My gardening clothes stink and I’m a happy woman! I’ve been pruning a Rhus trilobata, commonly called skunkbush sumac. Its name tells the story.
I should have left my
malodorous garments outside rather than carrying that pungent scent into the
house. Oh well, I don’t care. I’m happy because I’m pruning. It takes so little
to put a smile on my face.
Sumacs are versatile plants.
They are hardy to cold. They are drought-tolerant and thrive in any soil with
good drainage. They are bee-friendly and rabbit-resistant. They put out a brilliant
fall color display. Unfortunately, most also produce suckers.
Skunkbush is a Nevada native
plant. It is deciduous (loses its leaves). It has a clumping habit that I
battle each spring by pruning off lower suckers and branches to maintain a
Japanese “cloud” effect. I love when I have carefully trimmed it to my
preferred flattened umbrella shape.
After many years, it has
grown to just over six feet in height with about the same spread. I treat this
plant as a specimen focal point in the yard up close to the house. In groups
however, it can make a nice low hedge. It is good for erosion control as well. Besides,
it turns a lovely red in the fall.
A variety of skunkbush that
is especially appealing for the home landscape is the “Gro-Low.” It only grows
18 inches tall, but spreads to eight feet. This drought-tolerant ground cover
works in full or part sun. While its foliage is a shiny dark green in summer,
its bright burgundy-red fall color is stunning.
Rhus typhina, staghorn sumac, is another common landscape plant. It
too is deciduous, but it grows 15 to 20 feet tall. I have chosen not to grow
this sumac because it suckers so profusely. It is hard to control. However, I
love the fuzzy growth on the branches similar to the velvet antler stage of a
deer. Its four- to eight-inch upright fruiting structures are a deep burgundy
and last through the whole winter providing great winter color and interest. If
I were to grow this species, I would keep it in a container to control the
Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ or Tiger Eyes, grows only three to six
feet tall and as wide. It suckers minimally. Its purplish branches are topped
with yellow-gold leaves for summer that change to orange and scarlet in the
So many plant varieties and
only one landscape!
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension
educator emerita of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.