How to Grow Ailanthus altissima Plants in your Garden

Ailanthus altissima, better known as Tree of heaven, is a plant native to China that can now be found growing in much of the United States (especially the North-east states).

Be aware that in the US, it is considered a noxious weed or a plant that is invasive, and is a threat to native species and agriculture.

Tree of Heaven
Tree of Heaven photograph by Plant Image Library; CC.

Further Warning on Invasiveness - Spotted Lantern Fly

It is not recommended to grow this species in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and in other countries where the Spotted Lanternfly ((Lycorma delicatula) has become invasive.

The Tree of Heaven and the Spotted Lanternfly are both native to China, where the Tree of Heaven acts as a natural host species for this planthopper.

Unfortunately, when grown outside of China, natural predators may not be present. This can lead to the populations of pests, such as the Spotted Lanternfly, getting out of control.

In the Eastern states of the USA, this pest has become a major threat to Agriculture, as it feeds on fruit trees. It also impacts gardeners, as it also feeds on many ornamental species.

Lycorma delicatula
Lycorma delicatula (Spotted Lanternfly, picture by U.S. Department of Agriculture; CC.

If you suspect that you have Spotted Lanternfly in your area, it is recommended to be on the look out for egg masses. These are often found on trees and stonework.

For full information on how to identify, report, and destroy Spotted Lanternfly eggs, I recommend visiting this page: USDA AOHIS - Spotted Lanternfly. This article (PDF) by the USDA, gives fuller instructions on how to control the growth of Ailanthus using various types of herbicides and by other methods, such as the mowing of young saplings to weaken the root system. Visit this page for further information on identifying the Tree of Heaven: University of Missouri Plant Sciences - Ailanthus altissima.

Further Tree of Heaven Plant Information

It can be grown in zones 4 through 8 (UK H6; hardy to -20°C (-4°F).

Ailanthus altissima grows very quickly, and can reach up to 60—80 feet tall (18 to 24 m). It this should be grown in a spacious area of a garden.

It will grow in nearly any soil type and sunlight conditions.

The wood is weak, so be wary of planting it close to exposed structures, as strong winds are able to topple it.

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Tree of Heaven (Do not grow in the USA)

People tend to grow this tree for its ability to thrive in poor soil and in places where other trees will not grow. Generally, however, Ailanthus altissima is considered a poor landscape tree as it is messy and chokes out other plants.

If one chooses to grow Ailanthus altissima, then female trees are generally preferable to male trees.

This preference is because, while both female and male trees flower, male flowers have an unpleasant odor. Female flowers produce seeds that turn reddish-brown in the fall.

Ailanthus altissima seeds samara
Ailanthus altissima seeds are dispersed via their samara, which twists as it falls and is caught by the wind. photograph by candiru; CC.

If planting Ailanthus altissima in a garden, keep it away from existing structures and native plants that it can easily outcompete.

It may be sown in "poor" soil and in low to direct sunlight.

One should keep the soil moist while the plant is young and need not worry about watering mature plants except in times of extreme drought or heat.

leaves of Ailanthus altissima
Ailanthus altissima leaf closeup photograph by Teresa Grau Ros; CC.

Ailanthus altissima Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Ailanthus altissima.
  • Common Name: Tree of heaven, Chinese sumac, Ailanthus.
  • Growing Zone: USA: 4 to 8 / UK:H6.
  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Tree.

Plant Details

  • Plant Height (Inches): 6 to 24 m (20 to 80 feet).
  • Plant Spread (Inches): 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 feet).
  • Time of Bloom: spring, unpleasent odour.
  • Flower Details: Green. Five petals.
  • Leaf Foliage: Green. Alternative. Leaflets.
  • Fruit: Winged samara. 1 1/2 inch (4 cm).
  • Growth Form: Upright / erect

Ideal Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: partial shade through to full sun.
  • Rate of Growth: Quick.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Adaptable to most soils., Alkaline, Clay, Loamy, Neutral, Sandy. Well drained.
  • Soil Moisture: Moist

Caring Conditions

  • Care:
  • Level of Maintenance: Low.
  • Propagation: Seed, saplings can also spread from rooots
  • How to Prune: Requires little to no pruning. In some cases hard pruning can be disruptive.
  • Pests: Usually pest free
  • Diseases: Usually pest free

Further Information

  • Can Attract: planthoppers
  • Family: Simaroubaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Quassia, Simarouba.

  • Miscellaneous: Pest tolerant, Aggressive surface roots possible, Non-native to North America, Invasive, Attractive flowers / blooms.
  • Genus Detail: Ailanthus
  • Further Reading and References: Here and The deciduous Tree-of-Heaven

Tree of heaven
tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) photograph by NatureServe.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Ailanthus altissima. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides for Bonsei species: How to grow Zanthoxylum simulans, Camellia plant, Wisteria, and Ginkgo biloba plants.