Growing a Sweetgum Tree

August 21, 2008
Sweetgum Tree


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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15 Questions

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May 6, 2019

I have several sweet gum trees in my yard. Prior to the leaves forming a green thing is dropped from the bud, they are about 2 inches long and are a pain to clean up. What are they called and what is their purpose?Growing Sweetgum Trees


Thank you.


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May 6, 20191 found this helpful

The things that fall off are seed pods.

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May 7, 20191 found this helpful

These are the sweet gum flowers (basically the reproductive parts of the tree so they drop take root and you get more trees)--this article explains them way better than I could:


They are messy, but to me, when they dry out and get brown (people love them for crafts) but I find those even more annoying. This is one tree I do not miss having. As pretty as they are, they are so messy!

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May 8, 20190 found this helpful

I have this tree. They're not for small - medium properties. Mine is maybe 75 - 90 foot at this time. I find them all ever my property. What I mainly do to get rid of them is keeping grassy areas mowed. In flower beds if theyre not close to plants I want to keep is cut them back to maybe 4 inches, then I pour a mixture of vinegar, lots of salt, and dishwashing liquid on them.


I drench plant and soil around it. I keep checking it. I repeat this every few days to a week. So far it's worked for me.

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May 12, 2009

Closeup of leaves.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 zaheer babar 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.


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September 13, 20181 found this helpful

That is not a sweet gum that is a Turkey Oak . But from the picture it appears to be perfectly fine.

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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).



By Gepe (Guest Post)
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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By P. (Guest Post)
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:;multi_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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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?


April 26, 20150 found this helpful

Here's a pic.

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June 16, 2011

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


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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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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April 4, 2009

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 Wands 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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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


By Janet (Guest Post)
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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August 10, 2006

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


By Debbie Coutant (Guest Post)
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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June 8, 2014

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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May 22, 2014

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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September 12, 2013

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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