Ornamental Hornbeam Tree Types: How To Grow American Hornbeam, Prune

Image of a hornbeam tree in an green frame showing how to identify ornamental hornbeam trees, such as american hornbeam, english hornbeam and others.

If you have an ornamental Hornbeam Tree, you know that this lovely and lush tree makes a great addition to any landscape.

In order to ensure that your tree flourishes, knowing how to prune it properly can be tricky. Since the Hornbeam tree can grow very tall, you’ll need to prune it to create a pleasing shape.

But, there is a lot more to this species than being a stunning tall tree.

This complete guide examines a number of Hornbeam tree types, as well as how and where to grow them and pruning techniques so that your tree will last for decades.

American Hornbeam, Blue Beech, Musclewood Tree, Ironwood Tree

(Carpinus caroliniana)

Hornbeam Tree in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Betulaceae
  • Genus: Carpinus
  • Leaf: Simple, pinnate, double serrated
  • Bark: Thin, smooth when young but ridged when older
  • Seeds: Tiny, covered in papery samaras
  • Blossoms: Elongated, yellow-green in color
  • Fruit: Small nut, 3-6 mm long
  • Native habitat: Temperate regions of Eastern United States
  • Height: 20-30 Feet high
  • Canopy: Forms a fan-shaped canopy at the top
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native growing zone: USDA hardiness zones 3-9

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Daderot17

What Is a Hornbeam Tree?

Hornbeams are the new trend right now, and it is easy to tell why. It is majestic, alluring, and easily captures the eye, which fits the description of a typical landscaping tree for any home, regardless of the design and style you are going for.

Unlike the Japanese Hornbeam, the American Hornbeam is the most common type found in many parts in the U.S. and is slowly gaining traction as a shade and landscaping tree.

Not only does it provide shade for your backyard, but its branches also hang low, perfect for kids to climb and play with.1

Low-angle shot of an old Hornbeam Tree showing massive trunk with deep fissures and wide canopy.

(Image: Henryk Niestrój12)

Animals cannot stay away from the tree, using it for shelter and food. Planting one means that you will have plenty of wildlife traffic in your yard.

Who wouldn’t want that? Another feature worth mentioning is how the tree has super strong wood; no wonder it is also called Musclewood, great news for furniture makers.

What Are the Types of Hornbeam Trees?

Hornbeams hail from the Betulaceae group of trees, which makes them relatives of the Birch Tree.

Only one species, the American Hornbeam, is native to the country, but there are two other major types you need to know about, the American Hop and the European Hornbeam.

#1 American Hornbeam

You can find this tree virtually anywhere in the country as a native tree. The best part about it is how it is relatively small, at only 20-30 feet high, which you can go for if you want a medium-sized tree for your home.

Its leaves are more egg-shaped, with serrated margins and protruding veins.

#2 European Hornbeam

This is the type you will likely run into and one you may end up planting in your home. It grows to at least 40-60 feet,6 which is not bad for a landscaping tree.

You will love how dark its ovate leaves are and how dense the leaves grow, which is the feature you cherish most in an ornamental tree.

#3 American Hop Hornbeam

You can easily confuse this tree with the American Hornbeam since they have similar features. It is also called an Ostrya, and its distinguishing factor from its look-alike is how the bark is shredded when young but becomes stripped, with the shreds at the ends.2

How To Identify Hornbeam Tree

The Hornbeam Tree pictures may not be doing justice to the stunning work of art.

It is quite easy to spot in a crowded place thanks to its unique features, namely its trunk, bark, and leaves.

European Hornbeam Tree identification chart showing full-grown European Hornbeam Tree with average height range, European Hornbeam Tree leaves, European Hornbeam Tree flowers, European Hornbeam Tree seed pods, and European Hornbeam Tree bark images in circle frames on a green background.

How can you tell it apart? Simple, check the parts above.

For instance, you can instantly tell that its trunk is crooked and that the branches that attach to it take almost the same shape with catkins latching on. You can also tell that the canopy has an oval shape, and the leaves are serrated.

In addition to that, the bark is blue-gray with ridges that form the more it ages.

What Is the European Hornbeam: Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’

Have you been looking for a remarkable tree for your lawn or backyard? Well, the European Hornbeam is here to your rescue, mostly thanks to its impeccable looks and impressive height.

It reaches way past the 40 ft mark and boats of stunning leaves that change color with each passing season.

A more interesting twist is the Pyramidal European Hornbeam/Columnar European Hornbeam, which is the cultivar most homeowners are more keen on buying. Its shape is not easy to find, with the leaves and branches forming a massive fan-like shape at the top, which explains why it makes a perfect hedge and windbreaker.

Features of Hornbeam Tree Leaves

The leaves are probably the first thing you see when you look at a tree and the American Hornbeam Tree has some of the most interesting ones.7 They are dark green in color, although being a deciduous tree means that the shade changes based on the season.

They take an oval shape and have serrated margins that do a great job of increasing the tree’s ornamental value. They are also not extra large, measuring only 2-4 inches long, and the best part, you get to watch the color changes all year long.

Features of Hornbeam Tree Flower

The branches dutifully hold the Hornbeam Tree’s flowers which you can spot hanging down the tree. They feature an elongated shape and take a yellow-green shade, which effectively adds a bit of color to the otherwise plain-looking tree.

Hornbeam Tree Seeds

The Hornbeam Tree’s seeds are sheltered by brown fruits, which are covered by papery samaras. These fruits show up in autumn and are able to latch onto the tree until winter.

These fruits and seeds are a heavy wildlife puller, and you will likely spot several birds and mammals hovering around to taste the sweet goodness.

Hornbeam Tree Facts You Should Know

If you are planning to plant a Hornbeam in your home, it makes a lot of sense that you want to learn everything about it. You are in luck because below is a compilation of some fun facts about it that you should know.

  1. Interestingly, the name Hornbeam is quite literal, where horn refers to the strength of the wood while beam refers to a tree (Old English).
  2. There are at least 40 Hornbeam Tree species worldwide, with the American Hornbeam and the European Hornbeam being more popular and the ones you will likely spot out in the field.
  3. The Fastigiata cultivar is the most common, with a hard-to-miss columnar/pyramidal shape.
  4. The tree is monoecious; in simple terms, it has separate male and female flowers.
  5. The papery cover on the tree’s fruit explains why wind is its main pollination agent, which, as you can tell, greatly contributes to the tree’s large population in the country.
  6. The Hornbeam is comfortable as long as it grows in USDA zones 4-7
  7. It takes a while for the tree to grow because its rate stands at 30 cm annually, and it grows for 50-150 years.

What’s So Special About Hornbeam Wood?

The Hornbeam is hailed as the strongest tree of its family, and the name tells it all.

You must have heard it being referred to as Musclewood,8 Muscle Beech, and Ironwood Tree, which further reiterates the strength of the tree’s wood.3

Grassy pathway lined with Hornbeam Trees on both sides showing yellow and green leaves in fall.

(Image: Hans13)

Quite literally, the tree’s bark looks exactly like muscle tissue, and it almost never cracks. So sturdy is that wood that it was a handy tool for the construction of mallets in the past.

This means that the tree is not only great for sprucing up your home, but it is also an excellent business idea because such robust wood is a goldmine in the construction world.

Related Reading: Janka Wood Hardness Scale Chart: Full List of 113 Domestic & Foreign Species

Growing Conditions of the American Hornbeam Tree

You want nothing less than perfection when it comes to ornamental trees. Nothing can go wrong.

The best and the only way to guarantee this is by knowing the best growing conditions for Hornbeam Tree, and below are some tips you will find useful.


Your first thought when planting the Hornbeam Tree is that it needs as much sunlight as possible, after all, it is the main component required for photosynthesis.

What you ought to know is that the tree is natively from the forests’ understories; as such, it can also grow under partial and full shade. So, how much sunlight does Hornbeam Tree need each day?

At least 4-6 hours will do, but don’t fret when there is slight or a lot of shading.


The tree’s watering needs are a bit strict and if your goal is to grow a tall tree with lush foliage, always pay attention to the watering needs for Hornbeam Tree plants.

Most importantly, you want to ensure that the saplings receive as much water as possible, which is very essential in the development of the roots.

However, you can relax the rules as the tree gets older and water it once a week. Adding mulch will also help the plant retain moisture, and you won’t have to water that frequently, only when the soil dries up.


The Hornbeam Tree shares a number of similarities with the Beech Tree, including its soil needs. If you want planting and growth to go smoothly, the first thing to cater to is the soil type.

It has to be well draining, fertile, and preferably slightly alkaline; that is the only way to get the best out of your Hornbeam.


Knowing that the Hornbeam naturally grows from the south in Florida all the way to Canada, it goes without saying that it is pretty flexible. There is a massive temperature range between the two regions, which comes as a relief because it means that your American Hornbeam Tree will likely survive.9

But just to be safe, you can check that your region’s levels are at around 65-75 degrees (F).

How To Grow the American Hornbeam

There is a certain sense of accomplishment after successfully planting trees and watching them grow right before your eyes.

If you want this incredible feeling and have a green thumb to back you up, the planting tips for Hornbeam Tree below may help.

Closeup of Hornbeam Tree seedling showing green leaves with serrated edge.

(Image: Martin Hetto14)

One of the rawest ways to start is by growing Hornbeam Tree from a seed, either in a planter or outdoors. You can plant them at any time of the year (except in winter of course, when the soil is frozen) and use compost fertilizer to kickstart the germination.

However, if you find the entire germination process too long a wait and would rather get straight to the sapling stage, you can also try growing Hornbeam Tree from a cutting or growing Hornbeam Tree from a seedling. You start by digging a hole larger than the container the plant came in with.

When growing outdoors, you can shield your trees better by staking them, a solution for preventing windrock and limiting the chances of the trunk filling up with water, which is an avenue for root rot.4

You may be wondering how long it takes to grow Hornbeam Tree?

The bad news is that it isn’t the fastest grower out there, with only a foot increase in height in a year. Other trees boast of more than 2 feet annually, but sadly, you will have to wait longer before your tree can attain its maximum height.

This is unfortunate if you were looking forward to a rapidly-growing tree for a living fence. Still, you can maximize its growth by knowing when to plant Hornbeam Tree for the best yield.

Related Reading: How Long Does It Take for a Tree To Grow? 45 Trees Ranked by How Fast

A common mistake that gardeners make is planting under the wrong conditions. As with virtually any other tree, the best thing you can do is to plant in spring, when the weather is warmer and there is no threat of frostbite.

Lastly, if you are also questioning how far apart to plant Hornbeam Tree, you might want to make that at least 3 feet. If you are planting in a group and want them to make a hedge, the 3 feet/1 meter distance is sufficient space for the trees to expand their roots while growing close together for your fencing needs.

Care and Maintenance of the Hornbeam Tree

Now that the planting (the easiest) part is done, the next hurdle is now how to care for the tree. It is not enough to dig and place the tree; you must also ensure that it is well taken care of, from the watering to the fertilizing and pruning.

While still saplings,10 the Hornbeams can get very water-hungry, forcing you to drip irrigate them for a constant water supply. A layer of mulch works wonders for water conservation because it covers the soil and prevents excessive evaporation.

Adding fertilizer also boosts growth unless you are certain that the soil is rich enough.

Closeup of Hornbeam Tree showing branch with serrated-edged leaves.

(Image: Markéta (Machová) Klimešová15)

The Hornbeam can be a messy tree, with leaves and branches growing all over it. Owning one means that you must also have a pair of pruning shears, otherwise, you will have to endure the torturous unkempt fronds that ruin your landscaping.

Pruning is particularly important when dealing with trees in walkways and driveways or those hanging over busy streets.

What Is the Hornbeam Tree Growing Zone?

It is understandable that you want your tree to be as comfortable as possible. One way to ensure that is by knowing the growing zones for Hornbeam Tree (where to grow it for the best yield).

You are in luck because it is one of the most flexible species that doesn’t mind a massive temperature range. Growing all the way from Canada to Florida, there is no doubt that the tree can grow effortlessly in USDA zones 3-9.5

What Are the Companion Plants for the Hornbeam Tree?

There are so many gorgeous types of trees worldwide that would do a perfect job of making your Hornbeam look even better. In comparison to shrubs, ground covers, and perennial trees, there is more freedom when it comes to what to plant alongside it.

When looking for the ultimate companion plants for growing Hornbeam Tree, you want to account for species like the Meadow Sage, Knotweed, Maple, Mugo Pine, Flowering Dogwood, River Birch, and Red Oak, just to name a few.

Which Is the Best Hornbeam Hedge?

If you want a Hornbeam that will make the perfect hedge for your home, look no further than the European Hornbeam. It has all the enviable features any homeowner wants in their fence, from the growing of dense foliage to the close nature of the branches.

It is also easy to prune and will give you an easier time to maintain.

Common Pests of the Carpinus caroliniana

Another plus side of growing the Hornbeam is that they are under attack by relatively fewer pests, and it should not be a grave concern. However, like any other tree out there, there is no guaranteed immunity against insects that are innocently looking for food and breeding places.

For instance, the most common pests of the Hornbeam Tree are namely, mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, Maple Phenacoccus, Japanese Beetle, and the Two-lined Chestnut Borer.

How To Deal With American Hornbeam Pests

There are various ways to deal with tree pests, but it majorly depends on the type of insect and the extent of the attack.

The first remedy that comes to any plant owner’s mind is the use of insecticides, which so far have proven nothing but effective.

Closeup of Hornbeam Tree showing roots covered with moss.

(Image: Michael Reichelt16)

However, if you want to minimize your carbon footprint and are thinking of a cleaner way out, there are natural pest control for Hornbeam Tree.

You can start with using homemade solutions like mixing dish soap, water, neem oil and garlic, but if you want to stay a step ahead of the game, you can also bring in predatory insects that will feed on the pests.

Common Diseases of the Hornbeam Tree

The great news is that the Hornbeam is relatively less susceptible to diseases in comparison to other types of trees,11 but still, it is not immune.

What to do as a caring owner is to watch out for canker disease, powdery mildew, leaf spots, root rot and death of certain tree parts.

You may have a hand in the infection in cases like root rot when you overlove and overwater your tree. But in contrast, sometimes the attack is fungicidal or bacterial transferring through the wind and water, and there is no way to control that.

Hornbeam Tree Disease Prevention

As expected, you care about your tree and want to protect it by learning how to stop Hornbeam Tree disease. For starters, you want to practice proper care and maintenance and avoid overwatering the tree because you will be unintentionally breeding root rot.

You also want to remove and destroy the affected parts and apply fungicide to keep the spreading in check. Fungi are notorious for spreading really fast, and you don’t want them to attack the rest of your trees.

Why are you worried about finding the perfect ornamental tree for your home’s landscaping when the Hornbeam has proven to fit the bill? It grows tall, is easy to plant and care for and is a top choice for gardeners thanks to its hypnotic beauty.

A bonus is that it grows in a wide range of hardiness zones and will likely not give you trouble based on your location. The only thing to take home when it comes to the Hornbeam is that it requires a lot of pruning because the leaves can go wild and ruin the entire look, which you want to avoid.

Go ahead and give the tree a shot. There is no wrong choice, whether you go for the American or European variety.

Hopefully, this guide to various ornamental Hornbeam Tree types gives you all the information you need to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hornbeam Tree

How Do Columnar Trees Look?

A columnar tree shape is gradually becoming a top choice for probably every homeowner. The trees are forced to grow taller and straight up, like poles with less than 2 feet width, and the effect is breathtaking upright ornamental trees.

How Tall Does Pyramidal Hornbeam Get?

With a steady growth rate and a mature size of up to 40 feet, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Pyramidal Hornbeam is one of the best landscaping trees you can find for your house. Unless the goal is to grow dwarf trees, everybody wants to boast of majestic landmark trees.

What Is the Columnar Hornbeam Tree?

The Columnar Hornbeam usually goes by its common name, the European Hornbeam. The most easily noticeable feature is how it grows tall and slender, then narrows even further towards the top, and as the name suggests, in a column-like shape.


1Carroll, J. (2021, June 11). Hornbeam Varieties For Landscapes: Hornbeam Care And Growing Info. Gardening Know How. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/hornbeam/hornbeam-care-and-growing.htm>

2Martin, S. (2020, February). Consider a Hornbeam. Piedmont Master Gardeners. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/consider-a-hornbeam/>

3Myers, V. R. (2022, September 27). How to Grow and Care for American Hornbeam. The Spruce. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <https://www.thespruce.com/american-hornbeam-3269298>

4Peerless, V. (2021, December 1). How to grow hornbeam trees. GardenersWorld.com. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-grow-hornbeam-trees/>

5Leafy Place. (2022, April 14). Types of Hornbeam Trees With Pictures and Identification (European, American, Columnar). Leafy Place. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <https://leafyplace.com/hornbeam-trees/>

6N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Carpinus betulus. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/carpinus-betulus/>

7University of Kentucky. (2023, May 12). American Hornbeam. University of Kentucky | College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://www.uky.edu/hort/American-Hornbeam>

8Stowell, E. A. (2016). Musclewood or Ironwood. Ewell A. Stowell Arboretum | White House Nature Center. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://campus.albion.edu/stowell-arboretum/musclewood-or-ironwood/>

9Nesom, G. & Briggs, R. (2003, November 13). AMERICAN HORNBEAM. USDA Plants Database | NRCS. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://plants.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/factsheet/pdf/fs_caca18.pdf>

10Iowa State University. (2023). Growing Tree Seedlings from Seed. Iowa State University | Extension and Outreach. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://naturalresources.extension.iastate.edu/encyclopedia/growing-tree-seedlings-seed>

11Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1993, November). Carpinus caroliniana American Hornbeam. UF | IFAS. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from <https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/tree_fact_sheets/carcara.pdf>

12Photo by Henryk Niestrój. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-2826868/>

13Photo by Hans. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-228233/>

14Photo by Martin Hetto. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-5152481/>

15Photo by Markéta (Machová) Klimešová. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-930174/>

16Photo by Michael Reichelt. Resized and changed format. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-6967187/>

17File:Carpinus caroliniana – United States Botanic Garden – DSC09458.JPG Photo by Daderot. (2013, 24 April) / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carpinus_caroliniana_-_United_States_Botanic_Garden_-_DSC09458.JPG>