Growing the Sourwood Tree is a challenge that can be overcome by understanding the needs of this beautiful native tree.
The Sourwood Tree is the source of the famous Sourwood honey. That alone is a good reason to grow Sourwood trees. Think about a tree that has beautiful foliage that blooms in midsummer when the other trees are just green that then turns a brilliant burgundy red each fall. You have just described the Sourwood Tree. So why don’t we see more of them?Sourwood trees are particular about their living conditions so, let’s study them so more can be grown in more places.
The Sourwood Tree is native to the Eastern United States and occupies a niche in our eastern forests. Being a native tree, One would think it should be easy to grow in the lawn or garden. This is unfortunately not so. Sourwood Trees have a reputation of being very difficult to grow in domestication. this difficulty can be overcome by studying the conditions under which it grows best.
The Sourwood Tree is a member of the Heath family of which there are 70 genera and 1800 species distributed though the temperate and cooler portions of the planet. There are 15 tree types of heaths native to North America. They include, Elliotia (Georgia Plume ), Rhododendrons, Kalmia ( Mountain Laurel ), Lyonia ( Fetterbush ), and Vaccinium ( Blueberry ). All of these members of the Heath family produce flowers that are freindly to bees and other pollinators.
The sourwood Tree is a medium height forest tree that requires full to partial sun. It is seldom found in solid stands but generally as scattered individuals. It is considered an intermediate crown class tree. This means it must find a place between the overstory trees. Suppressed, overly shaded trees tend to die if suddenly exposed to full sun. In cultivation it should be placed where it gets 4 or more hours of sun per day.
Since the Sourwood Tree is related to Blueberries it holds that it needs an acidic soil. Soil ph should be in the 3.7 to 6.5 range. It will not do well in a high ph or limestone soil without attention to ph modification.
Sourwood Trees require a medium to moist well drained soil. They tolerate gravelly and mineral soils as well. Once established, Sourwood Trees can tolerate moderate drought but, intense heat and drought are not tolerated.
All trees in the Heath family are forest plants and as such, are adapted to forest soils. Forest soils tend to be very fungally active