The Q&A Archives: Liquidambar Trees

Question: What can we do to help our liquidambar trees grow? They ahve been in the ground for 5 years, in various locations throughout our yard, and only 1 out of 18 seems to be growing well. We have even had one die! HELP!

Answer: The Sweetgum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua, is a rapid growing shade tree usually grown for its excellent fall color. It has an upright pyramidal growth habit in its youth and then becomes spreading, irregular and open as it ages. The star shaped lustrous dark green foliage turns a spectacular fall color, often a combination of green, yellow, orange, red and purple foliage, but sometimes solid crimson, burgundy or scarlet.

As with all landscape trees, Liquidambar grows best when watered deeply on a regular basis, and when it is planted in rich, well-draining soils. If your trees have failed to establish themselves and grow well, I'd suggest watering them deeply once each week during the growing season. The best way to ensure the moisture percolates down and wets the entire root mass each time you water is to build a soil basin beneath each tree by mounding up a few inches of soil in a circle (12-18" diameter) around the trunk. Fill the basin with water, allow it to trickle down, then fill it a second time. This method of watering will deeply soak the roots and encourage top growth. In the spring you can add some diluted liquid fertilizer to the basin to encourage even better root establishment.

The Sweetgum tree usually does not flower or fruit for the first 15 to 20 years. It prefers full sun and can grow to 60 feet high and 40 feet wide. The Sweetgum tree has landscape value as a shade, specimen or focal point tree. Sweetgum trees are an excellent lawn, park, or street tree. Birds like the seeds it produces. The bark has a corky appearance. It has spectacular colors, is fast growing, and provides great shade during the summer months.

Best wishes with your sweet gum trees!

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