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Sumac recommendations?

Posted by ninjapixie z5 Chicago (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 26, 06 at 9:29

In my bird garden, I'd love to plant a sumac of some sort. There are a lot of great recommendations in books I've read, but I haven't been able to determine whether it'd be appropriate for this yard in this climate.

My environment: I'm in a relatively new subdivision, out near the Fox River. We've got 1/4 acre, and the bird garden backs onto a small thicket of mature trees at the east side of the house, with a great mix of sun and shade among various spots. I intend to "beef up" the thicket with one or two shrubs/trees (up to 10' or so, I suppose) that birds will enjoy, and would love some fall color.

I've read that some sumacs tend to sucker and spread aggressively. This makes me think it might be a bit risky for a lot this small (I try to be a good neighbor!), and is best used in wilder areas. I'm more than willing to prune, but don't want to make big promises I can't keep up with in future years.

So... has anyone here had experience with (deliberate) sumac in Chicagoland? Would this planting be super-pesty? Thank you in advance!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Sumac recommendations?

Here is a photo I took last fall of our Grow-low sumac (rhus aromatica) shrubs. They are well behaved and give nice color. Click on the thumbnail. I'm not the best photographer, but you can get the idea. Those shrubs are about four years old. We are in a new subdivision on the Fox River, too, btw.

We planted this by the driveway, because sumac can take having snow mounded onto it. The bird feeder is right above this patch of shrubs, and the birds like hiding out around the low growing branches. The doves look like little river rocks sitting under there sometimes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fall color, Grow-low sumac

RE: Sumac recommendations?

Sumac is a good Midwestern plant, underused, in my opinion (I assume you're talking about staghorn sumac), but gaining more attention. Although I didn't grow it when I lived in the Midwest, I think it's a great choice. But whether or not you want it depends on how much attention you want to give to it. I wouldn't say it spreads aggressively -- it does sucker freely, but a yearly culling takes care of those while they're small and easy to deal with. Not, in my opinion, a problem or a high-maintenance thing, but everyone has a different threshold for that. Here in the Northwest (where I am now) it's sort of a gardening mecca, and things that are well-behaved in the Midwest tend to be a little bit wild here -- but sumac isn't a problem. I just tend to the suckers in early summer and that's it.

Named varieties tend to be somewhat less agressive than the species, so that might be another way to get around some of the suckering.

I wasn't aware of the low-grow sumac, looks like an interesting option. There are some other varieties as well -- a fine cut-leafed variety ('Lacinata'), and one with golden foliage (goes under the trademarked name 'Tiger Eyes' and the variey name 'Bailtiger') that's very striking against dark-foliaged plants and has an incredible fall color. I like the fall color of all the staghorn sumacs, not to mention the great trunks. And they are great for birds.

Many native or native-type plants that will attract birds has potential for easy spread -- watch out for some of the species honeysuckles, for example. That's one your neighbors wouldn't appreciate; comes up readily and everywhere from seeds spread by birds. My favorite plant for attracting birds when I lived in IN was a shrub dogwood -- they loved the berries, but it also just seemed to be a plant they liked to hide in and hop around under. I really enjoyed it -- although the suckers on that were much harder to control than sumac -- and would plant it again (and in fact have planted some shrub dogwoods in our front yard, although a different kind). Even so, if I had to pick between dogwoods and sumac, I'd go with sumac -- more year-round interest.

Have fun deciding!

RE: Sumac recommendations?

I'm out in St Charles, and have Staghorn Sumacs that were planted by the landscaper. If I had it to do over again, I would have nixed it. They've been here over 7 years, and I have them in a mulched bed in the back of my yard.

Every year in the spring when the ground is soft, I go out and pull up as many roots/suckers from the main plants that I can find, otherwise they'd spread all over. And those roots can really travel quite a distance. I think if they travel 'out of bounds' and you mow over them, though, you're OK.

But if your neighbor has a bed nearby and it spreads there, they might not be pleased.

If you want 1 or 2 shrubs, I'd pass on this. They're really not shrubby anyway.

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