Also known as the black tupelo, sour gum, and pepperidge, the black gum makes a beautiful specimen tree in transition zone yards. The leaves are a glossy dark green in summer, turning gorgeous shades of orange, scarlet, or purple in the fall. The black gum is one of the first trees to change color in autumn. Female trees grow clusters of fruits that turn dark blue in the fall and are enjoyed by many birds. The bark of mature trees is gray and deeply textured, resembling alligator hide.
The black gum tree is native to the eastern United States and thrives in well-drained, loamy, acid soils. Acidify your soil before planting by working in peat moss or ammonium sulfate. To help a young black gum tree get established, feed it in the spring with a plant food made for acid-loving plants, such as Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron Plant Food.
Whether you plant a black gum by itself as a specimen tree or at the edge of a woodland garden, be sure to allow plenty of room for growth to avoid overcrowding. Black gums prefer full sun, but will be OK with partial shade.
Black gum trees have a pyramidal shape when young, then spread out as they mature. Young trees can be shaped by pruning in the fall. At maturity, black gums may reach 50 feet tall or more, with a spread of 20 to 30 feet. Their branches are generally right-angled, although some may be pendulous (hanging downward). The black gum is considered one of the best shade trees in America.