Proud sweetgum tree owners know the plant’s glossy, green summer glow and rainbow fall leaves can’t be beaten. But captivating colors just don’t make up for those prickly brown balls that get everywhere.
Ashley, a Davey blog reader from Connecticut, recently asked, “Any thoughts about preventing an American sweetgum tree from dropping its spiky balls? I researched online about injections you can give the tree. It is a beautiful tree, and I would hate to get rid of it because of those pesky things!”
Like Ashley, you’ve probably heard about injections to stop the balls from growing. But are they effective or even safe? Keep reading to learn more ways to tackle this prickly problem.
The spiky clusters are actually balls of fruit with tiny seeds inside that birds and squirrels snack on.
By mid-fall, the balls are dead and seedless. Just like leaves, they must fall, so the tree can prep for new growth. The only difference is sweetgum balls drop all fall and winter.
While they’re not edible, the balls can double as spiky mulch to keep animals away from young plants. You can even get creative and use them to make holiday trinkets or decorative balls for bowls.
Getting back to Ashley’s question, using injections on your sweetgum tree is tricky because the timing has to be just right. For the best chance of stopping the sweetgum balls, hire a certified arborist.
The tree needs the injections right before it flowers in spring. Then, the flowers drop, preventing the balls from ever forming. It’s a narrow but critical window. At Davey, our arborists pinpoint the best application time each year using Nature Clock, a patent-pending software application that predicts bloom time and peak pest emergence.
There are also a few DIY growth-regulating sprays that contain ethephon. Follow the directions precisely as too much could stunt or stress your tree. Again, the timing is super important here, and often, there’s only one week a year you can stop the balls entirely. Otherwise, your sweetgum tree will still produce balls–though they'll be smaller.
If you want to say goodbye to those balls for good (without yearly treatments), replace your tree with a fruitless sweetgum tree.
The roundleaf sweetgum is well-known as the tidy alternative to fruiting sweetgum trees.
It brings all the same charm that other sweetgum trees do: the star-shaped leaves, spectacular fall color and tall stature. Best of all, the roundleaf sweetgum grows super fast.