Sumac fluffy, or deer-horned

If you have never met this bright, spectacular tree, autumn is the time to get to know it. Before you fluffy sumac, or deer-horned (Rhus typhina) – one of the main favorites of the autumn garden. What kind of plant it is, where it came from and how to grow it in your garden, we tell in the article.

Sumac fluffy, or deer-horned

Bright, blazing crimson foliage is the main decoration of the deer-horned sumach

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What kind of plant is it and where does it come from

Deer-horned sumac (R. typhina) belongs to the sumach family and is a low multi-stemmed tree or shrub. In nature, it grows up to 10–12 m in height. Garden forms rarely exceed 4-6 m.

The homeland of the plant is the eastern parts of North America, where it grows in abundance on the dry edges of deciduous forests, roadsides, and low mountain slopes. Sumy came to Europe at the beginning of the 17th century and gardeners immediately liked its unusual appearance.

In spring, the plant expels thick shoots covered with a delicate brown-gray down. They resemble young deer horns – hence its specific name “deer-horned”.

Young shoots of sumach

Young shoots of sumach – soft and fluffy, like deer antlers

Large odd-pinnate compound leaves of sumach reach a length of 50-60 cm and resemble frond palms or ferns. Each leaf consists of long, serrated leaves with a dark green velvety surface (from 11 to 31). The peak of the decorativeness of the shrub is in autumn, when the leaves acquire a stunning crimson color and seem to glow from the inside. Moreover, before turning red, the foliage changes the entire palette of shades – from golden yellow to fiery scarlet.

Sumach bush in autumn

Sumach bush in the autumn garden looks like a flaming bonfire

Sumach flowers are no less original. In June, thick red candles 15–20 cm high appear on the tops of the shoots, consisting of many small flowers, exuding a fresh cucumber-vinegar aroma. For this smell, sumac got its second name – vinegar tree.

Sumy blossoms

In place of the candles, over time, dense clusters of berries form, decorating the crown until winter

Sumakh is a plant with dioecious polygamy. This means that it forms female and male flowers separately. The first are the same candles that turn into clusters of red berries, the second are loose yellowish-green inflorescences necessary for pollination. On one tree, they are not found in their pure form, but the plant can form hermaphrodite (bisexual) flowers.

The fruit of the vinegar tree is edible. In the United States, they are still used to make homemade soft drinks that taste like lemonade. But most often the berries are left on the tree – as a winter decoration and a treat for birds.

  Sumy in winter

Thanks to dense panicles with red berries, even in winter, sumac looks decorative

How to plant sumac

Autumn is the best time to plant a decorative tree.

It is advisable for him to choose a place in the garden that is sunny, sheltered from the wind, with well-drained soil, since he does not accept root trapping. Sumac is a true Spartan in other growing conditions. It will grow both on fertile loams and on poor sandy or stony soils, an alkaline and slightly acidic environment is suitable for it, it is resistant to diseases and pests, easily tolerates heat, drought, and frosty winters. And if it freezes, it always recovers.

When planting, you need to consider two important features of the plant.

  1. Sumac gives abundant growth. And if you do not want it to spread throughout the garden and displace other crops, immediately provide for restrictors for root growth. To do this, a special root barrier or a plastic border is driven into the soil to a depth of at least 50 cm. This is done along the perimeter of the crown at a distance of 1.5–2 m from the trunk, so that the roots have a place to grow.
  2. Sumakh is a dioecious culture. If you want a lot of fruit, plant at least two vinegar trees nearby.

When planting in the fall, it is advisable to insulate the root zone with fallen leaves, spruce branches, so that the plant is guaranteed to overwinter and begin.

Young vinegar tree

The vinegar tree grows very quickly, annually increasing in height and width by 30-40 cm

Features of tree care

Another great thing about vinegar is that it requires little or no maintenance.

Water it only in case of extreme heat and prolonged drought. The plant also does not need feeding. Although, if you see that the growth is insufficient, in the spring you can pour humus or plant compost into the ground around the trunk. This will give the tree a good start.

Sumac does not require annual pruning, although it is not afraid of it, since it grows quickly. Usually in the spring they carry out sanitary cleaning of the crown, removing frozen branches. And they also form a plant by shortening too protruding shoots.

Due to its high plasticity, the vinegar tree can be grown on a trunk, formed in the form of a multi-stem tree, a shrub.

Since the plant is prone to overgrowth formation, it is not recommended to loosen the soil in the root zone. By damaging the roots, you stimulate the emergence of young trees. By the way, the same can be said about excessive feeding. The better you take care of the tree, the more abundant the growth will be.

In order not to loosen the soil, it is best to turf or mulch the root zone with decorative gravel. If shoots appear and need to be removed, cut off the shoots at the level with the soil, but do not dig them out, otherwise you will get several instead of one tree.

Vinegar tree in the garden

The best way to avoid overgrowth is to cover the trunk circle with grass and keep the plant “from hand to mouth”

How to propagate sumac

The vinegar tree belongs to a group of so-called walking plants. This means that the main way of its reproduction is by root shoots. The offspring that appeared in the spring forms its own root system by the fall. It can be safely separated from the mother plant and transplanted.

How to use in landscaping

The deer-horned sumac looks most advantageous in single plantings. A low tree or shrub with large exotic leaves and bizarrely curved stems can be planted on the lawn in front of the house, in the patio, against the background of an evergreen hedge of coniferous plants.

Deer-horned sumac

Reindeer sumac in the landscape design of the city courtyard

Several plants planted by a group also look beautiful. In this case, you can also count on a generous berry harvest.

Blooming sumac

Three sumacs on the lawn make up a very picturesque group

You can combine the vinegar tree with other garden trees, shrubs, perennials.

  • The unusual appearance of the North American guest will be emphasized by varietal conifers with a creeping crown, as well as small-leaved plants – birch, Thunberg barberry, scumpia, cotoneaster.
  • Autumn crimson color will effectively “shoot” against the background of evergreen plantations with dark green and blue needles.
  • The purple crown looks picturesque, surrounded by dark purple asters and yellow chrysanthemums.

Vinegar tree
Vinegar tree

Vinegar tree in garden compositions

Due to the rapid growth of creeping rhizomes, sumac is used to stabilize the soil by planting it on slopes. The plant also looks organic on an alpine slide, where it can successfully replace another favorite of the autumn garden – Japanese maple.

Sumy on a rocky slope

Stony slopes are closest to the natural habitat of sumac

Decorative forms and varieties

In addition to the species Rhus typhina, several decorative forms of this plant are grown in the gardens.

Noteworthy is the vinegar tree Rhus typhina laciniata with serrated leaves. In autumn, it turns red, orange, gold, but the rest of the warm season looks decorative – deeply dissected foliage gives the shrub the appearance of a tree fern.

Ornamental form of Rhus typhina laciniata
Ornamental form of Rhus typhina laciniata

Decorative form of sumac Rhus typhina laciniata

No less interesting and variegated variety with yellow-green leaves Tiger Eyes (“tiger’s eye”). It is more capricious: it loves warmth, it grows slowly, it can burn in the bright sun – therefore it is better to plant it in partial shade. In the spring and summer, the foliage retains its chartreuse color, and in the fall it turns bright orange.


Sumakh “tiger eye” in garden design

If you are interested in this plant, it is not too late to plant it. Young seedlings take root well after the autumn planting and in spring they will delight you with fluffy “deer horns”. And by the fall, a real fire of yellow, red and orange leaves will blaze in your garden.

Video on how to plant sumac