Liquidambar Bonsai Care [Liquidambar Styraciflua]

Liquidamber Bonsai is a deciduous tree distinguished by its display of different colors like shades of Red, Shades of Oranges, Burgundy purple, and Yellow during Autumn. This tree species is popular among growers and indoor tree lovers because of its attractive colors making it one of their top choices when it comes to indoor decoration.

Although not all Liquidamber species are uniquely identified with their colorful display of flowers during Autumn: and also, not all of the species can be used for Bonsai. Read this article to learn all there is to know about the Liquidambar tree, as well as how to Bonsai them.

SpeciesLiquidambar Styraciflua
Average Height60.00 to 80.00 feet
Average Spread40.00 to 60.00 feet
Origin CountryEastern United States, Mexico
Flower Bloom TimeApril to May
SunlightFull sun
Starting a Sweet Gum Bonsai Liquidambar

Liquidambar Bonsai History

The Liquidambar tree, popularly called the American sweetgum is indigenous to North America, but it can also be found in other areas like Mexico and some countries in Central America. In the nomenclature Liquidambar styraciflua, Liquidambar stands for “Liquid amber”; while styraciflua is used to refer to Styrax balsam: a form of resin produced by sweetgum. This specific sweetgum can be chewed and used for recreational and medicinal purposes.

According to the data provided by Arbor day foundation, Liquidambar(sweetgum) was mentioned in history for the first time in 1519 in a diary owned by a Spanish war hero, who watched as the “Liquid amber” resin extracted from the sweetgum tree was served to visitors who witnessed the felicitation between Cortez and Montezuma. In North American and Indian medicine, the resin from Sweetgum is used for dental hygiene and to cure some ailments.

The Liquidambar (American sweetgum) is also used for Lumbar, Veneer, plywood, pulpwood, and fuel. It is also used in the united states for timber. It was also a common practice among early Americans to strip off barks from the tree, extract gum off the bark then use it to make chewing gum, which was why the tree was nicknamed Sweetgum. Other derivatives of the Liquidambar tree include natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, fragrances, and soap.

In suburban areas, the Liquidamper tree is often cultivated as a street tree, however, when grown in the wild, it grows into coppices.

Can we Bonsai Liquidamper plant?

Yes, you can Bonsai a Liquidamper plant. Generally, Liquidambar trees are usually very big, however, if they are pruned regularly as required, they can be cultivated as Bonsai. Their leaves often undergo sporadic changes throughout the seasons.

They usually start as bronze during spring, then to green during summer, and then change to varieties of colors (orange and red) towards the end of autumn. However, you should know that not all Liquidamper species can be cultivated as Bonsai. But the Liquidamper styrachiflua (the subject matter of this article) is the most species used for Bonsai.

Liquidambar Bonsai scientific name

The scientific name of a Liquidambar Bonsai is Liquidambar styrachiflua.

Liquidambar Bonsai care

Liquidambar trees are fast-growing plants, therefore, you must be wary of their requirements (as regards fertilizer, pruning, watering e.t.c) as they progress through their growth stages. Discussed below are the requirements necessary for the growth of a Liquidambar Bonsai tree.

Oriental Liquidambar in May 2021

Liquidambar Bonsai temperature

Liquidambar Bonsai is best raised under full sun, therefore, they should be prevented from being exposed to frosty climates; when the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius.

Liquidambar Bonsai Fertilizer

Liquidambar Bonsai should be fertilized every other week during spring (active season). The fertilizer should be applied to its leaves or shrub to encourage healthy growth.

Liquidambar Bonsai pruning and trimming

Liquidambar trees grow to become large trees, which is why it is usually difficult to bend them for styling: pruning makes shaping much easier and prevents the tree from growing disproportionately bigger than the Bonsai growth standard. 

To ensure the branches on the lower part of the tree have smooth and healthy growth, you must trim off larger branches and leaves growing on top of the tree (top growths prevent lower shoots from accessing sunlight necessary for their growth).

How to prune Liquidambar Bonsai tree

  1. Make use of sharp scissors to clip off new sprouts as they are still in a very fragile state, therefore, they can be easily crushed.
  2. If there seem to be shoots growing where branches are not necessary, cut off all leaves, leaving only 2 pairs. 

When to prune a Liquidambar Bonsai tree

It is not advisable to prune a Liquidambar Bonsai tree during its dormancy period because healing may become difficult and may result in death. Therefore, it is best to prune a Liquidambar tree during spring when they are active. If pruning is done at this period, they heal faster.

Liquidambar Bonsai repotting

It is best to report your Liquidambar Bonsai tree every other year and it should be done when during its dormancy period. When you are repotting, make sure you prune its root extensively so you will not have to report earlier than expected.

When a Liquidambar Bonsai cuttings are placed for the first time in a Bonsai pot, filled with good quality Bonsai soil, repotting may not be required for a long time. Make use of an unglazed pot to give your Liquidambar an additional look during fall when the trees leave grow brighter.

When you remove the tree from the pot, getting it ready to be pruned or reported, make sure the roots are damp. You can report the tree every 2 years in a soil mix during spring when the buds start to sprout out.

Liquidambar Bonsai pests and diseases

If you give your Liquidambar full sun and you keep the soil moisturized, you are less likely to encounter pest and diseases infestation which may affect the growth of your Bonsai tree. Although that’s full sun and moisture can only protect your Liquidambar tree to some extent, they are venerable to a few insects like Scale, Fall Webworm, Tent Caterpillar, and Plum Borers. Read details about these insects below.


The most common insect that affects Liquidambar (sweetgum) Bonsai are the Walnut scales, Cottony cushion scale, and the sweetgum scale. Scales infections lead to leave discoloration, scarred leaves, cracked barks, and bumpy branches.

According to research carried out at the University of Califonia, the best way to prevent scale infestation is by planting flowery plants close to a scale-infested tree. This was arrived at after it was discovered that flowery plants allure scale-eating insects like, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and lady beetles.

To control the growth and spread of a severe scale infested Liquidambar tree, use horticultural oil to spray the whole tree at the beginning of spring.

Fall Webworm

Fall webworms pose one of the greatest threats to a Liquidambar tree because of their natural habit to build nests linking one branch to the other. You can get rid of smaller nests with your hand, but it will be better to prune the branches holding them to the tree.

But for a more ferocious kind of this insect, which is known for skeletonizing leaves, a more aggressive treatment must be applied. To get rid of them, make use of organic sprays like Bacillus thuringiensis or Spinosad. Apply this sprayer to the infected tree when the worms are at their early stage (caterpillar stage) for effective results.

Plum Borer

The larvae of a plum borer moth affect the Liquidambar plant by digging deep into the bark of the tree and some other; excretes out the tree’s gum and frass: a material that looks like sawdust. When plum borer infests the graft union or crotches of a young Liquidambar tree, they will find it difficult to keep their primary branches.

To get rid of Plum borer infestation on your young Liquidambar tree, spray the affected trunk with herbicides during its active seasons. Extending the spray by 1 foot upward and downward the wound.

Tent Caterpillar

Tent caterpillar has similar behavior with that of the Fall webworm, the only slight difference is that, instead of hanging their nests between branches like the Fall webworm, they wrap their nests around the tree’s foliage. The color of this insect varies, depending on the species that populate your tree. They can be found with orange hairs and dark bodies or with white keyhole structures and blue spots.

To get rid of Tent Caterpillars, prune and apply organic sprays as instructed for Fall Webworm.

Liquidambar Bonsai soil

Liquidambar Bonsai is best cultivated in soil with 60% aggregate and 40% organic matter. The aggregate can be any of

  • Orchid pellets
  • Decomposed granite.
  • Agricultural Pumice
  • Pellets of fired clay
  • Diatomites or Turface.

To ensure healthy rapid growth, you can fertilize your Liquidamber tree with fertilizers commonly used for tree shrubs or broadleafs and must be applied at least once in 2 weeks during its active seasons.

The soil should be kept moist always by adding water once you feel the soil is drying out. One good thing about Liquidambar trees is that they don’t get overwatered easily unless you used soil with poor drainage. With that said, it is also not advisable to wet the soil every day.

Liquidambar Bonsai watering

Although Liquidambar Bonsai likes water, it is not advisable to wet them with water every day. You should always allow the soil to dry (not completely dry out) to some extent before you apply water.

Liquidambar Bonsai sunlight requirement

A Liquidambar Bonsai tree is best placed in a location where it can recurve full sunlight. And must be protected from being exposed to extreme conditions: for example, cold winds.

Liquidambar Bonsai types

There are 4 major types of Liquidambar Bonsai trees, but only two (Liquidambar Styraciflua and Liquidambar Orientalis) are popularly used for Bonsai, while the other two (Liquidambar acalcyna and Liquidambar formosana) are not. Read details about all these Liquidambar species below.

Liquidambar Orientalis Bonsai

Liquidambar Orientalis also commonly called the Turkish sweetgum or the oriental sweetgum is a deciduous tree from the genus Liquidambar which originates from the eastern Mediterranean area. They can grow as tall as 98 to 115 ft in the wild, but when grown as Bonsai, they can only grow as tall as 60 to 75ft tall the most.

Liquidambar Formosana Bonsai

The Liquidambar Formosana Bonsai also popularly known as the Taiwanese sweet gum originates from East Asia and belongs to the family of Altingiaceae. It is also a deciduous tree and can grow as tall as 30 to 40m in the wild and 10 to 12 m when cultivated as Bonsai. Just like the Liquidambar styracyflua, it also displays varieties of colors during fall. 

Liquidambar Bonsai indoor or outdoor plant

The decision of whether to cultivate a Liquidambar tree indoors or outdoors depends largely on the species that you have. Both Orientalis and Styracyflua can be planted indoors as well as outdoors. However, other species like the Formosana and Acalcyna are best cultivated as outdoor plant.

How big do Liquidambar Bonsai get?

According to the report from Arbor day foundation, a Liquidambar Bonsai tree can be as tall as 75 ft and its spread can cover up to 50ft.

How fast does Liquidambar grow?

A Liquidambar can grow up to 35ft within the space of 20 years, with its growth rate averaging 24 inches per year.

How to plant Liquidambar Bonsai

Liquidambar Bonsai is best cultivated through its seed and grows faster when raised under warm temperatures. In the subsequent section, I will be discussing how Liquidambar Bonsai can be cultivated with seed.

How to grow Liquidambar Bonsai tree from seed

  1. Put the Liquidambar Bonsai seed in a paper bag and close the bag.
  2. Place the bag under dry, warm temperature for about 3 to 10 days (until the seeds cast off their oblong). You can shake the bag at intervals to check if both have been separated.
  3. Check the viability of the seed by soaking them in a bucket of water overnight. Check for seeds that are completely submerged underwater, dry them up, and get them ready for planting. Discard all seeds that are floating on the water, don’t ask why. 
  4. Pour infertile seed compost in 3-inch starter pots, leaving only half an inch of the entire space empty.
  5. Put one seed in each of the pots and press the seeds into the compost with your finger. Then cover the seed with a one-quarter layer of coarse sand. Then add water to moisten it up.
  6. Cover each pot with a clear plastic bag and store it in a refrigerator for about a month to get the seeds stratified. And water the seed anytime you feel the soil is drying up.
  7. Warm the pot up to 70°F with a greenhouse heating mat.
  8. Water the seed continuously anytime the soil seems to be drying. Make use of a spray bottle so you don’t overwater the soil.
  9. Once the seed starts to germinate after 2 to 4 weeks, transfer each seed to an 8-inch nursery pot or container.
  10. Place the new growth in a place where it will be exposed to full sunlight both in the morning and afternoon.
  11. Provide them with enough water once or twice per week during summer.

Why are my Liquidambar Bonsai leaves turning yellow

Liquidambar Bonsai leaves may turn yellow if they are underwatered or overwatered.

What should I do if my Liquidambar Bonsai is dying

If your Liquidambar is dying, it is most likely as a result of Fungus like Turkey tail, common split gill, Artist’s Conk, Vanish fungus rot, which is causing the inner woods of the tree to decay.

Giving your tree adequate water and enough nutrients required for healthy growth will go a long way in helping to curb the growth and already of this fungus altogether. In the most severe cases, getting rid of any fungi infected limbs or branches and spraying the treated spot with antifungal spray is also an effective way of curbing their growth.

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