The majestic American Sycamore Tree is the largest deciduous tree in North America, growing to a height of around 75 – 100 feet tall. These trees also have peeling bark that reveals a lighter inner bark once the outer bark peels away.
The leaves of the sycamore tree are big approximately 5 to 10 inches in diameter and divide into three to five lobes with coarsely serrated edges. The tree’s seed pods can also be used to identify sycamores.
They’re also easy to identify thanks to the sycamore tree fruit which are pods with a fuzzy, spherical appearance. They’re approximately 1.5 inches in diameter and are also known as sycamore tree balls.
Deep, wet, rich soils are excellent for sycamore tree growth. Late winter or early spring are the ideal times to plant one. Plus, they have a rapid rate of development and a high tolerance for wind, rain, wet soil, and even drought.
The sycamore tree provides excellent shade. The extensive, shallow roots of sycamore trees, which are generally huge, can cause damage to pavement, underground pipelines, and other things because of their size.
Botanical Name: Platanus occidentalis
Common Name: Sycamore, American sycamore, buttonball tree, buttonwood, western planetree, American planetree
Plant Type: Tree
Hardiness Zones: 4 – 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Partial, full
Soil Type: Moist, well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Height: Up to 75 – 100 feet tall
Native Area: North America
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Sycamore Trees
- The American Sycamore Tree is the largest deciduous tree in North America, growing to a height of up to 100 feet.
- They grow best in full sun and are adaptable to a wide variety of soil types and pH levels. Maintain even moisture when watering your plant.
- The sycamore tree is adaptable to a wide range of climates all the way from USDA zones 4 to 9. This means that it’s unaffected by humidity, and thrives in both cooler and warmer zones.
- The sycamore isn’t a heavy feeder. To give it a boost, apply a complete fertilizer in early spring.
Sycamore Tree Care
The sycamore tree tolerates wet areas better than many other trees since it thrives along streams in the wild. Additionally, it can endure some of the air pollution that is common in cities. But if you plant one, make sure you have plenty of room to handle the tree’s eventual mature size.
When there is a prolonged drought, make a plan to water your American sycamore tree and feed it in the spring. Pruning is typically not a difficult task. However, you must be cautious about infections and pests.
While American sycamore trees can be a lovely specimen planting and shade tree for your yard, they do have certain drawbacks. Without adequate freedom to spread, their roots can push up driveways and sidewalks and even cause structural damage to buildings.
Plus, sycamore trees produce a lot of waste when their leaves, seed pods, and bark are shed. If there are seed pods in a high-traffic area, cleanup will need to be done on a frequent basis because they can be uncomfortable to step on.
Your beautiful sycamore tree will grow best in full sun, though it can take slight shade as well.
Sycamore trees are adaptable and can handle a wide variety of soil types and pH levels. You can easily use some regular garden foam if it has decent drainage.
Keep the soil evenly moist for the best results. What’s best is that a mature American sycamore tree can withstand drought.
Temperature and Humidity
The sycamore tree is adaptable to a wide range of climates all the way from USDA zones 4 to 9. This means that it’s unaffected by humidity, and thrives in both cooler and warmer zones.
The sycamore isn’t a heavy feeder. To give it a boost, apply a complete fertilizer in early spring.
The package’s directions will specify how much fertilizer to use based on the size of the tree and should be closely followed. If you don’t follow the directions, you could over-fertilize your plant and risk burning it.
Pruning the sycamore tree should be done only after limbs have been damaged. The damaged limbs should be trimmed all the way down to the collar. As soon as you notice any branches that are dead or diseased, trim them.
Only in those rare cases where a branch grows substantially upright, establishing a tight crotch with the trunk, can corrective pruning be necessary. Instability results from this angle.
It is advisable to let experts do this kind of pruning. Fortunately, American sycamore trees typically develop limbs that are fairly horizontal.
The American sycamore is a hardy tree, meaning overwintering requires no special care. In addition, it is really pretty beautiful in the winter.
The upper canopy has white bark and geometric branches, both of which are typically obscured prior to leaf drop.
Types of Sycamore Trees
Platanus occidentalis is one of the two parents of the popular hybrid London planetree (Platanus acerifolia), the other parent being Platanus orientalis. The species’ name refers to its leaves, which resemble maples.
This tree is often confused with a completely different plant called sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) which derives its name from its resemblance to the American sycamore tree.
Some other common types of sycamore planetree cultivars include:
- Platanus × acerifolia ‘Bloodgood’: This cultivar is more resistant to anthracnose disease than the species
- Platanus occidentalis ‘Howard’: This variety is loved for the color of its new leaves which are bright yellow in color. They shade in summer making this variety even more special.
- Platanus orientalis ‘Digitata’: This specie has stunning palmate leaves that are deeply dissected.
How to Plant and Grow Sycamore Tree
How to Grow Sycamore Trees From Seed
If your sycamore isn’t a cultivar, you can start it from seed in the pods. Wait until the pods fall in the spring so that any necessary stratification will be handled by nature.
To get the seed out of a pod, crack it open. Remove the fuzz that is stuck to the seed and then pre-soak it for a full day. After that pour a seed-starting medium into a planting container and lightly moisten it.
Plant seeds and cover with seed-starting material ¼ inch deep. And then maintain a medium moisture level. In 15 days, seeds will begin to sprout. After the risk of frost has passed, plant them outdoors.
How to Propagate Sycamore Trees
Sycamore trees can be grown through seed or softwood cuttings. However, if your plant is a cultivar, the only way to multiply it is through cuttings taken in the first few weeks of summer.
Using cutting is a simple method to grow a sycamore cultivar. Start by picking a sharp knife to make your cut. Pick a branch that is just beginning to grow, it should have two pairs of leaves and a pair of bottom buds. Once you’ve selected one, cut an 8 to 10-inch shoot.
Fill a planting container halfway with potting soil, and make a hole in this soil with a pencil. Remove any leaves that are growing out of the branch’s base but don’t cut the buds.
Next, apply a rooting hormone to the bottom of the cutting and place it in the hole. Give the potting soil some water and place the cutting in a warm, protected area with indirect light.
Maintain a moist potting soil until the cutting grows roots. The ideal method for doing this is with a plastic tent to maintain humidity.
A great DIY way to do this is to put a small stick into the planting container, and then cover it with a clear plastic bag. Lift the plastic to spray the potting soil on a regular basis.
Remove the plastic tent once the cutting has sprouted roots that are about 1 inch long. Continue to keep the soil equally moist. After the risk of frost has passed, plant the rooted cutting in your yard the following spring.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Sycamore Trees
The American sycamore tree is one of many plants that can be infested with aphids. Aphids can infiltrate any landscape, but they are most prevalent in settings where chemical use has reduced aphid predators.
When it comes to plant diseases, anthracnose and powdery mildew are also a threat to American sycamore. Protect the tree’s bark from mechanical damage, such as lawnmowers or trimmers, as this can create entry points for diseases.
Avoid planting other trees or structures too close to the Sycamore, as they can compete for resources or cause shade-related issues
Plus, it’s important to note that your plants are inherently more vulnerable to such fungal infections if you live in a hot, humid area like the Southeast. If that’s the problem you’re facing, then consider growing the anthracnose-resistant cultivar Platanus acerifolia ‘Bloodgood’.
Other Tree Guides from Planet Natural:
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.