your first task is to find out which Sunset climate zone you live in. If you can tell me that it would help. Ask at your closest nursery and make sure they tell you the Sunset Zone that Scotts Valley is in, not the Dept. of Agriculture zone which will be no help. Small individually owned nurseries usually are more educated on this subject than large ones with many employees who might not be gardeners.

  3. What is the root structure like? I would like to plant near my house and next to the driveway…will the root structure impede both? Thanks for your advice!

    • Cassia’s like well-drained soil and are drought-resistant once established. They are not known for having particularly invasive roots, nor do they have a strong tendency to mound up paving. Hence they are often recommended as good street trees. However, any tree even a cassia if planted into hard or shallow soil with poor drainage will tend to grow spreading roots on the surface of the ground.

  4. Denise Mirabile

    Hi Pat,
    Where can I purchase a Gold Medallion Tree? I live in Chula Vista, CA. Thank you.

    • Gold Medallion tree (Cassia leptophylla) is a popular tree and widely available. Your local nursery either has one or can order a specimen for you in 5 gallon or 15 gallon size, depending on your budget. If you want a boxed tree you can go to any tree farm and they will deliver, but a 15-gallon specimen is likely to take off better and get established quicker. Do not plant deeper than the surrounding soil. Do not add soil amendment to the planting hole. Check drainage before planting. Loosen the roots before planting. Put slow release fertilizer according to package directions, in the bottom of the planting hole but not touching roots. Water the tree several times immediately after planting. Water three times deeply the next week, twice a week for the following month, once a week throughout fall and also water in winter when rains are not adequate. This tree can take less water once established. Feed annually in March.

  5. Hello, my mother recently made a trip to California and brought me back a seed pod from a gold medallion tree. I live in north Texas and want to try to plant some seeds to see if I can get it to grow. As you know, the weather in Texas is crazy and some winters can be below freezing up to 50 degrees. So I guess my question is, what are my chances of actually being able to get it to grow, and also, how would I go about starting it? In a pot inside? Thanks.

  6. Dear Pat,

    I have 3 gold medallion trees in my back yard which were planted about 7 years ago. They were not pruned very well and the side branches are about 3 feet long with all leaf growth and flowering at the end of the branches. I’d like to prune them to get fuller leaves but I’m afraid I might kill the trees. I’m not sure where to make the cuts. I have made some cuts in the past and they simply stopped growth in that direction. The trees are kind of spindley but they had beautiful blooms this year so I think they are healthy. Can you help me?

    Thank you.
    L. Busch

    • It sounds as if you are describing a cassia that has been pruned in winter. This does not work well with this tree. Cassias do not appreciate winter pruning. Buds further back on branches will not grow during cold weather. The correct time to prune Cassia leptophylla is AFTER bloom, never before. Wait until your cassia has finished blooming next year then immediately prune it as hard as you wish. Follow up with fertilizer and water and it should bounce right back with plenty of fresh growth all over the tree.

  7. I just bought a 15 gal. cassia tree. I live in the Berkeley, CA hills and would like to plant this weekend, but not sure if the conditions are adequate. It got down to about 37 degrees last night. If I do plant now, is there a special winter fertilizer I should use, and how often should I water in these winter months? I have a 4″ watering pipe in the ground to get a deep watering to the root. Will this be too much water. I would appreciate your advise, as I’m not too familiar with this tree.
    Thanks!

    • Mark Billings

      Sorry for the intrusion, but we have been searching the East Bay for anyone who carries or has access to this tree. Where can I get one, too! I love the descriptions of the Gold Medallion, and can’t wait to highlight our landscape with this centerpiece. Any reply is appreciated.

      • When you say “East Bay” do you mean east bay San Francisco? If so, this is why you cannot find Cassia leptophylla locally. This is because gardens in East Bay San Francisco are located in Sunset Climate Zone 17 and Cassia leptophylla is not adapted to growing in that climate zone. If you want a flowering tree, look around you at various times of year to see trees you like that grow and bloom well where you live. One spectacular possibility with yellow blooms is golden chain tree (Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’.) Many people who live where I live would give their eye teeth to be able to grow Laburnum. In my opinion it is even more eye-catching when in bloom than Cassia leptophylla. If, on the other hand, you live in east bay San Diego, you can order Cassia leptophylla from any nursery or purchase one at any tree farm. In the San Diego area, it is a common tree.

        • Mark Billings

          Pat, thanks for that. We will check into the alternative. We’re actually Sunset zone 14/15 in our particular Bay Delta area, but you were close, even based on my vague query. Sorry about that. Since I was noting someone in Berkeley saying they had one, and it’s MUCH cooler there than here, it would do much better here. San Diego growers either want way too much ($2000) or simply refuse to ship here. Maybe you’re alternative would work. I’ll let you know. — Mark

          • Why not take a driving vacation to San Diego, purchase your Cassias, rent a U-Haul trailer and truck them home? If you don’t like the trailer idea, fly down and rent a truck for taking them home or you could even fit 15 gallon size in the back of an SUV if you own one and drive both ways. (15-gallon trees often get a better start and in a couple of years overtake larger sizes.) To me, moseying down Route One is a vacation in itself. I stop overnight in Carmel, Morro Bay and Santa Barbara. Cassia’s are cheap here at tree farms, but why buy a boxed one when you could purchase a 15 gallon? (15-gallon trees often get a better start and in a couple of years overtake larger sizes.) Re: the return trip, I have often driven up and down I-5 in one day. (It’s a matter of timing and day of the week. Northbound, go on Saturday. Southbound to avoid traffic, I arrive about 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and stop in Hollywood for dinner with family or at Musso Frank’s on Hollywood Blvd. and drive home after dinner.)

          • Hi Mark,
            I live in Capitola, CA (near Santa Cruz). Cassia leptophylla are planted as street trees here and they are just gorgeous. I have planted three and wish I could say the same for mine.
            However, my daughter, a landscape architect purchased the trees through a wholesale nursery, Garden Haven Nursery in Soquel, CA. You might call to see if they will sell you some or what retail nurseries they supply. Their number is 831-475-2021.
            I plan to follow some of the good advise here in hopes of getting my cassias to look as good as “street trees”.
            Good Luck.

  8. What is causing our Cassia tree leaves to burn out? It seems to be dying from the top down. It’s leafing out with healthy branches at the bottom We’ve had it for a couple of years and have yet to see it bloom.

  9. Our landscaper recommend planting a couple Gold Medallions around our home in Southern CA. We have had them for two years and they haven’t grow/changed since the day they were planted. Our landscaper is telling us they need a couple years to get established, but the trees are literally the exact same size as the day they were planted. They were 15 gallon trees when planted and they are in a very large planter bed with plenty of space and full sun. At what point do we throw in the towel and have him replace the trees.

    • Most likely your landscaper did not properly loosen the roots of the trees prior to planting. Secondly, they might not have put slow-release fertilizer into the planting hole at planting time, which they should have done. However, though you say there is plenty of room for roots, if the roots really are out there in the ground and not wound round and round, it may well be the size of the planter that is restricting their growth. Sunset Western Garden Book says that Cassia leptophylla is a fast growing tree to thirty feet. Nonetheless they list it under “Patio Trees”, which doesn’t seem to make sense. My experience with watching these trees growing in my community, where there are many of them, is that they are very good patio trees and as such are not fast growing but often stay small and compact for many years especially in a patio or in a large planter as in your case, or when grown as a street tree. If I were you I would not “throw in the towel”. Instead fertilize the trees around the drip line, not around the trunk, with a balanced fertilizer for growth and bloom and water it into the ground. A final word of caution: if you destroy these trees and plant something faster growing and eventually larger in your planters, they are likely to cause all kinds of problems. You have made a good choice so if I were you I’d stick with it.

  10. We recently moved into a house in coastal Encinitas with a large gold medallion tree. In September We noticed the leaves were turning brown and falling while in bloom. It had tons of lace bugs. The previous owners said it was important to treat it with a systemic after the blossoms were finished. So right after a big rain In early October I treated it with a Bonide tree and shrub insect control with systemaxx and 1.47% Imidacloprid. I poked holes in the ground 2-3 feet around the tree and used maybe three quarters of a bottle diluted in a gallon of water according to the bottle’s recipe. A week later all the leaves fell off the tree. The green pods remain with a few dead leaves and a few lace bugs. It’s been nearly a month and I’m very concerned about distressed tree and we don’t want to loose it. Recommendations?

    • Gold medallion tree (Cassia leptophylla) is usually trouble-free. It is a drought-resistant tree with low water needs. When this easy-to-grow tree is beset by pest and disease problems, such as you have described, there is usually a reason and sometimes the reason is that it is growing in the wrong place or otherwise not getting what it needs. So let’s look at those possible causes first.

      The first requirement of this tree is good drainage. It hates water-logged soil. It also needs full sun and protection from cold ocean winds. You have stated you live in coastal Encinitas. In most areas of Encinitas the soil is excellent old-agricultural soil but in some places a heavy layer of buried clay or rock prevents proper percolation of irrigation water. if your tree is growing in such a condition then the problem that caused the leaves to fall off may be root rot. Also, is your tree growing in full sun or is it being shaded by a tall building or by another much larger tree? Pest problems are also often the result of something that is weakening the tree like any of these situations I have mentioned. So they are the first things to investigate.

      On the other hand it is true that a bad infestation of lace bugs can cause all the leaves to drop off a tree. Fortunately, I’m happy to tell you that in most cases this will not kill the tree. So it could be the lace bugs that caused the leaves to drop off the tree. Also we have had extremely hot weather this year lasting much longer than it ever has lasted before. This situation could have increased the effects of lace bugs. My instinct says this is what most likely happened.

      But I am dismayed to hear you treated the ground with a systemic. I know the UC recommends this action after the blossoms are gone and whereas I am an Honorary Master Gardener and support the UC system, I am also an avid organic gardener and I try in every way I can to get everyone to garden that way. I feel as if we are destroying our planet and ourselves as well in many ways, but one of the main ways is with pesticides.

      Bayer systemic pesticides are terrible for our environment. I am especially upset and dismayed that you used a product containing Imidachloprid (Merit) which was designed to kill while grubs in lawns and is included in many lawn fertilizers. it kills white grubs by confusing them so they cannot do the things they need to do to survive. (What if it is entering our water and causing autism or something worse in kids?) It is systemic so it enters flowering plants and kills bees in the same way that it kills white grubs by confusing them. I believe and many scientists in Europe and America believe it is one of the main pesticides that causes Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in bees. CCD is the the main disease that is killing bees worldwide. Without bees we will have no fruit and few vegetables. Please NEVER ever again use any product containing Imidachloprid or Merit. Also using the systemic after the leaves have fallen off will do nothing to kill the pests.

      Here is what I recommend: First check the drainage, water correctly and do not allow the ground to become soggy. if drainage is all right and the problem is lace bugs then try using organic methods of pest control as described below.

      This fall (in other words now in November) rake up all the fallen leaves and any old mulch from the ground under and around the tree and keep the leaves picked up. Bag them and send them to the dump. Do not use them in compost and do not use them as mulch anywhere else in the garden since the eggs and dead bodies of the pests are in and on the leaves. If you leave them on the ground the eggs will hatch and the lace bugs’ life cycle will begin all over again to plague you next year. After thoroughly cleaning up the ground under and surrounding the tree, then purchase a bag of John and Bob’s Soil Optimizer (at Dixieline or Armstrongs) and sprinkle it all over the ground under the tree. After that cover the ground under the tree’s canopy with a layer of clean, bagged compost or mulch and after that apply several bags of earthworm castings on top. Water the entire area then feed and water as usual. You can re-apply the earthworm castings like a mulch under the tree on top of the soil several times during the year if desired. This action will help kill the bugs and has a scientific basis. Earthworm castings contain chitinase. Chitinase is an enzyme that destroys chitin. Chitin is what the exoskeletons of insects are made of. All plants contain chitinase and earthworm castings over their roots help trees and other plants absorb more. Additionally, the chitinase in earthworm castings kills ants which may be climbing up the trunk of your tree and depositing the lace bugs onto the tree.

      In spring when the lace bugs first become visible squirt them from underneath the leaves with a strong spray of water from the hose. Use a pressure nozzle on the end of the hose. Sometimes you can find these on a wand which makes the job easier. Additionally at the first sign of the bugs, go to your nearest nursery and purchase ladybugs. Put them into your refrigerator for the rest of the day to reduce their metabolism. Then at dusk after sprinkling the leaves of the tree lightly with water to moisten them (because ladybugs need moisture) then release your ladybugs at dusk here and there in teaspoonsful at the bottom of the foliage on the tree. They will walk upwards and deposit eggs as they go. The eggs will hatch into larvae which do most of the pest-eating. But also the ladybugs will be eating some pests as they walk upwards in the tree. A couple of releases of ladybugs when you first note the problem may solve your entire pest problem. Repeat whenever necessary through the year. If you wish you might also release lacewings onto the tree according to package directions. You can purchase lacewings online. These are amazingly efficient pest-eaters. Their larvae do most of the work and they stick around forever.

      I promise you if you do all this you will have a very healthy cassia tree next year and you will not be endangering your health or that of your loved ones or pets.
      In my opinion pesticides are not only killing bees they are also the main cause of cancer among human beings. Let’s not contribute to these problems!

  11. Hi Pat

    Do you know much about the pods of this tree? They smell wonderful with almost a carob scent to them. My dog loves them, but I am not sure if they are good for him.

    • The seeds of Cassia leptophylla are very poisonous to humans. I have no idea if they might poison a dog. I suggest you ask your veterinarian. Meanwhile, my advice is to prune the pods off the tree, keep them away from your dog, rake up any that have fallen and from now on keep them off the ground. Dogs sometimes chew on things that are bad for them, and they do not always stay away from plants that are poisonous to dogs. Boredom or a deficiency in diet might urge a dog to ingest or chew on a harmful substance.

  12. My tree is about 4 years old. Every year in late Sept Oct it gets dark streaks at the top of the branches, loses leaves, starts bubbling sap and drawing yellow butterflies, bees, and other insects that seem to prey upon it. There are green caterpillars, larvae etc. The tree dries out and the stems and trunks turn dark and dry out. What can I do to have a healthy tree. We have hot summers and our winters can get down to the 30’s with no snow, inland desert. Riverside County. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you.

    • Gold medallion tree is adapted to growing in coastal climates (areas of ocean influence.) It is not adapted to growing in your climate zone, which is a desert climate. I suggest you purchase an older copy of Sunset Western Garden Book you can purchase from Amazon.com, not the latest edition of this book but one published 10 or 15 years ago. Check the plant maps in the front and see the way the climate zones for each plant are given in the encyclopedia section. Always plant trees and other plants that are well adapted to growing in the climate where you live.

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