Sweetgum Trees

Sweetgum trees are deciduous trees that range in height from 60 to 100 feet with oval, narrow canopies. They grow at a moderate to rapid rate (roughly 2-3 feet per year) with leaves that are simple, and palmately lobed with 5-7 points forming a star-like shape. The fruit consists of wooden spikey balls that are referred to as “gum balls,” while the seeds are in brownish winged pods

shutterstock_36233Choosing a location:

Sweetgum trees grow best in moderately coarse to fine soils that are well draining, with a pH balance that’s slightly acidic between 6.1-6.5. However, sweetgums are adaptable to many different soil types. Sweetgum trees are also known for their tolerance to flooding, but don’t tolerate areas that receive too much shade very well. They will be splendid additions to your landscape as they attract a large arrangement of wildlife and have a full range of fall colors including shades of orange, yellow, red and purple.

Planting Directions:

Sweet gum roots become large enough near the surface of the ground to lift sidewalks and curbs, so be sure to plant trees at least 10 to 15 feet away from curbs, patios, roads and other structures.

iStock_000011992397_Large1) Your planting location should have well draining soil, an adequate amount of sun with little shade, that’s away from other plants and trees.

2) Dig a hole for your new sweetgum that’s twice as wide as the diameter and just as deep as the depth of the root ball.

3) Keep the tree as straight and begin to backfill the hole. Put several shovels of dirt in and gently pat down the soil with your hands. Then add a few more scoops repeating the procedure until the hole is filled and the tree stands upright on its own.

*Mycorrhizal fungi is highly recommended as a soil additive when backfilling the dirt into your planting sight.

4) Water the planting site deeply so the soil is moist but not saturated and mulch around the base of the tree. Mulch consisting of sawdust, sand or pine needles is recommended but a regular mulch of wood chips will suffice.

*When using wood chips be sure not to spread it right up against the trunk, as this can promote rot and fungus.


Sweetgum trees grow well when given a deep, but occasional watering during dryer periods. Watering deeply once a month for the first five years during the growing season is a good practice. A good rule of thumb is to use roughly 1-2 gallons of water per inch of the tree trunk diameter. Although sweetgum trees can grow in standing water they can’t tolerate prolonged, water logged soil.


Young trees should be scarcely fed with a common fertilizer such as Miracle Grow. Sweetgum trees are known for their resilience and adaptability. They typically will not need to be fertilized unless you have experienced a very harsh winter season. In this instance, use a balanced formula like 10-10-10 in the early spring after the final frost. Once the tree has become established after about 5-6 years, it will no longer need any fertilizer.


When pruning your tree look for any split, dead, broken branches as well crooked and rubbing branches to remove. Hand pruners or loppers can be used for these branches and “suckers” that form from the base.

SweetGum_American“Suckers” are shoots that come from the base of the tree and rob the primary stem of nutrients and prevent additional roots from growing, so they should be pruned off as soon as possible.

Trim back branches that have become too long or require the pruning to maintain the shape of the tree. Do not cut more than 1/3 of the branch length unless you plan on completely removing it. Smaller branches that can be reached from the ground should be pruned back to within 1/2 inch of a bud or trunk.

Larger branches not within arms reach can be removed by using a pole saw (take care to avoid falling branches as you cut). Make your cut at a 45-degree angle, as this will help aid in the healing and prevent water from lying stagnant in the cut (which can promote fungus).

Heavier and thicker branches should also be removed with a pole saw just outside of the branch collar (where the branch and trunk meet). Make your cuts at the same 45-degree angle for healthy healing. Occasionally step away from your sweetgum tree to determine how much needs to be removed to achieve your desired shape.

SweetGum_American4Sweetgum trees with their large size provide an abundance of shade for parks, sidewalks, gardens and streets. Their fruit can be used as an effective, medicinal treatment against rheumatic pain. Boiled and cooled sap from your sweetgum tree can be made into a balm that is effective against various types of ailments including skin problems.

The seed-rich sweet pods provide food for an array of wildlife like birds, chipmunks and squirrels. Mourning doves, chickadees and wood ducks enjoy the sweetgum for the natural cover it provides.

Your sweetgum tree will be a great addition to your landscape due to its incredible resilience, natural beauty and even the ability to fix nitrogen in your soil, which improves its fertility.