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Growing a Sweetgum Tree

Category Trees
A member of the witch hazel family with prickly seed pods that are native to the eastern north american woodlands. This guide is about growing a sweetgum tree.


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August 21, 20081 found this helpful


I need advice on how to grow sweet gum trees. Do they grow fast?

Hardiness Zone: 7a

Pat from Lubbock, TX



Sweet Gum trees are considered to have a medium to fast growth rate. A medium growth rate indicates a tree that has a vertical growth of between 13 to 24" per year. A vertical growth rate of 25" or more a year is considered fast. These rates represent ideal conditions, of course, and don't take into account numerous variables such as soil fertility, drainage, moisture availability, light exposure, etc. With a mature height of 60' to 75' and a canopy spread of 40' to 50', they provide wonderful shade and diverse fall colors.


Sweet Gum trees prefer full sun and moist soil conditions, although they are considered somewhat drought tolerant. They seem to tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions.

One thing you may want to consider with these trees is the fact that after the first 12 to 20 years, they start to flower and produce prickly round "gumballs". Many homeowners find the gumballs a messy (and dangerous) tripping hazard and a real nuisance to clean up. Others use the gumballs for craft projects or as mulch (animals, especially rabbits, don't like stepping on them). If you are planning on planting a Sweet Gum in a high traffic area, you may want to consider the sterile, fruit-less cultivar called Liquidambar styraciflua ('Rotundiloba'), otherwise the fruiting varieties are best located in an area of the yard where the gumballs won't pose a problem.


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August 21, 20080 found this helpful

Also, be careful not to plant it too close to your house or a septic system. Their roots are very invasive - have damaged the foundation of a house in California I saw on TV.

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

May 1, 20081 found this helpful


We have a very large sweet gum tree. A large area of bark has come off the tree and a lot of the roots are exposed. Is this tree dying from the loss of bark? How can I cover up the roots? The roots have ruined my front yard.



Hi Margie,

Sorry to hear about your Sweet Gum tree. The outer layer of bark on a tree functions to protect the living layers that lie just beneath it. This means that any damage sustained to the trunk that results in a substantial loss of bark will certainly have an effect on the performance of the tree. Bark loss that extends all the way around the girth of the tree spells certain death. A large loss limited to one side of the tree may only affect that side of the tree in the same way an amputation would. I would recommend calling a professional tree service to schedule an onsite inspection. They will be able to assess your situation and give you a good idea of your tree's chances for survival.

Much of the root system of a Sweet Gum tree is shallow (just beneath the surface of the soil. As the tree gets older, the roots become larger around in size and start to push up through the soil. Over time, these exposed roots can lift sidewalks, interfere with mowing, and create a tripping hazard in the yard.

Most tree experts would advise you to NOT cover the exposed roots of your tree with soil. This is because the addition of soil will change drainage patterns around the tree's root zone, thereby changing the way oxygen and water are distributed to the roots. Sudden or severe changes in oxygen availability can spell disaster (even death) to your tree, and given that it may already be in trouble, it's not worth taking the chance. Cutting the roots can have a similar disastrous affect. There is no way to know how much of the root system that tree can afford to lose without adversely affecting it. Any wounds you make in the bark can also create a road in for insects and disease.

A better solution may be to plant an interesting ground cover nearby that will spread and grow over the roots. A coarse mulch like woodchips may also allow enough air and water to penetrate to the root zone, but again, a professional will be able to better advise you after an onsite visit.


Good luck!


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March 26, 20080 found this helpful

I would be very careful - out here some species of gum are called widow makers because they have a habit of dropping branches without warning especially in the dry or drought conditions

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May 10, 20080 found this helpful

This is off topic, but I did not see how to ask a new question.

I have a 10 foot volunteer sweet gum in my yard. Should

I pinch off the suckers in the trunk to promote growth or leave them alone?


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May 13, 20080 found this helpful

Can you tell me how to stop the "sprouts" that shoot up from the taproots, so many of them. I have to cut them off every day almost, or my yard would have a big covering of them . They are easy enough to snip off, but I am getting very disheartened by how they look. A tree company fed the tree, pruned it bur these sprouts continue all the time. Would really appreciate your opinion and advice. Thank you very much. Maeve

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0 found this helpful
April 26, 2015

One of my two sweet gum trees seems dead from an infection. It has sap bleeding, the bark has some green areas, and white spots. What is this infection and how can I prevent my other sweet gum from getting the infection? Although it seems healthy, I noticed some white spots in the bark. Are those normal or a symptom of the infection?

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April 26, 20150 found this helpful

Here's a pic.

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0 found this helpful
June 10, 2009

Please verify this debate with a friend. Does the Sweet Gum tree weep sap that gets on autos? I say there is no weeping. I consider the Sweet Gum "Nature's Air Conditioning Tree", a cool breeze always, where as an oak has dry hot shade, etc. I've never experienced sap weeping from a Sweet Gum, just gum from the trunk of the tree. Please help, I want to know for sure. Thanks. Sue

Hardiness Zone: 8a

By RaindropFresh from Brandon, MS

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June 17, 20090 found this helpful

My husband is a certified arborist for The Ohio State University- Agricultural Technical Institute (OSU-ATI) and a member of the International Society of Arboriculture , so I posed your question to him. Sweet Gum trees "do not weep sap." However, without seeing your tree, he would have to make an educated guess and say that any type of "sap" that falls onto a car would actually be the result of an insect problem. Aphids leave "honeydew" behind - a clear, sticky mess on leaves and cars. They DO like sweet gum trees!

Here's a good site about aphids:

http://ohioline  t/2000/2031.html

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June 17, 20090 found this helpful

No; had yard full in Texas, no sap.

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0 found this helpful
July 8, 2014

We always thought our tree had a section that wasn't as green as the rest. Someone said it was chlorosis. We have a limestone rock patio next to it; pH being affected? Also someone said we had borers because of the lines of holes in the bark. I thought they were from birds. We do not want to lose this tree :-( It has provided so much shade on our deck and many memories for all our family.

By Pamela

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June 8, 20140 found this helpful

I have a 12 year American sweet gum tree growing on my front lawn. The roots are very large and growing all over the lawn's surface. It has become very difficult to keep grass growing on the lawn. What are you suggestions?

By Mike R

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June 16, 20110 found this helpful

Is there anything we can do to save our two 7 ft tall Sweet Gum trees? It's been like a drought here for the past month. We have been watering them but not much in past week. It poured a lot yesterday and last night, but the leaves are starting to turn brown and withering.

By Mike

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June 23, 20110 found this helpful

Unfortunately sweet gums are exceptionally hardy and will probably be fine if they got water as you said. I say unfortunately because in our area we get rid of them there are so many! Wish I could give you all of mine and that would amt to about 10 at a minimum!

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May 22, 20140 found this helpful

Here it is end of May and my sweet gum tree has almost no leaves. It is approximately 7-10 yrs old. The branches look dead. We are in zone 5, but our severe winter this year put us in a much colder zone. We are in central Indiana.

By Lin J from Lebanon, IN

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0 found this helpful
July 15, 2010

I have 28 beautiful sweet gum trees. They are getting these web looking things. I either burn them or cut them out of the tree. How can I prevent these bugs or what ever it is from destroying my trees?

By janeteileen

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July 19, 20100 found this helpful

Willing to bet you have tent caterpillars, which get nasty, make webbings, eat or destroy the leaves like crazy. Most have to burn or cut away the areas they infest. We just had a great crop of them in western MN. My little granddaughter picked them and jarred them, till we found what they were. Each area has suggestions of attack. Contact your local extension service for advice.

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0 found this helpful
August 17, 2006


Where can I purchase Snipper for Sweet Gum tree seed balls on the internet?

Turman from Broaddus, TX



You'll need to contact a local arborist or your county extension agency to verify this, but I'm fairly certain that Snipper® is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This means that it can only be sold to and used by commercial arborists (or other professionals) licensed to apply restricted pesticides. The active ingredient in Snipper® is indole-3-butyric. Snipper® is manufactured by a company called Florida Silvics, Inc. Here is a toll-free number for contacting them: 1-800-622-2831. Another company, Tree Tech, sells a microinjection unit designed specifically for use with this product. Their website contains some information on Snipper® that you may find useful, as well as contact information if you have further questions. ( Laws on pesticide use can vary somewhat from state to state, so I urge you to contact the Texas Department of Agriculture for specific regulations regarding use in your area.,1911,1848_5539_5837_0,00.html

There is another commercial product called Floral Brand Fruit Eliminator® that acts as a defruiting agent to control sweet gum balls. It is sprayed on, which makes me wonder if it would be more economical for arborists (and therefore you) to apply. Its active ingredient is ethephon, another chemical that I believe may be regulated. Both of these products require precise timing to be effective. Not all arborists have the equipment or expertise to apply these products, so you may have to do some searching. If you ever lose your Sweet Gum Tree, there are now sterile cultivars available as replacements (e.g. Rotundiloba).


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August 17, 20060 found this helpful

I hate to ask it but, what in the world is a sweet gum tree? What does it look like? as I've never heard of it? Has anyone else?

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August 18, 20060 found this helpful

I know what a sweet gum tree is (they grow like kudzu around here).....thought at first that you were talking about a kind of implement to actually cut the little boogers off of the tree. That would sure take a long time! :) Then I googled it and found this page: http://gear.she  ulti_item_submit (scroll down to the middle of the page). Think that you have to be a professional arborist/plant professional to buy it, i.e., have a license, and the product is illegal to use in California. Good luck with your quest....sweet gum balls can be pretty lethal weapons if you step on them!

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September 12, 20130 found this helpful

My sweet gum tree is producing very few whole balls this year, but is producing what looks like chewed up pieces. I have never seen this before.

By Nancy

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0 found this helpful
May 12, 2009

I have sweet gum tree in my front yard. It's leaves are dying, turning into curl. What should I do to cure that? I don't know what kind of disease it has.

Hardiness Zone: 8b

By zbabar from Cumming, GA

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May 18, 20090 found this helpful

Here is a list of diseases and parasites that Sweet Gum trees can have. Looks kind of overwhelming when trying to figure out what is causing the problem with your tree. It could take some research on your part. Good luck.

http://en.wikip  weetgum_diseases

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April 4, 20090 found this helpful

I am looking for information about Sweet Gum tree diseases. I was told my Sweet Gum tree that is about 30 years old has an aneurysm. It has three holes about two inches deep about 24 inches from the dirt line. What can I do for this tree to save it?

By Janet from Stow, OH

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April 5, 20090 found this helpful

Sweetgum may be attacked by canker diseases. These diseases cause sunken areas on the trunk and some cause profuse "bleeding". Infected bark and sapwood will be brown and dead. There is no chemical control for canker diseases. Severely infected trees will die. Prune cankers out of lightly infected trees. Maintain tree health by watering and fertilizing.

Leaf spots of various types may attack Sweetgum, causing premature defoliation, but are not serious. Rake up and destroy infected leaves to help control if there are no adjacent Sweetgum to add inoculum.

good luck.if this is not helpful call your county exten office in ph book.

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0 found this helpful
June 5, 2008

I have a sweet gum tree that was damaged in a storm a couple years ago. It lost a large branch and is now rotting the tree. Is there anything that can be done to save this tree?

Hardiness Zone: 6b

Lori from Marietta, OH

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August 4, 20080 found this helpful

Thank God for the favor He has done you and take the hint. Chop the blasted thing down - don't forget to dig up the roots or you'll have babies all over your world!

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June 11, 20120 found this helpful

What are the little specks that sweet gum trees put on vinyl siding?

By Jim

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August 10, 20060 found this helpful

I was interested in the sweet gum tree fruit comments about them being helpful to the bird flu virus, is there anyone we can give the fruit to? Who would I contact?

Hardiness Zone: 5a

Nim from McCordsville, IN

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August 11, 20060 found this helpful

Source: American Chemical Society

Posted: April 5, 2006

Sweetgum Tree Could Help Lessen Shortage Of Bird Flu Drug

The sweetgum tree grows widely throughout the country and is known for its mace-like green fruit, which are sometimes called "gumballs." Now, this spiny fruit may become an important source of a chemical needed to make a lifesaving drug against bird flu - a drug that is currently in short supply worldwide, researchers say.

Chemists have found that the seeds of the sweetgum fruit contain significant amounts of shikimic acid, the starting material used to produce the main antiviral agent in a much-heralded drug for fighting bird flu. Their findings, which could help increase the global supply of the drug, were described today at the 231st national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Shikimic acid is used to make a generic drug called oseltamivir - best known commercially as Tamiflu® - which is used to fight many types of flu viruses. Some health experts believe that this and similar antiviral drugs could help save lives by slowing the spread of the virus in the absence of a bird flu vaccine, which is still in development.

The drug, which blocks the replication of the flu virus, is being stockpiled worldwide to slow or stop a possible bird flu pandemic that some experts predict could kill millions - if the virus mutates into a form that can spread from person to person. The virus, a strain known as H5N1, primarily afflicts birds at present but has been known to kill a small but growing number of humans who have had close contact with infected birds.

There is a skyrocketing demand for Tamiflu, but some experts fear there won't be enough of the drug to treat everyone if a worldwide pandemic occurs. The supply problem resides in the drug's source: The shikimic acid used to make it is obtained almost exclusively from the Chinese star anise, a fruit that is found mainly in China and whose supply has dwindled due to high demand for the flu drug. Although shikimic acid is found in many plants, star anise has been considered the most abundant plant source, until now.

"Our work gives the hearty sweetgum tree another purpose, one that may help to alleviate the worldwide shortage of shikimic acid," says study leader Thomas Poon, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry from the W.M. Keck Science Center at The Claremont Colleges in Claremont, Calif. "They have lots of potential for fighting bird flu."

The sweetgum tree grows widely throughout the United States and other parts of the world. In this country, it is particularly common in the South, including the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama, but also can be found as far west as Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and northward in parts of Illinois.

Although shikimic acid is found in the leaves and bark of the tree, it is most abundant in the fruit, Poon says. In the mature tree, the fruit emerges as a green seedpod that later dries into a brown, spiny husk, which releases an abundance of tiny, grain-like seeds. To optimize shikimic acid extraction, the gumballs need to be harvested when they are still green and before the seeds have been dispersed, Poon says. Each tree can hold hundreds, if not thousands, of seedpods.

The American Chemical Society - the world's largest scientific society - is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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