Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sumac Stunners

Time for another Willie Tip in our cut-out-and-keep gardening series.
Don't waste money on expensive, exotic patio plants like bamboo. If you have a sumac tree or know someone who does, the young shoots make wonderful container plants.
I have about eight of these dotted around my garden. If I were being pretentious I'd say they form a leitmotif.
Sumacs are regarded as sacred trees by the North American Indians, who make medicines from many parts of the plant.
It's also used as an ingredient in Arabic cooking. The seeds can be crushed to make a spice, although I've never tried this.

Here's what you do. Dig out one of the young shoots from around the base of a sumac tree. Stand it in a bucket of water for 24 hours. Then plant it in a container of compost. It doesn't have to be a particularly large container. One of my largest specimens is in less than a foot of soil.
For a couple of weeks or so the shoot will appear to be dead. But keep it watered and eventually it will revive and flourish. Give them a liquid feed in the spring and keep them watered in dry weather.

Although quite common trees across Europe, the Mediterranean, North America and North Africa, many people are unfamiliar with them and visitors to your garden will think they're something rare and exotic. Be sure to do a Google search for sumacs so you can impress people with the many fascinating facts about these trees, or perhaps bore them to death as I did a neighbour recently.

The second picture from the top shows one placed to partially conceal and to soften the hard contours of a small shed.
The bottom picture shows the large parent tree, still with a few of last year's spiky flowers because I'm too old to climb trees and remove them.


I have to admit to a floral faux pas.
Remember a previous Willie Tip about using old towels to line hanging baskets? Well in two of them I've planted bush lobelia instead of trailing lobelia. This means those old bath towels which have had such an intimate acquaintance with Willie Lupin's ageing yet vestigially nubile body will be exposed for the rest of the summer.
It's not really my fault though. I was convinced that the local shop had put the wrong labels on their lobelia.
"I don't want bush", I said to them.
"Nothing new there, then", somebody muttered.


At 4:10 PM, Blogger cello said...

I didn't know any of that about sumacs, so thanks. I don't have any sumacs in the garden. Really don't know why. They have marvellous autumn colour and are very elegant smallish trees with a fashionable oriental twang to them. The suckers can be a bit of a pain but, hey-ho, that's what gardening's all about.

But the chief reason to have one is that the house I lived in until I was nine had a mature sumac, which was very easy, yet satisfying, to climb. I loved sitting for hours among all those exotic leaves and spying on the comings and goings in our street. Though I was always getting into trouble with my mum for getting that gummy secretion on my clothes.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello, it's actually the suckers that I put into containers. It's called 'giving a sucker an even break'.
My own mother used to complain about gummy secretions on my clothes even though we didn't have any sumac trees.
(And don't pretend you fed me that line accidentally).

At 4:58 PM, Blogger cello said...

Am I really so predictable?

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

If you are, then that makes two of us.
Why don't we just grow up and behave like sensible middle-aged people?
A: No chance, thank you very much.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a sumac tree which just "appeared" about 5 years ago in the small backyard area I have at my townhome. When it started to grow, it sort of fascinated me, so I just let it do its own thing. Now it's taller than the house (2 stories), and shades the whole back of the house - which faces east. I am forever pulling out the suckers (which almost grow faster than what I can keep up with). I never thought of putting them in a pot to place somewhere else! Thanks for the idea!

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the first summer for us in our house and I have sumac suckers everywhere so your suggestion of potting them is brillian thanks DL

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our neighbor has sumac trees,been there for years. She sold the house,new neighbors decided to cut down all the sumac trees..Guess who got sumac trees in her yard. That's right ME..the suckers all came over here and there trying like hell to over take our lawn and flower garden. I want them to be gone forever..Hate them.They belong on there properity not mine.

At 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sumacs, hate em, think twice before you put them on your property. They just keep popping up everywhere, can't get rid of them. Just my opinion.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Pixie_moon83 said...

I have sumacs and I love them! The are very beautiful and I love their form. I have about 6 of them in my kitchen window at this time. Thinking they would make a great bonsai tree! Mine are only about waist high at this time, but I've got at least 15 in my yard.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger sarah said...

I am in between the comments of everyone else. I love my sumac tree, I have a gorgeous cutleaf variety. The suckers on the other hand I am not so enamoured with. I am on the hunt for some way to prevent or eliminate them and if I find a way I will be back to share it, as I believe that these are lovely shade trees but the suckers sour the overall effect.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Sean said...

How long can you keep them in the containers - do they just reach a size limit once the roots fill the space they are given? Or do you have to transplant them to earth at some point? What about planting sumacs in large containers for landscaping, would that stop the suckers? Not really sure how the suckers spread - is it off the root system or through fallen seeds?

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I've had my Sumacs in containers for many years. The container does put a limit on how big they grow, although this is variable. I have one in a fairly small pot that is over ten feet tall.
I'm sure you could put them in the ground in containers as people sometimes do with Mint to stop it spreading. They'd have to be strong containers though or the roots might break through.
I think they spread both from seeds and from suckers off the roots but you don't often get suckers in containers.
One problem with container Sumacs is that they are top-heavy and liable to blow over in wind, although they seldom suffer damage. You need to put other containers round them or weigh them down with large stones.
Hope this is helpful.


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