This is why I put up with spiky seedballs....one of my favorite trees...
Lovely, wcgypsy. You've gotten more color out of yours this year than I have from mine. I've got three L. Cherokee in front of the house, screening the west-facing living room windows from the worst of the summer sun. I call them my green curtains.
Cherokee has no spiky ping pong balls. Last year they turned a vibrant red. This year it's a wan apricot at best, I think because we had so much late heat. I've read elsewhere that warmer autumn weather is also affecting the turning of the trees in New England--to the detriment of their leaf-peeping tourist business.
My burgundy tree (the only survivor and not for long) is still bright green. It has some disease causing the branches and top to twist and eventually break off. It is about half the size it should be.
And if disease doesn't get them, the gophers do. I grew up with a beautiful tree whose spikey balls were prized as decorative elements.
I have to be content with my Red Maple which is beautiful, but not for as long as the liquidambars are.
Everything here is planted in chicken wire against the gophers and once the roots get large enough the gophers don't have as much effect it seems. This one was from a friend's tree, either a seedling or sucker. It's about 15 years old. Should it have been pruned to be more the standard, accepted shape? Yes, but I like things quirky....
There is a variety that does not set fruit.
Here is a link that might be useful: Liquidambar
I love the red fall colors of the standard variety but they are just too large for our small beds. I found a smaller variegated sweetgum and have been very pleased with it. Here's what it looks like over the years since planting. Not many people are familiar with this variety; I had to special-order it through East Bay Nursery/Berkeley. It's Liquidambar styraciflua 'Variegata'.
First planted 2002:
Quite a bit bigger by 2009, good fall color that year:
Even bigger by Nov 2011:
It tends to be cool-ish where I live, being on the edge of the coastal fog belt. Warmer temps bring out more of the variegation:
I get two types of fall color, depending on the weather. Most commonly, the leaves go yellow with red at the tips:
Not as often as I'd like, the tree will go more red than yellow:
Oh, I like that variegation! And nice to know there's a variety that does not bear seed pods...for those who let that factor keep them from enjoying liquidambar. I'll keep both in mind when I plant more. I'll also need ginkgo and poplars for their Fall coloring....and more crape myrtles to replace the ones I'll have left here.
They are planted everywhere here and most are still in their full autumn glory right now. I love liquidambar but did not choose it for my garden because the amount of mid summer branch drop I see and how many I see blown over by the winds we get this time of year.
For fiery fall color I planted Crape myrtle. For big shade I planted sycamores. They color decently in my area too.
I didn't know that the ambars are susceptible to uprooting...bummer. I've also planted crape myrtles and sycamores for color.
Water them by soaking deep but not too frequently, and no uprooting problems. It's the ones that have nothing but surface roots that will fall over. They have "greedy" roots - in the cities here street crews have to periodically come out to chop the roots of the big liquidambars and repave the sidewalks and curbs, because the roots lift them up and destroy them in search of water.
Phooey ......the neighbors have two beautiful mature ambers across the street and just as they were getting the best color, the husband called the tree trimmers to whack everything off to ugly stubby branches.
That really should be outlawed....tree butchery.
Wcgypsy, both Rotundiloba (suggested by jxbrown) and Cherokee are varieties that don't generate spiky seedballs. Like all liquidambars, their roots do have the propensity to lift concrete, so use care in siting them away from walkways. For much the same reason, I wouldn't put them too close to a house foundation, either.
A heads-up for jkom51, however--I was so impressed with the beautiful photos of the Variegata that I looked it up. In the descriptions I've been reading, I haven't seen anything about it being dwarf. More like 40-50 feet, like other sweet gums. Hope this doesn't present a problem later on.
Kay, 'dwarf' is comparative here - standard liquidambars easily reach 70+' around here. 45' is modest, by those standards, LOL.
An elderly neighbor told me that at one time our street was lined with trees, but developers in the 1940's and later found it cheaper to knock them down instead of save them. People have trees in their backyards - we've got two old big ones - but few left in the front yards any longer, up and down the block.
I think I'm the only homeowner who has planted anything bigger than the true dwarf city street trees, on my entire block, in the last 22 years.
Hah! A 45 foot dwarf!! Thanks for clearing that up, jkom51. Good to know that you're aware of the height potential of your "dwarf." (Somehow 45 feet should never be a surprise, right?) How sad, however, that the big trees that once lined your street were never replaced. As the world gets warmer, we need more grand specimens, more shade, not less.
I planted 3 Liquidambars in my front garden, 2 Palo Alto and 1 Burgundy. I enjoyed them for many years, willingly raking up the spiky ball debris (they didn't produce for the first 10 years or so, but then came massive production), and the masses of leaves. Eventually, after viewing some of the really old Liquidambars in the neighborhood -- enormous girth of trunk, broken branches, and huge root systems -- I decided I had enjoyed their best years and it was time for them to go, no regrets. 23 years of colorful fall leaves; it was worth it, including the cost of removal.