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Sweet Gum Advice Please

Lola

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May 28, 2006
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23
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California
I have several sweet gum trees. I would like to provide the best possible care for them. Currently they look a little neglected from the previous homeowner. When we first saw buds in the spring, we thought they were healthy. Now that all the buds have opened, we see that one of the four trees is a little sparse and there are some buds that only started to develop a leaf and then died. Another of the trees is beautiful and full on the bottom but a little sparse near the top. Can anyone recommend the proper watering, fertilizing and general care to give these trees a little tlc? I love them so much and would be really sad if they declined.

The location is in full sun, they are surrounded by lawn but with a cut-out of dirt and mulch at the base and there are little vents in the dirt. I put the hose into these vents last weekend to see if they needed more water, can't tell if it did any good but we've had the beginnings of hot weather and I thought maybe they were dry. We don't water the lawn that much, and I wonder how much water reaches the roots if any.

Thanks for any help offered!
 

Lola

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California
I was really hoping for general tree care advice. Unless you feel that my scenario is dire?

Surely someone must have sweet gums that can offer tips to keep them happy.
 
Elmore

Elmore

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What part of California are you in? What soil type? These vents in the ground sound suspicious. Sounds like someone planted them using some unproven or experimental techniques. Perhaps there is a lot of gravel down under there in the root zone. Maybe the trees were planted utilizing gravel and PVC vents. Maybe the PVC vents and/or gravel were added after planting. The roots may be compromised or damaged. There are a lot of maybes here. A qualified arborist in your area can assess the situation much better than someone reading your description from thousands of miles away.
When living in San Mateo Co, I worked for the parks and we knew these trees as Liquidambar. Sounded a lot classier than Sweet Gum. Here in Northern Alabama I consider them a lackluster, weed species. They are tough and generally grow well without much problem until I put the chain saw to em'.
 
Dan R Porter

Dan R Porter

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May 21, 2006
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63
Location
Saint Louis
Wow

Sweetgums here usually have few problems, and most people wish they did as most hate their fruit. I have a sweetgum in my yard that has the same symptoms due to "lawnmower Blight" this is damage to the trunk/vascular tissue. Something is interupting the process between the leaf and the roots possibly, have any pictures of the tree, closeup of leaves/area ? This would undoubtly get a response.
 

Lola

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California
Here are a couple photos that might help. I honestly don't think they're that bad, I just wanted to see if there was a way to make it more full. With my plants I can prune them and furtilize them to accomplish this goal, but I'm sure trees are not as simple.

Thanks a bunch!
 
12guns

12guns

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Feb 19, 2005
Messages
443
Location
arkansas
Cut them down...replace them w/ a better tree...maple, oak, etc.
****
I grew up w/ 20-25 sweet gum trees in my back yard..we thinned them out one year and still had 13...I've been hit too many times in the face while mowing... and raked the balls up for punishment...I hate them with a passion.

*********
if you're set on keeping them for whatever reason, consult a local arborist. They will be able to look at the trees and guide you in the right direction.
 
Elmore

Elmore

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Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweet Gum, are held in higher esteem out in California. As a matter of fact back when I was living there at a time when I worked at Central Park in San Mateo, I was exposed to them and I never heard the name "Sweet Gum". We called them Liquidambar. I guess that sounds more sophisticated. They were known for an upright, linear form and brilliant fall colors. Here on my property they are known for aggressive root systems, annoying seed pods, occasional limbs coming down in storms and a chance to run my saw. ;)
 
pantheraba

pantheraba

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Lithia Springs, GA - near Atlanta
Your picture confirms we are talking about the same tree. I agree with these other folks...here in GA, they can be a real nuisance. They get REAL big (for this part of the world) and the gum balls will eventually drive you crazy...they are a good way to turn an ankle...and forget walking around on your nice grass without shoes.

I used to pay my daughter a penny per each when she was about 5 yrs old to pick them up...she got tired of it after awhile.

About 5 years later (10 or 11 years old) she came up to me with a bucket full of 1200 of them she had picked up in just a few minutes...I paid her $12 and cancelled the deal.

Plant a nice beech tree...beautiful, smooth bark, good form.
 
Dan R Porter

Dan R Porter

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Saint Louis
Hmmm

By the pictures I would almost guess anthracnose, but I don't know what the weather was like in CA at the time of the bud death. It doesnt look that thin for a young tree, but try some BIOPAK + (3-0-20) and use the drench method. Follow the instructions and give it a shot. I know most arborist say "Diagnose before treatment" but in a homeowners case I would give it a shot. It is low Nitrogen, and has a lot of benificial bacteria and other ingredients that work wonders.
 

Lola

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California
I've never heard of that disease before, but when I looked it up it did sound like my tree might have this. We had a very dry winter, then the leaves started to develop from the buds, then we were slammed with 6 weeks of on and off heavy rains. The weird thing is that there is another tree directly beside it which was unnafected.

If I try your solution, can it harm the tree in any way? Even if we've misdiagnosed?

By the way, I did contact an arborist and am awaiting a quote for his consulting fees. What is the going rate for consulting? I have no conception of high vs. low since I've never hired an arboritst before.

Thanks
 
Dan R Porter

Dan R Porter

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Messages
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Location
Saint Louis
...

No the biopak plus will not harm your tree unless you have some Ph issues going on, but with a sweetgum you are probably safe. Also I don't know the consultation fee in CA, and it usually depends on the arborist. I do it for free for friends and coworkers but I make them sign off on stuff that covers my butt if I see something unsafe and they refuse to remove it. I would try the BIOPAK and wish for the best. Your tree is not that large, sorry to say this but replaceing the tree is probalbly cheaper then getting a consultation haha.

Let me know what happens.
 

Lola

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Perfect, that's what I was hoping to hear. Truly, most people would just leave it as is and hope for the best but I tend to be crazy about my trees. I'll definitely try the biopack and thanks for the comment on replacement vs. hiring. I know a tree like that is not too expensive to replace, but I have good hopes for it anyway.

The link from Elmore said that deep watering once or twice a month for the first five years during the growing season is a good practice and that pruning and fertilizing could do more harm than good when they're young. So unless anyone has anything else to contribute or dispute with this, I'll give this all a go and see where it takes me.

Wish me luck! Thanks for all the advice.
 
Dan R Porter

Dan R Porter

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Saint Louis
No

He is absolutly right, fertilizing can be bad for a young tree, especially Homeowner stuff with high ratios, but Biopak plus has barely any chem's in it, mostly benificial bacteria, PHC (Plant health care) the company that makes biopak, also makes mycor stuff, but i believe mycor is pointless, it exists in most settings naturally, and mychorr (Mychorizae) is very sensetive to chemicles, like insecticides, fungicides, even glufosphate materials (Finale Roundup etc.) so if you leave your yard organic it is probably already there, if you use anything non-organic, it will likely die if you innoculate it anyways. So anyways I am getting off the subject. Fertilize with Biopak or a low, VERY low fertilizer with benificial bacteria, wetting agents, or what have you. Do not use the stuff you find at the local hardware store (especially do not use miracle grow.) And keep it well watered. I bet it will turn around and be the best tree in your yard.

I use bio-pak on aaround thirty 45 ft 14" dbh pin oaks that were transplanted with a 70" spade (That means big tree, remove lots of big roots, stick in new hole, pray that it lives) and it works wonders.
 

Lola

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Location
California
Well I have an arborist coming to look at my trees within the next three days. I'll post a follow up on his findings. Luckily I found someone that lives a mile from my home so he should be very familiar with my growing conditions.

I like the sound of the Biopak Plus as well, but haven't been able to find it at the nursery I go to. I may have to order it online.

Thanks very much.
 
SpookHollow

SpookHollow

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Tennessee
Lola, I am not sure what the situation is with the trees, but I am constantly working with sweetgum trees. I assume you are referring to a species that is not indigenous to your area. Typical sweetgums are a pioneering tree and do so in seasonally saturated ground that is moist even in the dry season. I see these trees in swamps ans mountain sides but are always in an area where water is plentiful. My suggestion is to keep the trees watered and they should take care of themselves. Also, when they reach maturity they may produce menacing sweetgum balls. These are a source of angst with landwoners in the south. They are slung by the mower and are devestating to bare feet! Anyways. I hope I gave you some insight.

P.S. Sweetgum can produce some tastey chewing gum.
 

Lola

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California
Thanks for the tip, maybe I'll try watering more as well. Our temps just started reaching over 80 so I don't want them to dry out. Of the four trees I have, three have the balls that we refer to as "pokey balls". It's really weird that one of the trees doesn't have them, but the bark is a little different too so it must be a ball-less strain. We have a lab puppy that likes to chew up the balls and being as we have a dog we NEVER walk barefoot on the grass or the pokey balls would be the least of our problems! ewwww. :)
 
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