How to Grow Smooth Sumac (Rhus Glabra)

Branches of Rhus Glabra (Smooth Sumac) Plant with Red Leaves and Seeds


Maria_Ermolova/ Getty Images

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) is a show-stopping deciduous sumac shrub that can add interest all year round in your garden landscape and provides a delicious buffet for birds.

It is a fantastic choice for a garden aesthetically because of its impressive display when it blooms. In the spring and early summer, the plant produces yellowish-green flowers in upright cone-shaped panicles (the botanical word for bunches of flowers) that are up to ten inches long. The female plant then produces hairy pyramidal clusters of drupes that ripen to a bright red in the autumn.

These berry-like drupes are very juicy and filled with a tart liquid that is a delicious ingredient that can make a drink reminiscent of Lemonade. The sumac leaves will take the same bright tone of the fruit in the fall and create a blazing red show that can be admired even as you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner.

As the smooth sumac’s leaves fall, it retains its interest by holding onto the clusters of fruits, now overly ripe and dark burgundy. Not only are these very attractive against the bare branches of the shrub but they are also a feast for birds and other wildlife over winter when food sources become scarce. Over the sumac’s entire range, it feeds around 300 different bird species.

Rhus glabra also invite beneficial insects to their flowers in abundance and are great for pollinator gardens. They are host to numerous species of Hairstreak Butterfly.

The one downside to this shrub is that it can spread rapidly and become weedy if not carefully maintained.

Botanical Name  Rhus glabra
Common Name  Smooth Sumac
Plant Type   Deciduous shrub
Mature Size  9 to 15 ft. tall and wide.
Sun Exposure  Full to Part Shade
Soil Type  Average, well-drained soil
Soil pH  Adaptable
Bloom Time  June
Flower Color  Yellowish Green
Hardiness Zones  3-9, USA
Native Area   Continental US, Southern Canada
Toxicity  No

Smooth Sumac (Rhus Glabra) Care

An easy shrub to grow, smooth sumac is known as a pioneer plant, meaning it grows in soils and locations that other plants do not find hospitable. Its tendency to spread profusely often takes some effort to control, making it a great choice for planting on slopes prone to erosion and areas that forgive sumac’s weediness. 

Light

Smooth sumac grows very well in full sun to partial shade. Blooms will be more profuse in full sun, and fall color can be more vibrant.

Soil

Not incredibly picky, Rhus Glabra is very adaptable to all soil types. The only conditions the shrub does not thrive in seems to be wet and poorly draining areas.  The sumac is adaptable when it comes to pH levels as well. 

Water

Until the shrub establishes itself, you should irrigate it regularly by providing a deep drenching watering about once a week. This frequency can be stopped after the first growing season. 

The shrub does well in dry to average moisture areas, so, once established, no extra irrigation should be needed besides rainwater for your smooth sumac.

Temperature and Humidity

The shrub can deal with a wide range of temperatures very well. It can thrive in all 48 continental
states
and southern Canada  

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize the smooth sumac. It does quite well in poor soils without any soil amendments. 

Is Rhus Glabra Toxic?

The smooth sumac is not toxic, though some people report skin irritation on contact with the plant. However, dermatitis caused by smooth sumac, or any sumac other than poison sumac is not medically proven.

The smooth sumac fruit makes a deliciously tart drink when pressed and mixed with water and a sweetener. This sumac-ade has been a favorite of Native Americans for centuries and was often used to help keep them cool during warm summer days.