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How to Grow: Sycamore
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Grown mostly for its large stature, attractive, peeling, cream colored bark.
Mature Height x Spread
70 to 90 feet x 60 to 70 feet
native, drought tolerant, deer resistant
This is a magnificent deciduous tree in the landscape. Not only is it tall, wide and has beautiful branches, the exfoliating bark leaves the trunk and older branches with colors of yellow, red and tan depending on the selection. You can’t miss this tree in the landscape. There is a large sycamore growing near a stream close to my house that I marvel at each morning as I drive by. The leaves are large and maple-like in appearance, but lack fall coloring. The fruit balls can hang onto the tree into winter. The tree is salt, drought and air pollution tolerant, but generally too large for use as a street tree unless given ample space. Newer selections have good disease resistance.
When, Where and How to Plant
Sycamore trees are hardy to zone 5, so are best grown in warmer parts of New England. Purchase trees from local nurseries and plant in spring to early fall in a full to part sun on well-drained, humus-rich, consistently moist soils. Space trees 50 or more feet apart.
Keep young trees well watered. Older trees are drought tolerant. Create a mulch ring around the base of young trees planted in lawns covered with bark mulch and wood chips to maintain soil moisture conditions and to help reduce damage to the trunk due to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Fertilize young trees with a tree plant food. Older trees usually don’t need fertilization.
Regional Advice and Care
American sycamore (P. occidentalis) trees are more cold hardy than the London plane tree (P. x acerifolia). However, London plane trees are preferred for their tolerance to various diseases, particularly anthracnose. They also are more adaptable to being heavily pruned to fit in a landscape. Otherwise, prune trees only to remove dead, diseased or broken branches.
Companion Planting and Design
Plant sycamore trees along a streambed, the edge of woodlands, in a park or in a meadow. These large trees need room to grow to look their best. Their roots can lift up sidewalks and pavement, so generally are not used along streets. However, because of their tolerance to pollution, they are good city trees, as long as they have enough root and top space. The fruits can cause a litter problem with its dropping fruits depending on where the tree is planted.
Most of the selections available are of the London plane tree. ‘Bloodgood’ has good tolerance to anthracnose disease and tolerates heat, drought and soil compaction once established. ‘Columbia’ and ‘Liberty’ tolerate anthracnose and powdery mildew diseases and are tolerant of heavy pruning. ‘Yarwood’ is a recent new introduction that has good disease resistance, fast growth and colorful bark that starts exfoliating at a younger age than other introductions.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.