The sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua), also known as a liquid amber tree, is a fast-growing shade tree. The tree has a pyramid shape that becomes rounded as the tree matures. It has dark green, star-shaped leaves that turn colors—yellow, purple, and red—in late fall. It has a corky bark and bears hard, spiked fruit. The tree grows 60 to 70 feet tall, and its canopy spreads up to 45 feet. Regular pruning is essential, particularly if the tree is in an urban area.

When to Prune

Around April, you need to cut frost-damaged branches. By waiting for the leaves to start appearing, you can tell which sections need to be removed. In the summer, remove the low side branches. In the fall and winter, remove any branches that have become too large.

Preparing to Prune

Before beginning to prune, gather your essential tools. A ladder is required to reach higher branches, and you need safety glasses to protect your eyes and garden gloves to protect your hands. Other necessary tools may include a chainsaw, a pole saw pruner, hand pruners, and lopping shears. Finally, you’ll need pruning paint. Scaling the wound with paint adds protection from boring insects that may enter open wounds in the tree.

Ready to Prune

Before beginning to prune, step about 50 feet away from the tree and examine the tree to select which limbs need to be cut. Follow these steps when pruning your tree:

 Cut smaller limbs (suckers) growing from the root base down to below the ground level. Suckers shoot out from the base of a sweet gum tree and should be removed as they appear.
 Remove dead limbs, split and broken branches, and branches that rub together or have insects.
 Prune large limbs to the collar (the swelling at the base of the branch where the branch meets the trunk).
 Step away from the tree to examine your work. If the tree has the shape you want, you’re done. If not, keep pruning.
 After you have finished pruning, spray the cut areas or wounds in the tree with pruning paint.


Don’t trim a sweet gum tree until it is two years old or prune it in freezing weather. Avoid “topping” the tree, and don’t cut the “leader” or main branch growing in the middle of the tree. Plant a sweet gum tree a sufficient distance (at least 50 feet) from power lines or structures, and far enough from a driveway to avoid root damage.

If a tree is interfering with a power line or tall structure, call a tree trimming service in Buford, GA, for assistance. Because electricity is easily carried through sap-filled tree limbs, pruning the tree yourself could be dangerous.

Professional Help

You can prune sweet gum trees yourself, but, better yet, you can contact a professional tree trimming service to do the work for you. It’s safer and takes a lot less of your time and energy.