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Preventing Sweetgum Balls

We have a Sweet Gum (liquidambar) tree on our front yard that is about 50 feet tall. It is a lovely deciduous tree, but it produces annoying little (1 inch) fruit like balls that are rather hard to clean up. Is there any way to prevent these fuzzy little “creatures” from sprouting in the upcoming spring? Thank you very much! We love your site! California

One characteristic to consider when planting a tree is whether or not it produces fruit and, if so, just where the fruit is going to fall. Now this is all well and good when you are the one making the tree selection, but often we inherit a previous homeowner’s choices so we have to tolerate plums on the patio, Osage oranges on the sidewalk or in your case spiky sweetgum balls in the front lawn.

Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are great shade trees but they produce round seed pods covered with sharp points. In autumn the pods dry and fall from the tree making sidewalks and lawns treacherous to walk on, especially in bare feet!

There are growth regulators available that stop flowers from developing into fruits. The active ingredient in most of these products is ethephon, which releases the naturally occurring plant compound ethylene. Excess ethylene stresses the tree, which in turn causes it to halt fruit production.

Commercial growth regulators are usually a liquid that you dilute with water and spray on the tree