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Superstar Native Shrub: Sumac 'Gro-Low'

Spring catkins and flowers, slope stabilizer and so much more.

small yellow flowers with pretty leaves
Sumac 'Gro-Low' Flowers

If Jeopardy had a native plant category, sumac 'Gro-Low' (Rhus aromatica "Gro-Low') would be the perfect answer. A native plant that grows up to 8 feet wide but just 2 feet tall, grows in sun to part shade in any kind of soil, grows in medium to dry conditions, stabilizes slopes, works as a groundcover, adds spring interest and spectacular fall color, is very easy to grow and is a keystone plant.

What is sumac 'Gro-Low'? Not a lot of plants fit this description which is why this is such a superstar!

Sumac 'Gro-Low' requires virtually no care and adds to the garden all season long: small yellow flowers and male catkins in spring, interesting lobed leaf shapes in summer, fabulous color in fall and interesting architecture in winter. It is also a very tolerant plant. Various nurseries describe it as tolerant of black walnut, clay soils, deer, drought, rabbits and salt. That's a lot of tolerance!

Sumac Gro-Low is a cultivar of the straight species fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). The straight species grows 6 to 8 feet high and wide. There are two larger native sumacs as well. Larger winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) is the sumac with the fiery orange fall color you may have seen growing wild in highway medians. Winged sumac, left to its own devices grows 20 feet tall and wide and suckers to form very large colonies - suitable only for the largest of gardens or properties. The largest of the native sumacs is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) which grows to 30 feet tall.

The Only Sumac for a Small Garden

Sumac 'Gro-Low' brings all those big sumac qualities to a small garden. The fall color, the distinct leaf shape and the keystone plant attributes too. If you are new to the term 'keystone,' you can read more here. I grow sumac 'Gro-Low' in a shady border.  In it's fourth year, it's about 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide. In this location, it gets golden yellow color in fall. For the intense oranges, plant in full sun. I prune mine every year - removing several lower branches which if left, would grow out, bend down to the ground and root in. It's very easy and quick. Otherwise, there is nothing to do but enjoy.

Perfect for Holding a Slope

shrubs on a slope
Sumac Gro-Low on a Slope

These shrubs root in fairly quickly and are frequently used on slopes. No mowing or maintenance is required in that situation and you can plant and go.

Good Groundcover

For areas that will not have foot traffic, sumac 'Gro-Low' works really well as a groundcover. It spreads on its own and adds all the plusses with little effort.

Another big plus for this shrub is its widespread availability. Some garden centers, many native plant nurseries and on-line sources sell this shrub. Growing sumac 'Gro-Low' is so easy!

Happy Gardening.


Jun 13

Won’t it need to be under planted to prevent weeds while establishing? I’m considering using it as a under planting for birch. What do you think?

Jun 14
Replying to

Yes would use mulch until it gets established. Not sure if you are thinking of a River Birch - if so, they thrive in moist soils and seem fine in average soils. One o f the few things this shrub doesn't take well to is moist soil. So if your birch is in average soils, it should be ok. If it is in moist soil, I'd hesitate. Hope this helps!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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