How to Plant and Grow Sumac

Sumac shrubs are autumn showstoppers with high wildlife value.

Sumac shrubs provide intriguing visuals throughout most of the year, whether they’re growing along roadsides or planted as garden accents. Large flower clusters in spring are followed by brilliantly colored fall foliage in orange, flame red, and burgundy. The flower clusters produce berrylike drupes that turn red in autumn and last well into winter where they serve as tasty snacks for wildlife.

Sumac Overview

Genus Name Rhus
Common Name Sumac
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width 6 to 15 feet
Flower Color Green, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Chartreuse/Gold
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division, Stem Cuttings

Where to Plant Sumac

Sumac is highly versatile; it can grow in any type of well-drained soil, even dry to coarse soil that is slightly acidic to neutral (pH 6.5 to 7.0). You can plant it in full sun or partial shade but it will grow taller in full sun. When selecting a planting location, keep in mind that sumac spreads easily, typically forming a dense thicket of growth via underground rhizomes. Especially larger species may be difficult to control.

How and When to Plant Sumac

Plant sumac in the spring so it has the whole growing season to get established. Dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and at least twice as wide. Place the shrub in the hole and backfill with the original soil so the top roots are level or slightly above the soil surface. Tamp down the soil and water it slowly and deeply. Mulching around the soil retains soil moisture and suppresses weeds. Spacing depends on variety so consult your plant tag before selecting a site for multiple plants.

Sumac Care Tips


Plant sumac in full sun. Some species tolerate part shade, but limited exposure to sunlight may lead to looser plant habits and muted coloring. Golden-leaf cultivars such as 'Tiger Eyes' (a staghorn sumac) need some shelter from the afternoon sun to prevent leaf burn. If this plant grows in full sun, its brightly colored foliage may show evidence of bleaching.

Soil and Water

Gardeners often choose sumac because it tolerates a wide range of soil types—as long as it's not poorly drained. Saturated soil may lead to root rot.

Like most plants, sumac is happy with about an inch of water per week, especially during its first year in your garden. Once established, sumac will usually find natural rainfall sufficient. Potted sumac will need watering more frequently, however.

Temperature and Humidity 

The cold-hardiness of sumac depends on the variety and its native habitat. Smooth sumac and staghorn sumac are both tough shrubs that can be grown as low as in zone 3, whereas lemonade berry sumac needs a milder climate. All sumacs are well-adapted to humid conditions.


Sumac does not require any fertilizer. It can even grow in poor soil. The only exception is potted sumac. Due to the frequent watering, the nutrients wash out and need to be replenished. During the growing season, feed the plant about once a month with a complete fertilizer, diluted to half the strength.


Sumac does not require pruning to shape it; just remove any dead, dying, or diseased branches in the early spring. Also cut off any unwanted suckers as soon as they emerge.

Potting and Repotting Sumac 

Most sumacs are too tall for container planting, with the exception of ‘Tiger Eyes’, a staghorn sumac variety that only grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide and spreads slowly. The pot should have a capacity of at least 7 gallons and large drainage holes. Fill it with well-draining potting soil and water it regularly (unlike sumac in the landscape, potted plants dry out fast and need watering).

Pests and Problems 

When grown in its native habitat, sumac is generally not affected by serious diseases, but it can get leaf spots, powdery mildew, cankers, and armillaria root rot.  Insects that feed on sumac include aphids, black scale, and psyllids (plant lice).

How to Propagate Sumac

The easiest way to propagate sumac is cuttings. Take a 6-inch cutting and dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder. Insert it about halfway in a 4-inch pot filled with damp potting mix. Keep the cutting moist in a moderately warm, not hot location away from intense sunlight. When you see new growth, roots have formed. Wait for the sapling to grow into a vigorous plant with the roots filling the whole pot before transplanting it into the landscape.

Types of Sumac

Because sumac comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, it makes a great companion plant in the garden. Selections range from low-growing spreading types that work as underplantings for large low-maintenance areas to large plants that create garden focal points. Most varieties display fernlike compound leaves that turn the plants into softly textured landscape accents.

All sumac varieties bloom, although the smaller ones bear insignificant flowers. Larger varieties make up for the small bloom size by displaying big white clusters of petals loved by pollinators. After the flowers fade, they form clusters of brightly colored fuzzy red fruit called drupes. But the real show doesn't begin until fall when sumac's foliage displays cover hillsides in glowing tones of orange, red, burgundy, and gold.

Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac

Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac
Denny Schrock

Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' brings the fall garden to life with its outstanding fall foliage in shades of red, orange, and gold. During the rest of the growing season, its deeply dissected foliage gives this large shrub a fernlike appearance. Plants grow 10-12 feet tall and wide, sending up suckers from the roots to develop large colonies if left unchecked. Zones 3-8.

'Prairie Flame' Sumac

Prairie Flame Sumac
Denny Schrock

Rhus copallina latifolia 'Prairie Flame' is a dwarf selection of shining sumac introduced by Morton Arboretum. It grows just 5-7 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide. Prairie Flame is a male clone, so it develops panicles of yellow-green flowers in summer but does not fruit. The glossy green leaves turn purple-red to orange in autumn. Zones 4-9.

Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac
Denny Schrock

Rhus aromatica is a species native to North America that forms a dense, low-growing colony ideal as a groundcover or low hedge. The shiny green foliage turns bright red-purple in autumn. It grows 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 3-9.

'Gro-Low' Sumac

Gro-Low Sumac
Peter Krumhardt

Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low' makes for a great groundcover. It has shiny green foliage (that looks like poison ivy) and clusters of red berries in autumn and winter. It grows 2 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Zones 3-9.

Shining Sumac

Shining Sumac
Denny Schrock

Rhus copallina is also known as winged sumac because its glossy compound leaves have a wing along the central leaf vein. It can become a large shrub or small tree 10-20 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide. Like most other sumacs, it has excellent fall color and spreads by underground rhizomes, but it is less aggressive than smooth sumac. Zones 4-9.

Smooth Sumac

smooth sumac
Adam Albright

Rhus glabra is a North American native shrub that bears dark green foliage and clusters of fuzzy, rust-red fruits in fall. The leaves turn bright shades of red and orange in autumn. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-8.

Lemonade Berry

Lemonade Berry
Denny Schrock

Rhus integrifolia, also known as lemonade sumac, lemonade berry, or lemonadeberry, is a Southern California native plant that is extremely drought-tolerant. It reaches up to 10 feet tall inland but may remain under 3 feet tall near the coast. The shrub spreads 10-15 feet wide. Clumps of pinkish-white flowers develop into reddish-pink fruits. Zones 9-10.

Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac
Jason Donnelly

Rhus typhina colonizes to form a grove of small trees or large shrubs 15-25 feet tall and wide. It gets its common name from the appearance of bare winter branches. The forked shoots are covered with hairs, resembling deer antlers in the velvet stage. Female plants develop panicles of red fruits that persist through winter. Fall color is excellent. Zones 4-8.

'Tiger Eyes' Sumac

Tiger Eyes Sumac
Marty Baldwin

Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes' is an exceptionally showy selection of staghorn sumac that features chartreuse foliage all spring and summer. In autumn, the leaves turn brilliant orange. The leaves, stems, and berries are all fuzzy. It grows 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between sumac and poison sumac?

    Sumac stands out by its bright red fall color and distinctive red seed cones whereas poison sumac has white berries. The leaves of poison sumac have smooth edges whereas those of sumac are toothed. The location can only give you clues: Poison sumac grows mostly in wet, swampy areas, and sumac grows anywhere, including in dry sites, along roadsides, etc. Sumac grows in colonies and poison sumac is more often a solitary shrub.

  • How long does sumac live?

    The lifespan of most sumac types rarely exceeds 50 years. However, the shrub perpetuates itself by spreading via suckers that form new plants.

  • Are sumac trees invasive?

    Although native plants are usually not considered invasive, sumac is problematic because of its tendency to spread aggressively. If left unchecked, sumac sends up suckers that can form dense colonies, shading out other plants. Sumac spreads mostly via its roots and some sumacs also spread via seeds. Deadhead the spent blooms if self-seeding is a concern.

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