How to Grow Sassafras

Sassafras leaves in autumn
Sassafras leaves in autumn

Sassafras is a stately deciduous tree with glossy, aromatic foliage that turns yellow, orange, scarlet, and purple in autumn. Sassafras bears small yellow flowers in clusters on bare branches in early spring. Sassafras has an interesting winter silhouette.

The bark of sassafras roots is sometimes used to make tea which has a flavor reminiscent of root beer.

Grow Sassagras as specimen trees in woodland gardens and at the margins of woodlands.

Sassafras is a genus of three species native to woodland thickets in China, Taiwan, and North America.

Sassafras tree form
Sassafras tree form

Get to Know Sassafras 

  • Plant type: Dioecious, deciduous trees 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 8
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 4
  • Height and width: Grows to 80 feet (25m) tall and 50 feet (15m) wide
  • Growth rate: Fast 
  • Form and habit: Stately habit, pyramidal form 
  • Foliage: Glossy, aromatic foliage, which colors attractively in autumn; deeply fissured bark, and produce alternate, often 1- to 3-lobed, elliptic, oval, ovate, or obovate leaves 
  • Flowers: Clustered racemes of small, yellow-green flowers; male and female flowers are separate trees; when the two sexes are grown near each other, the female bears fruit 
  • Fruits: Ovoid, dark blue, .5 inch (1cm) berries on bright red stalks 
  • Bloom time: Spring 
  • Uses: Specimen, woodland garden, woodland margin 
  • Garden companions:  
  • Common name: Sassafras 
  • Botanical name: Sassafras 
  • Family name: Lauraceae 
  • Origin: China, Taiwan, and North America 

Where to Plant Sassafras 

  • Plant Sassafras in full sun or partial shade. 
  • Plant Sassafras in moist but well-drained, moderately fertile, humus-rich, preferably acidic soil that is deep enough to accommodate the tree’s long root structure. 

When to Plant Sassafras 

  • Sow Sassafras seed in containers in a cold frame as soon as ripe. 
  • Trees bought balled and bulaped—that is, with their roots in their original soil ball wrapped in burlap—should be planted in early spring.  

Planting and Spacing Sassafras 

  • Space Sassafras 50 feet (15m) apart.
  • Sassafras are difficult to establish from the wild because of their deep taproot and few lateral roots; container-growth is advised until planting in the ground. 
  • Sassafras are hard to transplant.  
  • Sassafras are difficult to establish in the garden unless their wide roots have been pruned at regular intervals in the nursery; this pruning produces a more compact root system that can more easily be dug up intact in the nursery field. 

How to Water and Feed Sassafras 

  • Give Sassafras regular water. 
  • Feed Sassafras with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 
Deep red Sassafras leaf in fall
Deep red Sassafras leaf in fall

How to Care for Sassafras 

  • Cut out suckers as they arise to maintain single specimens, or retain suckers to produce a colony.  
  • Prune Sassafras in winter.  

Sassafras Pests and Diseases 

  • Pests and diseases are infrequent. 

Sassafras Propagation 

  • Take root cuttings in winter. 

Sassafras Varieties to Grow 

  • Sassafras albidum, irregular to rounded-pyramidal tree, spreading by suckers, sometimes forming large colonies. The elliptic to ovate, entire or shallowly to deeply 3-lobed, aromatic, dark green leaves, to 6 inches (15cm) long, turn yellow to orange or purple in autumn. Tiny yellow flowers are produced in racemes to 2 inches (5cm) across, in spring, as the leaves emerge. If pollinated, the flowers on female plants are followed by red-stalked, ovoid, dark blue fruit, .5 inch (1cm) long. To 80 feet (25m) tall and 50 feet (15m) wide. Each North America.  
  • S. variifolium 

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