Kristen vs. The Sweet Gum Trees

I love nature. When we bought our little yellow house in April last year, I was ecstatic from the pictures of the exterior to see several large, old trees in the backyard. I’ve always romanticized the idea of living in a neighborhood with older trees. Something about it makes me feel like we’re doing a slightly better job coexisting with nature than those new suburbs with their perfectly manicured lawns devoid of any signs of the forest that once stood in their place.

Sure, we’d have our work cut out for us in the fall, what with all the leaves that are sure to fall from these gentle giants. A small price to pay in my opinion for their comforting shade in the summer.

What I was not prepared for was waging war with the “seed balls of death.”

We have sweet gum trees. They are evil.

sweet gum devils.jpg

Apparently, sweet gum trees have a complicated history. In the 1940’s they were among the most popular types of trees for any landscaper. They grow relatively fast, are symmetrical and therefore pleasing to the eye, and were a good replacement for other types of trees affected by diseases. Today, the sweet gum tree is constantly featured on┬ámany top ten lists of the worst trees to plant in your yard. I agree with them.

Sweet gum trees are, in fact, very beautiful. Their large star-shaped leaves provide abundant shade in the summer, and a lovely canopy to catch any moderate rainfall. In the fall, we were treated to a show when these leaved turned yellow, then purple, then red, and remained on the branches long after the rest of the leaves fell. My problem with these trees comes from the way they seed.

Their siege began in September. Not only did enough leaves fall to completely cover the yard in a solid 5″ layer of foliage, we were constantly bombard by the spiky brown balls pictured above. They covered the deck, the yard, the driveway, and the road. They worked their way into everything: my car, the grill, the front porch, and, on one occasion, Izzie’s foot.

One morning in October, after a particularly windy night, I walked out to my car and nearly slipped and fell thanks to the hundreds of little seed pods suddenly lining the walkway. It’s like trying to walk on marbles. Not to mention, I was awoken many times during the night to the sound of these evil balls pelting the roof, which, of course, completely spooked Ren into a nearly hysterical state. I was not amused.

Now that spring is attempting to arrive – winter won’t let go of Maryland without a fight it seems – we made a last ditch effort to combat these demonic seed balls. Sean and I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon raking, scooping, sweeping, and picking these brown menaces out of every nook and cranny we could find. It was enough to completely fill six large yard waste bags.


Looking up, I can already see the process starting again. Hundreds of now-green seed pods are beginning to form, biding their time until the attack us again. Hopefully by then we will be in Georgia and the sweet gum trees won’t have a chance to exact their sweet revenge. Hopefully.

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