How to Grow Sourwood – Oxydendrum

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Sourwood, Oxydendrum, is a hardy, slow-growing deciduous tree also known as sorrel tree.

Sourwood has thick, fissured bark, long slender, pointed leaves with a sour taste. Small white flower bloom on semi-drooping panicles.

Sourwood is often planted as a background for the shrubbery border. Its bright, glossy green leaves turn a brilliant scarlet in fall.

Sourwood thrives best in rather acid soil in a partially shaded situation. It is propagated by seeds.

Sourwood tree, Oxydendrum arboreum

Get to know Sourwood

  • Plant type: Deciduous tree
  • Growing Zones and range: 5-9
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Height and spread: To 50 feet (15m) tall and 20 feet (6m) wide; grows in a pyramidal form
  • Foliage: Leaves turn scarlet in fall
  • Flowers: White flowers in pendulous clusters
  • Bloom time: Midsummer
  • Uses: Specimen tree
  • Botanical name: Oxydendrum arboreum
  • Common name: Sourwood, sorrel tree
  • Origin: Eastern North America

Where to plant Sourwood

  • Plant sourwood in full sun. Flowering and fall colors are less dramatic in shade.
  • Grow sourwood in moist, well-drained, humus-rich, acid soil.

When to plant Sourwood

  • Transplant small balled-and-burlapped or container-grown plants in winter or early spring.
  • Plant sourwood in its permanent positions; it is difficult to move.

Planting and spacing Sourwood

  • Space sourwood 15 to 20 feet apart; the tree grows 25 to 35 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.

How to water and feed Sourwood

  • Keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize sourwood by adding aged compost to the dripline at least once a year.

Sourwood care

  • Sourwood rarely needs pruning.

Sourwood common problems

  • Sourwood has no serious pests or diseases.

Sourwood propagation

  • Sow seed indoors in spring.
  • Take cuttings in midsummer; use short side shoot cuttings 2 to 3 inches long with a heel of old wood. Bottom heat promotes rooting.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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