Sassafras trees are unique and beautiful, with orange brown bark and leaves that vary in shape and put on a brilliant show in the fall, blazing with shades of gold, orange and red. The roots of Sassafras trees are used in making Sassafras tea, and oil produced from these trees was once used as flavouring in root beer. Leaves of the aromatic Sassafras tree are dried, ground, and used as a spice in many Cajun recipes, particularly gumbo. Sassafras trees are quite popular with wildlife as well, their flowers attracting honeybees and other insects, the fruit of the tree a favourite of songbirds, and the Sassafras tree is a primary host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. A relatively easy tree to grow, the Sassafras isn't picky about soil conditions, growing nearly anywhere except in very wet, swampy areas. Read on to learn how to grow Sassafras trees.
Understand that propagation of Sassafras trees can be done from seed, either purchased or collected from the mature fruit of an established tree. As with most deciduous trees, Sassafras tree seeds require a period of cold dormancy to prompt germination. Sowing seeds in the fall can accomplish this, either right in the ground or in buried pots, allowing them to stay dormant underground through the winter season. Seeds can be held over for spring planting if winter temperatures are simulated by means of cold stratification. To do this, simply place the seeds in a damp paper towel or a bit of moist peat moss inside a plastic bag and refrigerate over the winter.
Keep in mind that digging Sassafras suckers is another common means of propagating these hardy trees. Sassafras trees produce an abundance of young seedlings from their roots, often creating a thicket of saplings if left to themselves. The smallest seedlings are the best ones to harvest, as Sassafras trees develop deep taproots that make transplantation less successful in larger ones. Be sure to dig deeply to get the best possible root system for your seedling as you sever it from the adult tree root.
Choose the location of your Sassafras trees carefully, as once these trees have established themselves they do not appreciate transplanting. Sassafras trees tend to have brittle wood, losing branches more easily than many other trees to high winds or harsh winter weather, so it is wise to avoid planting them near buildings. A sunny location is necessary for your Sassafras trees to thrive, and they prefer a sandy, loam type soil in which to grow, but will tolerate a variety of soil compositions so long as they are well drained.
To plant your young Sassafras seedling, dig a hole twice as deep as its rootball and three times as wide. This ensures that the soil is loosened well around the tree to enable healthy root growth. Place the seedling in the hole and cover the roots with about half the soil. Tamp the soil into the roots gently, then finish backfilling and water thoroughly.
Mulching is a good idea throughout the first few seasons of growth. Adding a layer of mulch around the trunk and out to the drip line of the tree can discourage weed growth and retain moisture in the soil, helping your young Sassafras trees get off to a solid start. Staking or caging young Sassafras trees can add much needed support before roots are firmly established to anchor them securely.