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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Grow a Sycamore Tree

Sycamore trees are a wonderful addition to any area in your landscape that is moist.  The camouflage bark provides year round interest while the leaves provide that striking green contrast that enhances the bark even more.  During the summer, the tree produces tiny, bell-shaped blooms that start out green and then turn red.  In the fall, the blooms turn into little, spiny balls that are suspended by slight stalks that hang off the end of branches.

Sycamore trees are started by squirrels burying the spiny balls in the ground but you can mimic this step by first collecting these balls.  Once they have been collected, let them set out to dry.  After they have dried for a few weeks, place in the refrigerator for 12 weeks. 

Once the 12 weeks have passed, remove from the refrigerator and allow to warm up to room temperature.  Make sure not to speed up this process.  The slower the better when it comes to warming up seed pod. 

After the seed pod has warmed, you will need to crack it open to remove the seed or achene.   The pod can be cracked open with a nutcracker.  Prior to doing this though, you will need to dress in protective clothing, gloves, mask, and safety goggles.  The reason for this is to protect one from the dust and hairs of the seeds, which can cause allergic reactions in some people. 

Now that the seeds are out, remove any dust and hairs from the seed.  To remove even more, rake the seed over medium (10 wires per inch) hardware cloth.  This later step will remove any remaining material.

Before planting the seeds in soil, one will need to pretest the germination rate of the seeds.  This is easily done by placing the seed in damp sand, moistened coffee filter or blotting paper.  Once that is done, certain environmental conditions should be mimicked.  This includes light requirements for both day and night along with temperatures, which should range from room temperature to 85 degrees F. 

After the 14 day period, you should see a large percentage of seeds germinate.  Once you see this begin, prepare a flat that is large enough to hold 20 seeds with a potting medium that is high in peat moss and organic matter.  Also, make sure that this medium is moist but not dripping wet.

Now that the potting medium is ready, plant each seed so that they are 6 to 8 inches apart and 1/8 deep.  Cover the seed with peat moss and/or leaf mold.

Place the tray out of direct sunlight and keep the soil evenly moist.  Once the seedlings are 4 inches in height, transplant into their own pots.  These pots will need a layer of sand or gravel added first before the soil.  This first layer will provide drainage, which is very important when it comes to the sycamore tree.

Once the tree has reached 1 foot in height, it is time to move it into the landscape.  Prior to planting though, inspect the root system of the seedling.  Is it well-developed?  Also, check the ends of the twigs.  Do they have maturing leaf buds?  If the answer is yes to both, then the seedling is ready to plant.

Selecting the proper location for your tree is very important since a sycamore can up to 75 feet in height and has a crown to match.  Also, make sure the soil remains moist but not soggy and that the pH is around 4.5 to 5. 

If all requirements have been met, then plant your sycamore trees so that they are 10 to 12 feet apart.

In the fall, apply a reasonable amount of balanced fertilizer either in liquid or spike form.  Regardless of the type, make sure to apply it along the drip line.  This is the zone by which the fertilizer can do the most good.  

Throughout the trees life, pruning should be an important part of any maintenance program for the tree.   This will allow for the removal of any dead and/or diseased branches along with keeping the tree looking its best.  But while this is all important, the pruning also gives the homeowner a chance to really see their tree and become aware of any problems, which includes mistletoe, wood rot, root rot, and canker.

Other diseases that plague sycamores include powdery mildew, sycamore lacy bug, and sycamore anthracnose.   Powdery mildew on sycamores can be seen as patchy circular patterns of grayish-white that appears on both leaves and twigs.  The cause is due to high humidity and not enough sun.  In the early stages of the disease, the leaves will fall off but if the disease is allowed to continue the tree’s growth will be stunted.

Sycamore lacy bug is an insect that in adult form has a lace pattern that covers its head, wings, and chest.  Both the adults and nymphs feed on the underside of the leaves by sucking on the sap.  As the sap is drained out of the leaves, the foliage will turn prematurely yellow.  If the insects are thick enough, the tree’s growth will be stunted.

Sycamore anthracnose is a disease that can cause the tree to die.  While some homeowners may think the dieback of buds and foliage is due to frost damage, do not be fooled.  The symptoms of this plant disease include brown areas on leaves and cankers on trunk and branches.

While the sycamore can have its problems especially if planted along creek banks, their beauty has won over many cities as far as city plantings.  Not only do they have a wide native range, they also are resistant to pollutants and salty soils.  They also tolerate inclement weather such as high winds and hail.  All of these reasons are why many cities are encouraging residents to plant sycamores in their landscaping.  But as popular as these trees are, remember that they have a fast growing root system and should never be planted near sidewalks and/or foundations.

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