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Made to be shade 

With black gum, planting bigger is not better 

WHEN PLANTING A NEW tree, choosing bigger is not always better. One tree that is best planted when young or smaller is the black gum or black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). Native to Kentucky, this tree is best purchased container grown and planted in the fall or mid-to late winter for the quickest establishment. 

In urban areas, it can grow from 30–50 feet tall. Its shape is pyramidal when young and has a rounded crown when mature. Summer foliage is glossy green; in fall, it’s a spectacular scarlet, which starts early and holds on late. It’s the perfect choice for a shade tree. 

Native to moist areas, it can tolerate wet and poorly drained soils, but also can adapt to tolerate heat and drought. It prefers to grow in full sun to partial shade. The flowers are not showy, but abundant and an excellent nectar source for bees. A small, dark blue drupe may be produced on female plants, making an attractive food source for birds and wildlife. 

There are several named varieties of black gum available, but even the species is spectacular. 

Wildfire, Firestarter, Afterburner, Red Rage and Green Gable are just a few. There are subtle differences in height, width and shape among them, so check out the specifics before choosing one. If you want to buy a new tree, but need a smaller starting option, go for a young black gum. You will be rewarded with a vigorous, beautiful shade tree for years to come. 

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207 

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