Master Gardener: Sweetgum pods have many uses
BY BRIAN JERVIS Ask a Master Gardener
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 6:55 AM
Q: I have a sweetgum tree, and it is shedding these prickly balls all over my yard. What is best to do with them? Can I prevent them next year? Olga, Tulsa.A:
Sweetgum trees are common in our area. They may reach huge size, are good shade trees and have nice fall color. However, the seed pods they drop make them undesirable for many landscapes.
The seed pods, or gum balls, are brown and are about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. They are covered with sharp spines. Trees drop them from November through April and beyond. They may completely cover a lawn. In addition to being messy, they may roll when tread upon, which puts a person walking on them at risk for falls.
The stickers tend to cling to surrounding structures, which makes them difficult to gather. They can be picked up by hand or raked, much like leaves. A leaf blower also works well.
Because these balls are so common, people have suggested various usages for them other than placing in the trash. Gum balls make a good loose garden mulch, allowing air and water to easily filter through to the underlying bed. Because they are organic, they will decay over the season and contribute nutrients and organic structure to the garden soils.
There is an undocumented feeling among many gardeners that a mulch of gum balls will keep cats and slugs out of the garden - a definite plus, if so.
During Christmas, gum balls may be spray-painted bright colors and used for ornaments on trees or made into holiday wreaths. They also may be added to the bottoms of large planting pots to reduce weight and need for potting soil, much like some people use styrofoam peanuts. Sweetgum balls can also be bird friendly. Tie a string of them together, cover with peanut butter, and you have a great bird feeder.
Preventing the development of sweetgum balls is possible, but unless you have proper equipment, will likely be expensive. Florel is a plant-growth regulator available in some garden centers and online that will effectively stop fruit development on sweetgum and many other trees with nuisance fruits. According to the labeled instructions, it must be sprayed onto all of the tree when in mid to full blossom. Any other times will not be effective.
For those who wish to plant a sweetgum tree but don't want the gum balls, there is a seedless cultivar, Rotundiloba, that looks nice but is not widely available and has issues with ice storm damage.
If you have a garden-related question for the Master Gardeners to answer in a column, call 918-746-3701.
Original Print Headline: Sweetgum pods have many uses
Several early-season vegetables are grown from seeds and planted as sprouts or transplants. Some examples are cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, head lettuce, onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Most of these take five to seven weeks from planting indoors until ready for transplanting into the garden. Onions take a little longer to grow.
Of these - cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and onion sprouts should be set out from mid-February to mid-March. Plant broccoli sprouts in March. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants need warmth, and the suggested planting time is mid-April, though many people take a gamble and plant earlier, depending on the weather.
Decide what to plant, look at the time to produce transplant and calculate the best time to sow seeds. Several should be started in January.
Sweetgum trees are common in our area. They can grow quite tall, are good shade trees and have nice fall color. However, the seed pods they drop make them undesirable for many landscapes. BILL SEVIER/Courtesy