Table of Contents
What is a Sweetgum Tree?
American sweetgum is a popular ornamental tree known for its glossy green summer leaves and bright red and orange leaves in the fall. Its leaves are similar to maple leaves with their five-pointed star shapes. Sweetgum is a fast-growing tree that grows well in most soils and moisture levels.
Like the midwestern black walnut tree, sweetgums drop hundreds of spiny, woody balls onto lawns and gardens throughout central Florida into eastern Texas. These capsules can be easy to slip on while walking and are difficult to clean up. Learning how to remove sweetgum balls from your lawn will keep your yard in shape and save your feet from pain.
What's the Best Method to Remove Sweetgum Balls from your Lawn?
Similar to other trees, fallen sweetgum balls are dead and seedless. Throughout fall and winter, the balls fall so the tree can prep for new growth in the spring. Don’t let their name fool you, there’s nothing sweet about the sweetgum ball. Worse than stubbing your toe, tripping over a dog toy, or stepping on legos; the sweetgum ball is always waiting for its next victim to poke, and removing them should be a top priority!
Raking or Blowing
Raking and blowing is the most convenient way to remove sweetgum balls. The average person already owns a rake, so no additional equipment needs to be purchased. Additionally, you can blow them into a pile with a leaf blower. When handling them, use gloves to protect your hands from sharp spines. After bagging, they can be disposed of through your trash service.
Sweetgum balls can be run through a chipper for mulch, but should not be composted as they take years to decompose.
Lawn vacuums are a useful tool that can easily remove sweetgum balls from your lawn. They work well for removing other lawn debris too. They can be used to clean up grass clippings, pine needles, and twigs. Lawn vacuums can be found at most hardware stores including ACE, Lowes, and Home Depot. While this is an expensive option, lawn vacuums can be useful year-round. You can use your lawn vacuum in the spring when preparing to plant flowers, and in the fall when cleaning up fallen leaves.
A lawn vacuum is an easy way to remove sweetgum balls because they suck the fallen debris through a tube and into a bag. After the collection bag is full, just empty the debris into a paper lawn bag for pickup.
The issue with fallen sweetgum ball debris each year can also be solved by removing the tree entirely and replacing it with a fruitless tree. While tree removal can be pricey, it will save you the hassle of removing sweetgum balls from your lawn each year. It’s best to hire this service out to a professional. Depending on how tall your tree is, removal can cost between $750 and $2000.
A great replacement option is a fruitless sweetgum tree such as the roundleaf sweetgum. This tree has rounded star-shaped leaves, beautiful fall colors, and tall stature. Additionally, it produces no fruit and grows fast.
Fertilizing your tree with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer will encourage the growth of foliage. Trees that put their energy into growing foliage will have little energy to produce fruit or buds. This will heavily decrease the likelihood of having to remove sweetgum balls from your lawn.
You can also treat your tree chemically with a growth regulating hormone to prevent the tree from producing fruit. Growth hormones must be mixed with water and sprayed over the tree with a pesticide sprayer after the tree has flowered.
Be sure to wear protective clothing, gloves, and a mask when chemically treating a tree.
Are there benefits of Sweetgum balls?
It depends on who you ask, but there are some benefits to sweetgum balls. They are most commonly used in potpourri, as holiday ornaments, and even in tea if you catch them young enough. For most homeowners, it is a nuisance and it’s best to remove sweetgum balls from your lawn using any of the methods above!