Staghorn sumac is a large treelike shrub native to the eastern edge of Minnesota, Wisconsin and much of southeastern Canada. Tall with an umbrella habit as it matures, stagorn or cutleaf sumac is a great choice for larger, wilder landscapes. Birds love it and the fruits can be used for everything from dyes to lemonade. But it has a few characteristics home gardeners resent: It is large (16-feet-tall by 20 feet wide), it sends up sprouts everywhere and (as I well know) a mature staghorn sumac can be easily uprooted in high winds.

A bank of Tiger Eyes sumac adds striking contrast to evergreens and rocks nearby.

A bank of Tiger Eyes sumac adds striking contrast to evergreens and rocks nearby.

With these disadvantages in mind, breeders created Tiger Eyes™ sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’), a chartruese-leaved, shorter variety that adds a striking presence to foundation beds and other garden spaces. The bright color of Tiger Eyes makes it a perfect focal point or use a row or clump of them to draw the eye toward a section of the garden. Its horizontal form makes it a good addition to Asian-influenced garden areas. In addition to the chartreuse to gold color it has in summer, Tiger Eyes has a bright reddish orange color in fall.

Tiger Eyes grow to about 6 feet tall and about that wide in an ideal situation. The plants like sun to part-sun and tolerate dry soil well. Some sources list it as hardy to USDA Zone 4, but other Minnesota-based sources, say it is hardy to zone 3, so this may be a good bet for northern Minnesota gardeners, too.

It’s important to maintain a regular watering schedule when the plants are getting established during the first year after planting. Like the species staghorn sumac, Tiger Eyes has a shallow root system and benefits from some mulch, especially at first. It does not do well in very clay soil, so if that is what you have, you may want to amend the soil carefully or choose another shrub.

Tiger Eyes has no significant pest problems. It does sucker a bit, but not nearly as much as the larger form of sumac. You also may need to prune it to maintain the desired shape. This can be done in late winter when you can see the shrub’s form clearly.

Tiger Eyes is a medium-sized shrub with striking color and interesting form. It would be a great addition to many garden styles and spaces.

 

 

38 Comments

  1. Holly Hoffmaster on May 20, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    I planted one 2 years ago and it has a number of volunteers coming up, can I dig them up and replant them where I actually want them?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 21, 2018 at 5:24 pm

      You sure can. Be sure to get some roots and keep them watered the first season.

      • Sally Eckhoff on June 6, 2019 at 12:34 am

        I’ve had my Tigers Eye Sumac for 3 years and it’s done very well – about 5’ tall and full of new leaves until this spring. It’s sprouting new leaves from the base but the existing large branches are not blooming but they’re fuzzy which tells me they’re still alive. Can anyone tell me what to expect?

        • Mary Lahr Schier on June 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm

          Sally — You don’t mention where you are located. Tiger Eyes is hardy to zone 4a, so as far north as St. Cloud, MN. It sounds like it might have gotten nipped by the cold. I’d give it a bit more time, but it may not make it. Good luck!

          • E on June 9, 2019 at 8:45 pm

            I have the same issue with mine, Sally. I know it’s alive, just not sprouting at the ends of the branches-but the base and trunk are. I am in Anoka and I have other tiger eyes that are just fine.

            Mary-can the branches be pruned to allow for the plant to grow? Or will than do damage?



          • Sally Eckhoff on June 9, 2019 at 10:55 pm

            Thanks for your response Mary. I live 35 miles north of Alexandria MN and it was extremely cold last winter so you’re no doubt correct about it getting nipped. I really liked that Tigers Eye!



          • Shirley Ely on June 28, 2020 at 9:39 pm

            Mine has grown substantially underground. I attempted to pull up one of the sprouts and it was growing from a 1 inch diameter root about 1 foot in the ground. Now sprouts are growing up to 15 feet from the original plant and it will require some excavation efforts to remove it. It seems to be about as invasive as bamboo.



          • Mary Lahr Schier on June 29, 2020 at 1:15 pm

            That is aggressive! It might be wise to remove and replace with something less invasive. We’re located in Minnesota and Tiger Eyes is not usually that aggressive, though the species staghorn sumac can be. Thanks for commenting.



  2. Jenifer Horne on August 11, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    I planted one last fall, and it is gorgeous this year. The trunk is about an inch plus in diameter, and is leaning toward the sidewalk. Is there a smart way to get it to grow a bit more vertically without damage?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Jenifer — I have one that is leaning, too. You could try putting a stake near it and tying it up. Is it getting enough sun? That might also cause it to lean a bit. Good luck!

      • Jenifer on September 1, 2018 at 12:05 am

        Thanks for the idea. It is on the east side of the house. Could it be transplanted to somewhere more sunny?

        • Mary Lahr Schier on September 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm

          Yes, you could transplant it if it is not too large.

  3. LM on June 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    I planted one of these several weeks ago to replace one I’d had for two years that was damaged over winter either by cold or deer or both. The new one, basically just a stick, was leafing out nicely, but now I see that the upper growth is gone and it only has a few leaves left near the bottom. Deer again or some other pest? This is located in some landscaping I had done a few summers ago at our lake home near Erskine, MN. Is there hope for this growing and thriving here or am I fighting an uphill battle?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 24, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      If you planted it this spring, my guess is deer. It may be tough to get these to thrive in your area as it is on the edge of the range for Tiger Eyes.

  4. Melissa on September 10, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    We live in Northfield, MN. With watering and mulching, is this a suitable time of year to plant the Tiger Eyes in an area of the back yard, or is the risk too great for winter damage that I should plan for late spring planting?
    Thanks-

    • Mary Lahr Schier on September 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Yes, now is a great time to plant shrubs.

  5. Anita Gille on September 16, 2019 at 10:21 am

    My tiger eye thrives in Duluth, Mn and I have so many suckers, I’m considering bringing one in to try as a houseplant. Has that been tried before?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on September 16, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      I’ve never heard of growing sumac as a houseplant, but they are very hardy, so who knows? It’s worth a try.

      • Colette Monahan on September 30, 2019 at 6:35 pm

        It’s zone 5 here. Can I pot one up and leave it outside for the winter?

        • Mary Lahr Schier on September 30, 2019 at 6:37 pm

          You probably could. I’d put it in a protected spot and mulch around the pot just to be sure. Good luck.

  6. Rhonda on November 1, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Mary, my husband and I bought one of these not this summer, but the summer before. We thought it died due to we never got it in the ground, then winter came. (We live just outside of Detroit Mi) When this last spring rolled around, our Tiger Eyes Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac came back to life. We planted it, and it’s beautiful! The fall leaves are amazing! So my question is how to take care of it when Winter comes. Should I let the leaves fall and not touch it until Spring?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on November 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Yes. It’s a very hardy shrub and should have no trouble with your winters.

  7. Irina Harrington on May 4, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    Hi,
    My sumac was planted last year and did great but this Spring it won’t leaf out. I scratched the bark and there is no green, I am in zone 5 and thought this is unusual. Is it dry winter? Salt from neighbors driveway? Not sure why it died back, lots of suckers though.

  8. Lily on May 15, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    Tiger Eyes sumac is different from the typical staghorn sumac in several ways. First, it is a low growing selection growing only six feet tall and wide. It still suckers but the plants I have been watching for the past five years confine the suckers close to the base of the original plant and it will take the colony considerable time to spread out of its original planting zone.

  9. Alina on May 25, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    Hi, I’m having this tree for 7 years and I was always enjoying it a lot. This year my tree doesn’t have green leaves yet. My hb wants to cut it off which is hurting my heart!
    Please tell me, is it possible that my tree is still alive and just slower down this year? Does it happen sometime with those trees?
    How can I help to my tree?
    Thanks a lot,
    Alina

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 26, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      I’m not sure where you are located, but if the weather has warmed up, it should be sending out leaves by now. I usually give stressed plants through June to see if they come back. Good luck.

      • Alina on May 26, 2020 at 4:41 pm

        Thank you for your fast response and your advise! I live in Illinois and right now it’s pretty hot here. Will wait and see.

        • Alan Flynn on June 17, 2020 at 11:46 pm

          Im having the same issue. Mine are 3 years old, I have 3 in my landscaping and only one is blooming so far. The others just have suckers everywhere. Do you think they still have a chance? Located in Omaha, NE

  10. Kevin on May 28, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    Hey all! I’ve had a Tiger Eye in my yard (Southern IL, Zone 5-6) for roughly 10 years, and it’s done wonderfully until this year where it appears to be declining in health (it didn’t leaf out nearly as much as usual). I’m wondering now what the expected life span is for this plant. I’ve already transplanted several of the suckers with good success (I only do this in the winter when it’s dormant…never had success in the summer), so I’m not particularly worried, but I would like to know if it’ll just keeping going downhill, or if I can expect a recovery next year. If it is dying, then I’ll likely just dig it out and replace it with one of the babies.

    Side note, I’ve had mine sucker up to 15-20 feet away, though that’s pretty rare. Most sucker growth is off the root system near the parent plant.

  11. Angela Ewing on June 7, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    My Tiger Eyes is beautiful and serves a very practical purpose shading a southern facing wall from direct sun all day long. It is slightly taller than 6 ft. We are just north of the city but 4b here is a narrow edge between zone five and zone 3. I planted it as much as I could 6 feet from the neighbors boundary as the plant card said it would only sucker up to six feet. However with regular rains we have been having the tree is suckering past the cement fence footing. How is the best way to control this without encouraging more spread? Besides this I have already cleaned up a rats nest mess left under a large stressed fir (I think by the city) that was growing into the neighbors G I A N T burning bush and managed to get grass to grow under it. The neighbor had someone across the street trim up his Burning Bush, into a very attractive form except the pruning was extremely rough, maybe savage. I don’t want to give my neighbor a hard time but the shading for our house is totally necessary. Also he pours glyphosate like water out on the ground along the long chain link fence to control grass. I held back on the purchase of the beautiful Tiger Eyes sumac but it was indicated that this was an ‘improved’ variety. What should I do about those creeping suckers? Thank you, I will take any suggestions and realize it is my prerogative.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 8, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      Angela — In a former home, I had a regular staghorn sumac (the big kind because it was a big yard near a wild area) and it suckered like crazy. A couple of times a year, I took my big pruner and cut the suckers down at ground level. It sounds like the suckers are heading into your neighbor’s yard, in which case you might not be able to do that. I don’t think your neighbor’s glysophate use will kill the shrubs. You might want to try to find the roots heading into your neighbor’s yard and cut them in your yard before they get next door. Sorry you are having this much suckering — Tiger Eyes is normally a well-behaved plant.

  12. Rick on June 8, 2020 at 5:50 am

    I have a Tiger Eye that we have left in the original nursery plastic container for several years, out of fear of having suckers sprouting up in undesireable places (an issue we discovered after purchasing the tree). This year, it is currently about 18 inches tall, and leafing out well, with beautiful colors. We redesigned our garden area, and have an spot we would like to use for the tree, but because of the afore mentioned problem, would like to trans-plant it to a permanant planter pot in an area that faces south-west, and gets good sunlight. We would like to keep the tree about 4-5 feet high and wide. My questions are; what success can we expect by doing this, and what material & size container should we use?

  13. Rick on June 8, 2020 at 5:56 am

    Oops, I should have mentioned I live in zone 7

  14. Sharon on June 17, 2020 at 12:19 am

    I’m wanting to use a tiger eye my friend gave me about 5′ from our 3,000 gallon, rubber lined goldfish pond. Will I regret that location? Zone 5, Central Illinois. Also, the start is a healthy little tree about 3′ tall, how long will it take to reach mature size?

  15. Dianne Oevering on June 27, 2020 at 2:19 am

    I want to have my branches stay towards the top of the tree so we see more of the trunks at the bottom, can I remove bottom branches as I want at any time? Or should that only be done certain times of the year?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm

      THe best time to prune shrubs (other than those that bloom in the spring) is late winter or early spring. That said, I have pruned vigorous shrubs, including sumac, in late summer or early fall without seeing any negative effects.

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