Planting American Sweetgum ‘Slender Silhouette’ in My Maze
I hope you’ve seen my newest show “Martha Gardens” on The Roku Channel. If you haven’t, you can stream it free right now.
My new series welcomes all of you to my Bedford, New York farm, where I share some of my most valuable gardening lessons, tips, and ideas. In the first episode, I show you my new living maze and how I selected and planted the first specimens for this giant and fun project. I started with European beech, European hornbeams, boxwood, parrotias, and a variety of espaliered apple trees. My gardeners, outdoor grounds crew, and I have already done some much since we started the maze earlier this year. Recently, we planted several Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ trees, American sweetgums. As these trees mature, they will maintain their erect, columnar form, growing up to 50 feet tall and only about four-feet wide. My plan is to plant as many interesting trees, hedges, espaliers, and shrubs as possible in this space.
Enjoy these photos.
I am so pleased with how this botanical maze is coming along. This maze is located in a three acre paddock – among the most beautiful green spaces here at my farm. On this day, my gardeners and outdoor grounds crew planted these tall, slender American sweetgums. This tree shows off green foliage in the warmer months and a kaleidoscope of autumnal tones in the fall, including vibrant orange, red, purple, and yellow.
Earlier in the day, I directed where the trees would go and marked the spots with small bamboo stakes.
When it came time to planting, my foreman Chhiring uses the end of a shovel to mark exactly where the hole will be dug. The stake marker is the center. Moises pokes through the soil with the shovel to indicate the circle for the hole.
Then the team begins digging. The holes must be pretty wide – it should be at least two to five times as wide as the root ball.
The hole sides should also be slanted. Digging a wide planting hole helps to provide the best opportunity for roots to expand into its new growing environment.
It is very important to feed the plants and trees. I always say, “if you eat, your plants should eat.” Once the hole is dug, it is amended with fertilizer. We use a quality food with mycorrhizal fungi, which helps transplant survival and increases water and nutrient absorption.
Meanwhile, Moises begins removing the plastic wrap around the ball of the tree.
Domi estimates how deep the hole should be. Planting at the proper depth is another crucial part to planting healthy trees. A good rule of thumb is to plant it to the same height as it was in the pot. Planting a tree too deep can kill it. Plant it only at its flare – the bulge just above the root system where the roots begin to branch away from the trunk.
Here, Domi checks the hole to see if it was dug deep enough – looks good.
Before rolling the tree into the hole, Chhiring uses heavy duty wire cutters to cut the wire cage that is wrapped around the root ball.
If left untouched, the metal cage could reduce the ability of a tree’s roots to grow out into the surrounding soil. Some gardeners will leave the wire in the ground, but I prefer to remove the cages of all the trees that are planted at the farm, so there is nothing blocking its root growth.
Slowly the crew rotates the tree on its root ball closer to the hole. When moving heavy trees, only hold it by the root ball and the base of the trunk – never by its branches, which could easily break.
Here is the sweetgum in its new home. The Slender Silhouette sweetgum is highly adaptable, drought-resistant, and easy-to-grow, but it does best in well-drained soil where it can get full sun.
Once again, the team measures to make sure the tree is positioned perfectly in line.
Here, Pasang unravels the burlap covering that is also wrapped around the the root ball to keep it intact.
Brian stands several feet away from the tree to also make sure the tree itself is straight and that its best side is facing out.
Using the burlap, Chhiring and Domi adjust the tree slightly.
Finally, Chhiring cuts and removes the burlap.
And then Pasang backfills the hole. And remember, not too deeply – leave it “bare to the flare.”
Chhiring uses the end of the shovel to tamp down on the soil. He also gently steps around the root ball to remove any air pockets.
Domi uses a hard rake to level the soil and tidy the tree pit.
This sweetgum looks great. When planting any tree or shrub, always consider the size of a mature specimen when selecting where to plant it. All of these trees will thrive in the maze. We still have lots of work to do, but I am so excited to see it all done. Please see more of my maze, including sweeping drone shots from above, on my newest show “Martha Gardens” now on Roku. You’ll love it.