OutStanding Autumn Favourites

Liquidambers (American Sweetgum)

Last weekend we travelled from Ohaupo to Matamata via Cambridge and the deciduous trees scattered amongst the lush green paddocks of the Waikato region looked amazing, as it always is at this time of year. Every autumn certain trees put their hands up and say "look at me!" One of the best tree families at showing great autumn colour are the LIQUIDAMBERS.

Today I want to talk about some of the  members of this plant family that are worth planting, and their special characteristics.


commonly called Sweetgum - this name refers to the fragrant resin/sap that are produced by these trees. If you come into close proximity of a liquid amber tree you will smell the beautiful fragrance of sweetgum. Not that many years ago the only type of liquidamber trees available in plant nurseries were grown from seed, and the intensity  of autumn colour your tree gave was virtually a lottery. Nowadays, you can buy and  plant perfectly matching specimens that have been grafted where the characteristics of growth habit and leaf colour of your trees are exactly the same.


Some of the distinctive selections of Liquidambers available:


An outstanding reliable variety ,which has autumn foliage colours of rich black/dark red, its habit is a fine conical shape.


This one colours itself in the autumn  with brilliant orange and apricot shades , and then turning shades of mauve at leaf fall.


Very colourful  autumn foliage of mauve, red and purples, this variety  holds onto its leaves for a considerable time


Also another brilliant variety  with deep red/burgundy foliage, and a narrow pyramid growth habit, good option if you don't have a lot of room.


A selection of the traditional liquidamber that has an extremely compact growth habit on the head of the tree. This plant will make perfect large topiary specimens for your driveway, or as feature plants in your shrub border. A beautiful array of foliage colours including orange, yellow, gold, red and purple all on the one plant-certainly a bright colourful character  for a smaller section, height 2.0 metres, but I have seen specimens larger than this, so I definitely recommend that you should prune the head of the plant each year, to encourage more closer branching, and keeping it in a compact shape.

Where to use Liquidambers:

Plant on either side of your driveway and allow a spacing of  about 10-12  metres between each tree. Most liquidamber varieties grow to about 7-8 metres high and 4-5 metres wide. If you like to see individual specimens then allow the wider spacing option.

As an individual specimen in the lawn, don't plant too close to the house, and well away from the north side where it may shade your house

As a hedgerow along a fence line, plant about 8 metres apart  and let them form a semi-windbreak and shade area for stock to get under away from the elements. And of course you get the added bonus of the fantastic autumn display across the paddocks.

Plant a grove of them on a steep bank or siding, this will add aesthetic beauty to your property, and not take away from your productive pasture.

Tips to establishing beautiful specimens:

When the trees are young take off the lower branches, as this encourages more upwards growth by the main stem

Stake the main stem for a couple of years to keep the plant very straight. There's nothing worse than seeing a lovely liquidamber specimen, with a horribly bent trunk,

Definitely spray any grass around the base of  your young trees, with roundup or similar weedicide, about 3 x per year, you will be amazed at how much extra growth you will get-even up to 50% more.

Feed your trees every spring, for the first 5 years with a slow release fertiliser; they react like people to being fed and grow more.


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Graeme Burton - Landscaper - Rukuhia Homestead, RD2, Ohaupo 3882
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