Suggestions for Replacing a Sweet Gum

kbomanMarch 1, 2013

Hello all! I'm new to the forums but I've been lurking for awhile and appreciate all the knowledge and insight you are all willing to share. We just purchased our first home last summer and we have a large sweet gum tree in the front yard. At first I loved it (knowing absolutely nothing about these particular trees). It's very mature, provides a lot of shade, and when fall started the leaves began to turn. And then the pods started to drop. And drop, and drop and drop. For five months now the horrid tree has been dropping those treacherous pods. Our yard is slightly sloped so walking down to get the mail everyday is a suicide mission. My kids can't even play in the yard. I'm constantly raking up thousands of pods. We've decided that it just isn't worth keeping the tree and we'd like to replace it.

I'm pretty clueless when it comes to these things so I was hoping for some suggestions. I'm not 100% sure which zone I'm in. I've gone to three different maps and they all gave me a different number (between 8-10). I live in southern California (particularly the Ventura County area). The weather here is pretty mild: not too hot, not too cold. I'm hoping to replace the tree with something that is not too messy. It's okay if it drops leaves but I would prefer if it didn't drop pods, nuts, berries, etc. If it grows quickly, that's a bonus since we will be losing a lot of shade. I also wouldn't mind something that flowered but it's not essential.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! :)

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
salicaceae(z8b FL)

Your kids can't play in the yard?? My kids (3 and 5 yo) run BAREFOOT through the woods here with massive sweetgums, oaks, hickories (not to mention smilax, mosquitoes and snakes) and never had a problem. I can't imagine a few sweetgum balls keeping kids from playing, but then again, this is the age of the "indoor child" I suppose. There are hundreds of trees you can grow in southern California. Most trees produce seeds of some sort within 10 years or so. You should probably go with something that produces small seeds - maybe an elm..

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 1:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 1:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

salicaceae, wow your kids must have a high tolerance for pain! Have you ever stepped on one of those pods barefoot? I say it's on par with stepping on a Lego. :) Our biggest problem is slipping on them. Since our yard has a slope the pods become a hazard, especially on the stone walkway to our mailbox. We've all taken a turn slipping and falling from these pods rolling under our feet. Landing on them is even worse than stepping on them barefoot. I will look into your elm suggestion. I'm also considering a red maple. Their seed pods are much more tolerable in my opinion. And smivies, did you mean bubblewrap for our feet or our yard? ;)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 3:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I welcome any other suggestions.

This post was edited by kboman on Fri, Mar 1, 13 at 15:15

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 3:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Growing up in UCLA(upper corner of Lower Alabama) I stepped on many a sweetgum ball in my bare feet - and tripped or turned an ankle on their upheaving surface roots. Enough that I have a deeply ingrained hatred for the species, despite its often show-stopping fall color display. (Are my 'plantist' tendencies showing?)

Did they stop me from playing outdoors, or even going barefoot?
No, but I sure don't miss 'em.
Have a few on the farm here, but I'm working on eradicating them.
If you remove it, be sure to treat with a woody-plant herbicide labeled for stump treatment, or you're virtually assured of having a forest of root sprouts pop up for yards around it - may even happen if you have the stump ground out.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 3:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I used to collect sweetgum balls at an old house in CA to put in the flower beds to deter cats.

Down there depends on how close you are to the ocean - use the Sunset Zone rather than the USDA zone - you can zoom in pretty well. You might look at - depending on were you are specifically - a male Chinese pistache for the color. One of the native live oaks will drop acorns but be trouble-resistant when your water gets cut back further.

You may want to drive up to Santa Barbara and go thru the botanic gardens on a weekday and go thru the non-burned area to look at what they have, then go down thru some of the old neighborhoods to get those ideas reflected in the landscaping. Some of Ventura has very nice trees as well as you go up the hill. And don't forget older parts of Oxnard, especially May-June when the strawberries are coming in.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 3:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

valley oak (Quercus lobata)...its native to your area and drought tolerant.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 4:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Seems like you'd want a fast-growing tree to replace the sweet gum - another fast-growing tree, so check that oak, the Q. lobata for growth rate. I'm in zone 9 Texas, and don't have a suggestion for you, sorry, wish I did. Sweetgums are pretty but messy.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 5:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Quercus lobata is at the southern extent of its range and may be in your part of Ventura Co. but only if you are closer to Ojai.

Maybe SelecTree is a good start then you can go looking around when you drive somewhere.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 8:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

From your description your gum tree is quite large 12" diameter or greater.

If you remove the tree, regardless of what you plant in the yard, you will never have a tree that provides the shade of the gum. Even fast growing trees take 10 to 15 years to get to the point where they provide reasonable shade.

I have a back yard full of Gum. They are one of the more colorful fall trees. The leaf smell is great.

You said you live on a slope. The cheapest and easiest way to handle the gum balls is buy a leaf blower for about $200 blow them down the slope and let the water in the ditch below carry them down to the neighbors. If you like the neighbors, once they are at the bottom of the slope you can shovel them into the trash or let the compost some where on your lot.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 10:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bostedo(8a tx-bp-dfw)

If you're happy with the Sweetgum other than the seed balls and it is doing well in your area, Liquidambar Styraciflua Rotundiloba is a seedless variety that has a slightly different shaped leaf, but is similar in most other aspects. We had one with excellent fall color that gave more purple than the standard variety. Unfortunately, they can be hard to find.

Here is a link that might be useful: âRotundilobaâ Sweetgum Fact Sheet

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 3:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you so much for all the great tips! And I really appreciate WxDano's tip with using Sunset zone instead of USDA. That was so incredibly helpful. I have a good list of options now to research. Thanks all!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 11:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 11:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

first .... my kids spent so much time outdoors.. they didnt care ... callousing their feet so that they could walk over Pinus sylvestrus cones.. which are nearly as bad ... but i hear you ...

the peeps above are spot on with losing the shade.. the kids will be married and gone before any replacement gives you shade ...

which leaves you simply with fall cleanup ... so what if you have to clean them up a couple times in fall.. thats what we do ... and it can be a fun family work out .... [of which you will end up doing it all.. but one can delude themselves.. if you try hard enough.. lol]

i like the leaf blower idea.. i do NOT like blowing them into a waterway.. and making them someone elses problem ...

i am not usually one to 'save' a tree.. if its me off ... but i planted about 40 tree.. in 2000 ... and i have noticed.. that the kids will be long gone.. before those trees actually produce nice shade ...

and do NOT get all excited about anything marketed as FAST GROWING ... fast to grow.. fast to disease.. fast to die .... [in tree years of course..]

good luck.. whatever you decide ...


    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have many large sweet gum trees around, and in the middle of my lawn. Some years the balls all drop at once, some years they just seem to trickle down for the entire winter. Either way, they are usually all done falling by leaf out. I find them to be really easy to get rid of....If your lawn mower has a bagging attachment, just chop them up. It sounds like hell when you are running them over, but if the mower deck is low enough, they all will disappear!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
famartin(z5 NE NV)

LOL, not only did I normally play next to a Sweet Gum as a child, but I climbed that sucker almost to the top a couple of times. Kids today... ;)

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

ken_adrian, if I was only cleaning them a couple times in fall, I think I could deal with the tree. But this tree is dropping a TON of these pods. I measured the tree around the trunk and at it's widest it's 87 inches (so I think that works out to be about 27" or so for a diameter?). This is a very large tree. I will rake the entire yard and not more than a week later, the whole yard is covered in a blanket of pods again. Like I said in my earlier post, it's been dropping since October and it still isn't finished, even though all the leaves have been long gone for a couple months. Despite all that, my husband and I have decided not to do anything about the tree this year. That will give us plenty of time to weigh all the pros and cons.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 7:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A tree that large is irreplaceable. So in answer to your original question: "Suggestions for Replacing a Sweet Gum" There are no replacements!

Also you may be violating city, county, state laws by cutting it. Many government organizations have rules about cut down mature trees of that size.

Forgetting the legal aspect, it will be several thousand dollars to remove and dispose of a tree that size. I don't know about you but that would be a significant hit on my budget.

From an aesthetics point of view, the loss of a tree that size could potentially affect the value of your house.

A tree of this size will affect the cost of conditioning your home. I don't know the orientation of the tree to the house, but it could be providing a significant cooling effect in the summer

I think the leaf blower and period maintenance would be far more economical. Also you said that you have children. Child labor is a cheap way to get the gum balls raked up. Children need chores.

PS: I previously made a comment about blowing them down hill and letting the water take the gum balls away, It was a joke, I have neighbors to deal with also.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for your input knuttle. I know this would be a huge expense. Our neighbors across the street just had several very large eucaplytus removed from their backyard (even taller than our gum tree). They had had concerns with branches breaking and landing on their house when Santa Ana winds come around. It took over three days to remove their trees and I can only imagine the cost. The cost alone could be enough to prevent us from taking our tree out. I guess there used to be several gum trees planted in our neighborhood. It seems everyone else has already taken theirs out and we're the last ones to still have one. I will look into the city laws as well. That thought hadn't crossed my mind. Perhaps a good option right now would be to have the tree trimmed. I don't think it's ever been properly trimmed and there are several large branches close to our house. And I will absolutely add "picking up pods" to my kids' chore list. :)

At any rate, like I mentioned, we won't be making any definitive decisions this year. We'd like to at least have a full year in our house to get a better idea of the year-round maintenance of the tree before we just cut it down. (And I knew you were joking about blowing the pods down the hill. We'd also like to stay friends with our neighbors.) :)

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

Obviously, with a tree that large, previous resident(s) have lived with this tree and its pods for decades now. Personally I would be loathe to cut such a tree down because you will not live long enough to enjoy the benefits of a mature tree if you plant a replacement.

I did a little googling and apparently these trees do produce a seed crop every year, with a bumper crop every 2-3 years. Perhaps this year is a bumper for your tree and it won't always be this bad?

Our town has a sweet gum planted right in front of the town hall. This tree drops pods all over the front walkway and sidewalk in front of the building, and nobody even rakes them up. Probably not the best choice of tree in such situations! But, I bet it would be against the town's own historic regulations to cut the tree down, haha.

One plus is that you probably won't have a lot of trespassers cutting through the front yard!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 1:22AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
?? What tree is this?
This is in my garden, I have looked but cannot be sure...
Graft incompatibility sugar maple
Recently had a commemoration sugar maple installed...
Tree Planted Too Deep - Too Late To Raise
Hi all, I've been searching for some guidance on this...
Evergreen Shade and Privacy Trees for Houston Texas
I live in Spring, Texas, which is in climate zone 8b....
So happy that this is the 1st spring where I don't have......
Vole damage. Burying our fences underground 6 inches...
Sponsored Products
Hyde Park Left-facing Arm Chair with Cushions, Patio Furniture
Florence Style Loft Wool Armchair in Oatmeal
$489.00 | LexMod
Ingo Maurer | Luxury Pure Ceiling Light
David Bromstad "Pez" Artwork
Grandin Road
Arteriors Home - Montego Chandelier - 86784
Great Furniture Deal
Record Hits Fleece Throw
$59.99 | Dot & Bo
Solar Lighthouse Mailbox
Kichler Telford Olde Bronze Finish Pendant Chandelier
$68.00 | Lamps Plus
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™