Sweetgum is an ornamental species native to America and was introduced to Europe in 1681. It is a large tree with an elegant bearing, especially in autumn when its foliage takes on distinctive golden hues. Its cultivation can easily be adopted by all, even by beginning gardeners. Planted in combination with other species, sweetgum takes on a decorative function while providing shade in the garden.

To grow well, sweetgum needs to be deeply planted in fresh, moist and compact soil of which the pH is neutral. It is a species that can be used along coast lines, as it enjoys humidity and haze. Planting sweetgum is made easier by adding organic matter. Its name means amber and comes from its balsamic sap which can be used to scent soaps. Its wood, called satin walnut, is particularly popular with expert cabinet makers. Planting clematis with small pink flowers at the sweetgum’s base creates a beautiful spring sight around the beginning of May.

Overview of the sweetgum

Sweetgum comes from the United States’ temperate forests ranging from Connecticut to northern Florida and including Louisiana. In the wild, sweetgum is a large tree that can reach 150 feet in height. It is recognizable by its reddish twigs and hollow bark. It has a high resistance to cold and diseases and does not like wetlands. Sweetgum withstands calcareous soils, which is why species can thrive on alkaline earth. Its leaves have the distinctive trait of being finely carved with beautiful shades of scarlet, purple and copper colour. The male flowers, spherical-shaped capsules, are covered with spines and contain about fifty seeds each. The female flowers are of greenish yellow colour and have the distinctive trait of being sensitive to frost. Juvenile leaves are shaped like those of maple and are of dark green colour. They switch to a reddish orange and purple hue in autumn. The leaves’ autumn hues are even more vivid when the plot of land is well exposed to sunlight. However, the colours of the foliage can vary depending on varieties: Liquidambar styraciflua (American Sweetgum) for example has the most spectacular colours with yellow and rose striped leaves, or a mixture of black and dark purple hues.

Sweetgum planting method

The sweetgum’s ideal planting time is fall. Ready-to-be-planted seedlings are obtained by seed or by grafting. It needs to be planted on sunny land, with a 10 – 16 foot space between seedlings. However, planting this tree by itself enhances its majestic bearing. Planted in a garden near a body of water, its reflection will beautify the surroundings. It can be grown in combination with other species that require the same environmental conditions such as tulip trees, maple trees, black gum or Parrotia. Its association with ground cover plants such as perennial geraniums or variegated ivy gives it a very pretty light green touch. During planting, the clump must not be broken in order to preserve the roots. In areas outside its natural range, the sweetgum’s height is limited to 65 feet. The sweetgum is a slow-growing species during its first two years. The annual growth rate may eventually reach 15 to 20 inches.

Tips for sweetgum maintenance

When buying seedlings, it is recommended to opt for plants that have grown in containers. Indeed, they have the advantage of having a good recovery compared to those grown in-ground. During the winter, mulching is recommended to protect young plants during the first two years of their lives. To succeed in planting, watering should be performed continuously and regularly during the hot season because the roots need to be freshened in order to thrive. If pruning is unnecessary, it is recommended to remove dead or diseased branches in autumn. However, the phase during which the sap is falling is appropriate for pruning redundant shoots or those that are not well-located.

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Published in Trees and shrubs by Alexander on 06 Jul 2011