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December 30, 2017
I would love your opinion on a foundation planting tree that I could use in front of
a tall and hot front window facing south in Conway. Currently there is a low growing
Japanese maple but I would love some shade and relief from the sun. The tree would actually be in the front flower bed, but the bed is deep so there
is room for a medium sized tree. The tree would sit out in front of the window several
feet, and there are azaleas between the tree and window. I would like to see under
the tree, so I visualizing a Dogwood. If I choose dogwood, which variety would you
go with? Any other suggestions? I would like a fairly quickly growing tree. Maybe
a river birch, and again which variety? Finally, any suggestions on digging out
the existing maple? It’s been there ten years.
It sounds to me like you need a tall but narrow growing tree. There are many fastigiate
species of trees on the market. Fastigiate is just a fancy word for columnar shaped
trees. The most common one seen across the state is the Slender Silhouette sweetgum
tree. While it does form sweetgum balls eventually, it has great fall color and grows
40 feet tall but only 4 feet wide. There are also columnar ginkgo – ‘Princeton Sentry’,
columnar pin and English oaks and a few columnar maples. I think they would be better
choices than a dogwood since it is a hot facing window and dogwoods prefer to be understory
trees. They also tend to grow almost as wide as tall. River birch trees get larger
than you would expect and need a lot of water. As to removing the old maple, you
might consider hiring a tree spade operator to remove the old and plant the new.
August 13, 2016
Are the seeds inside the "Prickly balls" that fall off the gumball trees, and can
you plant the whole thing?
I like sweetgum trees, but most people run from them, versus wanting to plant them.
The spiny fruit does contain seeds, in fact, quite a few. Each sweetgum ball has
about 40 to 60 capsules, with each containing one or two seeds. Fertile seeds are
black with wings on either side; infertile seeds are yellow and wingless. Harvest
the sweetgum balls when they are fully brown, but before they dry out. Once they
dry, they open and scatter the seeds. Harvest the sweetgum balls and let them dry
out on sheet of paper. Then when the seeds start to fall out, collect them and put
the fertile seeds inside a plastic bag filled with moist sterile potting soil. Put
that in your refrigerator for three months and then plant the seeds in a pot outside.
This cool, moist storage period in the refrigerator is known as stratification and
is needed to break the seed dormancy. As an aside, researchers have discovered that
the unripe fruit of the sweetgum tree contains a key ingredient used in Tamiflu called
Shikimic acid. Interestingly enough in medicinal lore, Sweet Gum tea was an herbal
treatment for the flu and the Cherokee made a tea out of the bark. They knew what
the scientists are just now discovering.
In front of our house we have two 17'x17' plots of ground between sidewalks. We would
like to plant a tree in each plot that would not eventually lift the sidewalks with
their roots and would not get too tall. We have tried dogwoods, red buds, flowering
cherry, but the full sun and heat got to them. Someone suggested Bradford pear, but
my wife and I are allergic. Are there any other trees that we might plant that have
a better chance of survival?
Definitely not a Bradford pear—they can get 40 feet tall and 40 feet wide—way too
large for this location. You have several options. The new trend in trees is to produce
fastigiated forms—those that grow with a narrow growth habit. Fastigiated sweetgum,
fastigiated hornbeam, English oak, and Autumn Spire red maple are just some choices
that would work. These would get tall, provide shade, but would fit the situation
with a narrow canopy. Smaller trees to choose would include redbud (they usually take
full sun well), crape myrtle, and fringe tree.
Sweetgum trees have beautiful fall color and a pleasing shape, but oh, the plague
of the sweetgum balls. Here's my question/problem. Ten years ago I bought a ten foot
sweetgum tree from a nursery and was told it would not produce the dreaded gum balls.
It didn't for 8 years or if there were any, I sure didn't notice them. Last year,
for the first time, I noticed a few. This year, the darn things are all over the tree.
How can a sweetgum tree go from being "gum ball-less" to "gum ball-full?"
It has to be old enough to begin to bear fruit. Most sweetgum balls will begin to
bear at on average, 8-10 years, and will continue to produce the rest of their lives.
There is a fruitless variety that has rounded lobes instead of the pointy ones of
the fruited variety. Fruitless varieties are typically grafted trees, and if they
are killed beneath the graft union, the root stalk is typically a common sweetgum
and will bear fruit. In a recent column we discussed the merits and lack thereof for
sweetgum trees. Here isare some additional responses and questions from readers: I
would suggest one other attribute of the sweet gum. In 1953, when I attended the Boy
Scout Jamboree in California, I took several sweet gum balls to trade with other scouts
for different items of equal value. I called these gum balls porcupine eggs to suggest
that porcupines grew in the forests of Oklahoma and Arkansas. One scout from California
traded me a block of California Redwood with inscription and a clear finish. We were
both pleased with the trade. Since then, I have pointed out to many kids that I have
encountered in the woods to be on the look out for porcupine eggs on the ground. I
do have a certain degree of credibility since I have a degree in Forestry from Oklahoma
State University. No telling how many kids are still looking for porcupines in our
Someone told me last week that if you top a sweetgum tree it won't produce gumballs
for 4 or 5 years. Is this true? I have a huge sweetgum tree in the backyard that my
wife loves for the shade it produces, but I hate the gumballs I have to deal with
all year long. I want to cut it down, but if topping it will stunt the gumballs, I'm
willing to try that.
Not true, and very, very bad for the tree to be topped. Topping a tree leads to a
hollow, unsafe tree so should never be done. Sweetgum balls can be a nuisance, but
the fall color and the overall shade make it worthwhile. If you grow hostas, the sweetgum
balls make a great mulch to keep slugs away, and if neighborhood cats use your garden
as a litter box, sweetgum mulch keeps them away. I am still surprised that some enterprising
gardener hasn’t bagged the stuff and sold it for either or both uses. Maybe you have
a new cottage industry in your yard.
Could the thorny seeded tree you talked about Dec. 24 be a sweetgum instead of a chesnut?
I don’t think there are any chesnut trees left in Arkansas. Without a picture, how
can I be sure of the difference? What about a horse chesnut? I think they are poisonous
It certainly is a possibility that the thorny fruits were sweetgums. I had chestnuts
on my mind, since someone sent me a sample and asked for identification recently.
Chestnuts were practically wiped out in the United State due to chesnut blight, but
they are not extinct, and there are millions of seedlings nationwide. We have been
seeing a resurgence of the American chesnut tree in Arkansas. I have seen fruiting
trees from Baxter County, to Petit Jean, Little Rock and Monticello. It’s fruit has
lots of spines on the outside and a narrow, toothed leaf and edible inside nut. The
American chesnut foundation is also breeding disease resistant varieties which should
soon be available to the public. The sweetgum tree does have thorny smaller fruit,
but you won't get too much inside, nor is it edible and it is very widespread in our
state. The single leaves look almost like stars with five points. The horse chesnut
is also called a buckeye and while it does have a large poisonous seed, the pods have
small thorns, but it is not as common in our state as the red buckeye, which has .
As with all members of the Aesculus (horsechestnut family) they have compound leaves
with 5-7 leaflets. I have attached pictures of all three for proper identification.
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