Black Gum Tree

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If you have room in your yard for just one more tree, why not consider the black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica)?  It’s not a tree that gets much attention around here, but it’s a tree that, if space permits, you should consider planting for the spectacular fall color show.  

I purchased a black gum tree just a few years ago.  It was, no doubt, bought on clearance, and I’m sure I felt sorry for it.  I remember reading the label about the red, fall color.  The little informational card I read did not do it justice.   Little did I know just how beautiful the fall foliage would be.  Wow.  Just this season I saw so many shades of yellow, orange, pink and red leaves, all present on the same tree!  Every day it seemed to turn a different shade or color, and I looked forward to seeing what new colors would be appearing next.  When the sun set in the evening, the tree looked like it was glowing. 

This medium shade tree can grow upwards of 30 – 50’ tall and 20-30’ wide , and it’s best to plant 15-30 feet away from buildings or power lines.   The black gum can grow in full sun to partial shade, and prefers moist, acidic, well drained soil.   The leaves are glossy, pointed, and dark green, and the flowers and bluish-black fruit are pretty insignificant to look at, although are excellent nectar sources for bees and other pollinators.   Birds are also attracted to the black gum tree.  

The black gum tree is relatively low maintenance and is best pruned in late winter, after the extreme cold has passed.   This tree grows at a slow to medium pace (8 – 12 inches per year) and would benefit from thick mulch around the root zone.   The black gum is fairly drought tolerate once established.   The long taproot can make it difficult to transplant, so proper space planning initially will allow the tree to grow and mature to full size without relocating.

Trees can be planted in Iowa, as a general guide, from early spring (April 1 – May 30) and again late summer/early fall (August 15 – November 15).  If the ground is not frozen, plant away.  Remember to call Iowa One Call, 1-800-292-8989, 48 hrs. before digging, as it’s the law.

So why plant another tree in my yard?  For the minimal effort, trees can increase home resale value by 3 – 15%.   The black gum equally rivals a maple, and in this day and age, diversity is key.   What is happening to our ashes (emerald ash borer) can happen to another tree species, so remember to plant many different varieties of trees.  The black gum tree will not disappoint.

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