Sweet gum - plant, care & cut back

The sweet gum tree is a real eye-catcher in the front yard with its attractive leaf coloring. It is extremely easy to care for and can be planted under simple conditions.

The sweet gum belongs to the genus Altingiaceae. It is a small family of plants. Amber trees (Liquidambar) got their Latin name from a derivation of the Latin word “liquides” for “liquid”. The Arabic term “anbar” for “amber” also flows into the corresponding words. The plant name can thus be translated as “liquid amber”. The reason for this is the tree resin, which spreads a pleasant smell.

The deciduous trees can grow up to 40 meters high. The sweetgum tree is a fairly easy-care plant that develops well in our latitudes if you follow a few care instructions. The plant is valued for its elegant growth shape, pretty leaf pattern and attractive and long-lasting autumn color.

Spreading of the amber trees

The distribution area of ​​the sweetgum tree is divided into two. There are natural occurrences both in East Asia and in North and Central America. The main distribution area is in China, Turkey and Rhodes. The plant genus Liquidambar is very old and was already detected in the Tertiary. In Germany, an approximately five million year old specimen of an amber tree was found in the Garzweiler opencast mine.

Use of the amber trees

The tree resin, the leaves, the fruits and the stem are important for medicine. A well-known remedy for colds and cough is the alcohol extract called styrax from the bark and sapwood of the tree. The wood is used to make veneers. The resin serves the perfume industry and is also used in the manufacture of chewing gum.

When does the sweet gum bloom?

Until the blossoms of the sweetgum tree show up, the hobby gardener is required to be patient. It can take up to 20 years before the rather inconspicuous flowers appear in spring. The female flowers resemble the hanging and spherical inflorescences of the chestnut. Male flowers appear on grapes about six centimeters long.

" Tip: A consolation for the hobby gardener - few, inconspicuous flowers give hope for an attractive foliage color in autumn.

Sweet gum varieties

Classic sweetgumThe classic sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) reaches heights of 8 - 12 meters. Grated leaves smell wonderfully of amber and turn beautiful red in autumn.
Sweetgum “Variegata”This tree species can reach a height of up to 2 meters and has pretty, white-colored foliage. This sweet gum tree is particularly suitable for smaller gardens.
Amber tree “Oktoberglut”These amber trees reach stature heights of up to 3 meters and are particularly attractive on the edges of ponds. An eye-catcher is the intense autumn colors in red, yellow or orange.
Sweet Tree “Silver King”Silver King grows about 5 meters tall and has a striking red-brown bark. In autumn the leaves turn orange-red to purple.
Sweetgum “Gumball”This globular gum tree is particularly attractive for small gardens. A dense crown is formed on the high trunk. An eye-catcher is the intense red-yellow foliage color in autumn.
Sweet tree “Worplesdon”The amber trees, which grow up to 10 meters high, impress with their unusual, fingered growth form and offer a deep red autumn color.

Planting amber trees - all facts at a glance

Taking the following care instructions into account, the sweetgum tree can easily be cultivated in the home garden and proves to be a robust and long-lived plant.


The sweet gum is a sun child and cannot get enough of it at its location. You are welcome to place the plant in full sun. Note that the small plant wants to become a stately tree and choose a free and spacious lawn as the ideal location. A wind-protected location is an advantage, the longer you can enjoy the attractive autumn colors. The crowns don't grow too wide, so the sweet gum can also find its place in smaller gardens.


The sweetgum tree needs a moist and well-drained soil. Sandy or clay soils are ideal. The roots are sensitive to compacted soils. Therefore, an open space should always be chosen as the location for the sweetgum tree. A too high lime content is not tolerated. The plant indicates this by yellowing of the leaves.

" Watch out: The sweet gum does not tolerate waterlogging, no rhizome barriers and no soil compaction.

Planting instructions:

  • Best planting time: early autumn to spring
  • Select location
  • Prepare the soil
  • Remove soil compaction
  • Water the root ball
  • Dig out the planting hole twice the size of the root ball
  • Mix soil with compost or humus
  • Place the plant a few centimeters below the processing point
  • Fill up earth
  • Shake the plant to distribute the soil well
  • Press down slightly on the bottom
  • Support the plant
  • Apply pouring rim
  • Water the plant sufficiently
  • Apply mulch to the soil

How to properly care for the sweetgum tree

To water:

Amber trees need sufficient moisture. Young plants in particular must not dry out in summer and should be watered several times a week. Ensure even moisture and avoid waterlogging. The floor should always appear slightly damp and may also be poured with a wash.

" Tip: The soil should also be checked in winter. Low watering is welcome on frost-free days.


After planting, it is recommended to cover the soil with bark mulch. This not only acts as a natural fertilizer, the moisture escapes from the soil more slowly. Fertilization should generally be done sparingly. The plant may receive mineral fertilizers between May and August. Full fertilizer can be administered once at the beginning of the garden year. From September, the sweet gum is no longer fertilized. If the plant were also given more nitrogen, shoots would form that were not strong enough for the nearby frost, which would damage the wood.

" Watch out: Container plants have an increased need for nutrients and can be supplied with liquid fertilizer every 14 days during the growth phase.

Rear section:

If the sweetgum has been given a free-standing location, there is no need to prune it. The tree top can then develop its characteristic cone shape over the years. In order to promote the growth habit of the tree, dried branches should be removed regularly in autumn. Crossing branches and inward shoots are also removed. All branches that protrude from the typical tree ball are cut. If dead branches are removed in spring, the pruning should not be done down to the old wood. Otherwise the plant would not sprout again.


The proliferation of amber trees is possible through seeds and cuttings. In principle, the seeds could easily be obtained from the seeds found in the capsule fruits developed in autumn. Most of the seeds of the sweetgum tree are sterile, however, and cannot be used for propagation. Only fertile seeds can germinate. So it makes sense to buy the seeds.

Propagation by seeds

❶ Put seeds in plant pots and cover them thinly with soil
❷ keep evenly moist
❸ Let it rest for several weeks at around 20 degrees
❹ Spread seeds on a foil covered with damp sand
❺ Twist the film together and tie it at both ends
❻ Store the film in the refrigerator for about eight weeks
❼ Sow seeds again
Beginnend Starting at five degrees, gradually getting used to a warmer environment

The propagation of the sweetgum tree requires patience. If seedlings have appeared, they are placed in individual pots and placed in a bright and warm place until sufficient roots have formed and the plant is allowed to move outdoors.

Propagation by cuttings

❶ Cut the approximately 15 centimeter long cutting in autumn
❷ Cut the lower part at an angle
❸ Remove the top of the shoot by cutting straight.
❹ Place cuttings in plant pots with a poor soil
❺ hibernate at about eight degrees
❻ water sparingly
❼ A plastic cover over the pots accelerates growth.

The propagation by cuttings is easier for the hobby gardener than the cumbersome cultivation from seeds.


Adult trees do not need special winter protection. With young plants, however, this should not be neglected. While mature trees are hardy down to around -25 degrees, young plants can start to freeze in the first few years. For this reason, put a sack made of garden fleece over the crown and protect the root area from frost with leaves or brushwood. Winter sun can damage the bark. In contrast, a white coat of bark helps.

Container plants should spend the winter frost-free and should not dry out. In the open, the sweetgum tree in the bucket also needs protection around the crown and should be placed on a polystyrene or wooden block to protect the roots from frost.

Detect and fight diseases and pests

The gum tree is a very robust plant that is hardly affected by diseases or pests. However, young plants resent the wrong choice of location and maintenance mistakes and rule with falling leaves or root rot.

The following maintenance errors should be avoided:

  • soil too dry
  • too dark location
  • waterlogging
  • compacted soils
  • nutrient deficiency

If the young plants grow poorly, react with leaf discoloration and leaf loss, one of the reasons mentioned above is usually responsible for this.

Aphids - danger to young plants

Young plants are not yet robust enough and can therefore occasionally be affected by aphids. The infestation is clearly visible on the leaves. Different types of pests can occur. In some species, honeydew excretions are also visible on the leaf veins.

What should I do?
Aphids can be removed very well with natural means. Nettle brew has proven particularly useful. The nettles are collected and placed in a bucket. About half a bucket should be filled with nettles. Then make up with water. The brew should stand for about two to three days and is then strained. You can now spray all affected plants with the broth.

" Tip: Nettle stock can also be used for ornamental plants in the room if they are infested with pests.

A lye made of the following substances has also proven itself:

  • onions
  • garlic
  • Black tea
  • vinegar
  • garlic
  • savory

Amber trees as bonsai

Amber trees as bonsai are quite rare. If you have a plant, you should put it in a sunny place and ensure a high level of humidity. The soil should be moist and nutritious. The humidity should be checked regularly. It is often necessary to water several times a day. The trees can be wired from June. Spreading and bracing can alternatively take place and provide the same results. Repot the plants every two years and provide a root cut. The hibernation takes place in a protected and bright location at about eight to ten degrees.