Never Plant This Tree in Your Yard

There are a number of trees that you should never plant in your yard, but the liquidambar or Sweet Gum tree should be at the top of your list.  This […]

Liquidambar styraciflua sweet gum treeThere are a number of trees that you should never plant in your yard, but the liquidambar or Sweet Gum tree should be at the top of your list.  This is especially true if you have a relatively small yard which is generally a standard quarter-acre lot or less.

You can recognize this tree by its five-pointed, star-shaped leaves and green or brown fruit balls – depending on the time of year you are looking at it.

I’ve heard people say they like them in their yard as, “They are a very lovely tree in the fall.”

Well, the problem is the tree’s negatives far outweigh the value of a few weeks of colorful autumn leaves.  Having a huge, helium-filled hot air balloon in your front yard is also a lovely sight but it doesn’t justify having one there.

As stated in other articles on this site, the primary reason for planting a tree in your yard is to provide shade in the summer.  There are much better trees for this purpose than a liquidambar.  In fact, most liquidambars don’t provide a good canopy of leaves needed for a good shade tree.  Often, they grow too tall and slender to be a good shade tree.

The Liquidambar Is Brittle

Liquidamber sweet gum treeThe first major negative is that the liquidambar tree’s wood is brittle.  In high winds, huge limbs fall from the tree, ripping through the roof of your house or falling on your car.  Or, worse yet, falling into the roof on your neighbor’s house.  Or even worse, falling onto you or one of your children.  One of my neighbors had six of these giant trees along the side of his house.  In one wind storm a big limb damaged the roof on his neighbor’s house.  A year later, another wind storm dropped a large limb on the corner of his roof – requiring an expensive repair.  Today, every one of these trees is gone for good!

An Agressive Root System

The second major negative is that the liquidambar tree has a very aggressive root system.  Plant one too close to your house and it could attack and damage your foundation.  This tree’s roots grow fast and large – like the tentacles on a giant squid.  And, if you cut it down, these roots continue to grow.  Killing them isn’t easy.  Since most yards are quite small, there is no safe place to plant the liquidambar tree.  You can find numerous stories online about damage done by these giant roots.

Those Pesky Spikey Balls or Spikey Fruit

Liquidambar sweet gum treeThe third major negative are the pesky spikey balls that grow on them – commonly referred to as spikey fruit.  Green in the spring and summer, as they lose their seeds, they dry out and turn brown.  During a wind or rain storm, these pesky critters drop to the ground where they become weapons.  Under the powerful blade of a lawnmower, they can become bullets spraying everywhere.  Step on one and you might turn your ankle.  As kids we’d gather them up, take them home, cover them with tin foil and give them to our mothers as Christmas tree ornaments.

Your author lives in Sacramento, half-a-block from a greenbelt park.  A very wide sidewalk winds through the park from one end to the other.  And guess what?  Some genius in the 1960s, when the community and park were built, made the decision to plant liquidambar trees all along the sidewalk on both sides.  During certain times of the year it’s impossible to use this sidewalk for biking, running, or walking due to it being entirely covered by these spikey balls.  Our tax dollars hard at work.

Sweet gum liquidambar tree

Photo credit: Dan Murtha

Be advised that if you venture down to your community’s lawn and garden center to inquire about shade trees for your yard, there’s a good chance the tree expert will recommend a liquidambar tree as being right for your yard.  Just remember, it’s being planted in your yard, not his or her yard.  If you hear the word “liquidambar” fall from his or her lips as a good tree, move on as this is not an expert you can trust as having good judgment.

Head on over to the tree section and look for a camphor tree, any kind of maple tree, or even an evergreen dogwood tree.  But if it’s shade you are after, the camphor tree or maple tree – other than a small Japanese maple – are probably your best bets.   No matter what kind of tree you choose, don’t plant them too close to your house.

Before planting your tree or trees in your yard, take a walk around your neighborhood and look at the big trees in your neighbors’ yards.  You’ll quickly realize the best location for your tree 15-20 years down the road.  Do your research before selecting and planting trees.  Years from now you’ll be very happy you did.