Sumac is the common name for the 250 species that belong to the genus Rhus. Sumac trees are native to Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia and the Americas. Besides the three poisonous species (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac), sumac trees can serve a number of purposes when grown in your yard. Although sumac trees are relatively easy to plant and maintain, follow these tips for best results.
Benefits and Attributes of the Sumac Tree
- The wide, extensive root system has made the sumac tree a popular choice for erosion control.
- The dense and quick growing crown and branches of the sumac make it a good choice for creating a natural privacy fence.
- The sumac tree can grow in many different soil types.
- The sumac tree provides emergency food and nesting cover in the winter for many creatures.
- Some of the red berries that are covered in soft, red hairs provide bright color into the winter.
- The sumac leaves turn a many brilliant colors in the autumn.
- Some sumac berries can be used to make lemonade or wine. In the Middle East, they are made into a cooking spice.
If planting from seeds, sumacs must be scarified (use acid for up to 3 hours) and then stratified (laid dormant) for 30 days at 41 degrees F. Sumac trees can also be propagated from early winter root division. The best way to root the trees is to push root cuttings into moist sand flats. When planting saplings, dig a hole 4 times wider than the rootball and at a depth equal to the rootball. Spread out or clip off curving, circular roots on the sapling before planting.
Sumacs can grow in many different types of soil. However, they prefer well-draining soils, clay loams, sandy loams, medium loams and clay. Be sure to plant in an area where the sumac tree can receive partial shade, to full sun.
Water the planting hole deeply when planting saplings. Although sumac trees are drought-resistant, water regularly if planted in the middle of summer or during times of drought. Be careful not to overwater the sumac because it can cause root rot.
Most sumacs do not require fertilization. Don't give a nitrogen fertilizer when planting, or during the first year. It is a very common mistake that many gardeners do. Before fertilizing, test your soil to determine if your soil needs amended and fertilize according to test results.
Prune back dead wood in the spring time. Prune back suckers to keep the tree from getting scraggly looking and to maintain a symmetrical shape. Be sure to plant this tree near a window so you can watch all the birds and animals flock to it during the winter, it is a great sight to see.