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How to Grow Ginkgo biloba Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Maidenhair Tree

The Ginkgo biloba plant is well known for its many uses in traditional medicines, health supplements, culinary use, as well as for their use in urban polluted gardens and as Bonsai and Penjing trees.

As a gardening site we will concentrate on the horticultural aspects of the plant, but also give a little background on the potential Ginkgo biloba health benefits that are associated with this plant. Due to its ancestry it is known as a living fossil. Being the sole survivor of the Ginkgophyta plant division it has numerous features that are not found on other plants.

In addition to being called by its genus name, Ginkgo, this plant is also commonly referred to as the Maidenhair tree. When it is not grown as Bonsai it can easily reach heights of up to 80 feet (25 m) in the wild, and plants as high as 160 feet (50 m) have been recorded in its native China. Similar to mangrove plants it is able to produce aerial roots; this allows it to live alongside streams and on rocky slopes.

Maidenhair tree

photograph by Ginkgo CZ.

Although the trees are large with an angular crown the younger trees tend to be slender in nature, with sparse branching. As a deciduous tree it loses its leaves in the autumn through the process of senescence, this results in the leaves turning a bright and deep saffron yellow. Interestingly, this tree is able to sprout buds at the base of its plants; this allows it to breed successfully in disturbed areas, such as when there is a large amount of soil erosion.

One of the key aspects that makes Ginkgo unique from other trees is its leaves. These are fan-shaped with veins entering at the leaf base. This is not seen in any other seed plant. Male plants produce pollen cones whereas the females produce two ovules on the end of stems.

The gametophytes found inside the seeds are a popular food in Chinese food. These are alos known as Ginkgo nuts and are used to produce congee.

As a well known and very old Chinese plant it is no surprise that it had numerous uses in traditional Chinese medicines; perhaps best known for its aphrodisiac properties.

Extracts from the Ginkgo plant are also used as a dietary supplement, where it is thought to support cognitive function. The leaves of the plant contain toxic components and should be avoided by people with blood circulation issues.

As mentioned previously, this is a gardening site so we will concentrate on the question of how to grow Ginkgo biloba as opposed to its health aspects, we suggest checking out a site such as WebMD and the NHS if you are interested in Ginkgo supplements.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba
  • Common Name (s): Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 3 to 8 / H6

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Deciduous tree, only surviving member of Ginkgophyta (and thus thought of as a living fossil). Long-lived with many specimens over 2,500 years old.
  • Plant Height: 50 to 80 feet (15 to 25 m)
  • Plant Spread: 30 to 40 feet (10 to 12.5 m)
  • Blooms: Early Spring.
  • Flower Details: Green. Species evolved before the flowering plants.
  • Leaf Foliages: Fan-shaped. Rich Green. Two lobed. Parallel veins. Leathery texture.
  • Fruit: Nasty Smelling (Females are not usually grown in gardens becaue of this). Yellow. Large Seeds (1 inch 2.5 cm).

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight. Performs poorly in the shade.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Well drained. Tolerates light through heavy soils; sandy soils for best results.
  • Suitable Soil pH: Most soil acidities.
  • Soil Soil Moisture: Medium when young (first 5 years), can tolerate dry soils once established.
  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: To avoid growing smelly females it is perhaps best to plant nursery bought Gingko trees. Or propagate by taking semi-hardwood cuttings at the start of autumn.
  • Care: Low maintenance, Slow growing, no pruning required. Drought, Saline, Deer, and pollution tolerant.

Further Information

  • Best used for: Polluted areas, Urban locations, Garden canopy, to create shade over the lawn.
  • Family:
  • Closely Related Species:
  • Miscellaneous: Ancestors of the tree, the Ginkgophyta (seed ferns), are known to be on earth for over 270 million years. Unfortunately Ginkgo is the only remaining species of this genus. Many Ginkgo Penjing and Bonsai trees are hundreds of years old. Seeds should be cooked before eating as are bitter. Seeds also contain MPN (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgotoxin); this may have adverse effects if eaten in large amounts; most people who regularly eat Ginkgo seeds also take vitamin B6 to neutralize any potential negative side-effects. Withstands pollution. Genus name comes from the Japanese words for Silver (gin) Apricot (kyo).
  • Family: Ginkgoaceae
  • Further Reading and References used for this Ginkgo biloba growing guide: RHS Gingko page; PFAF edible shrubs



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