How to get rid of shoots from trees?

How to Remove Suckers From Trees

If your tree is slowly turning into a shrub by sending up suckers—a host of thin, upright branches from the base of the trunk or soil near the base of the tree—then here are some tips on why it might be happening and how to remove suckers from trees.

Trees send up suckers as a reaction to stress. Your smart tree is putting up an effort to survive in a less-than-perfect environment. Those suckers are a way of multiplying, ensuring the lineage of the tree lives on. If the tree can’t survive, the suckers will grow in its place.

Suckers are often seen on urban trees that are planted in the “hell strip,” the strip of grass or garden between the street and the sidewalk. This strip is often a very stressful place for a tree to grow, with poor soil that is flanked by concrete. The soil gets compacted from the pressure on the paved surfaces, and the concrete generates a lot of additional heat. Trees that have been growing in the hell strip will not thrive and produce as well as their counterparts in healthy soil with ample room for roots. These trees will often have more diseases and pests, and they send up suckers as a response to the stress they are under.

Drought is another reason why a tree might send up suckers. Upright branches from the base or upper branches as a result of drought conditions are called water sprouts. Water sprouts are the tree’s reaction to being thirsty.

A tree can also send up water sprouts and suckers as a result of improper pruning. A description of this is covered in this article on pruning.

As much of a nuisance as they are, the issue is primarily aesthetic. The tree is calling out for help, and if you listen perhaps you can help by improving the soil, moisture, or structure. Or you can simply choose to remove the suckers and keep up on the job as they appear. In some cases, like with older trees, this is not a bad solution. You could provide more water, better soil, and prune more carefully, but as the tree ages it will be more prone to suckers and this may just be how you have to manage it for the foreseeable future. Young trees, however, need more attention to the cause, as they shouldn’t be so stressed out at such a young age.

SPONSORED CONTENT: This post was sponsored by Fiskars, who also provided me with Fiskars Clearing Tools: a Hatchet and a Billhook Saw. All of the opinions that are shared in this post are my own. Fiskars has also generously provided a giveaway for one of our lucky readers! See how to enter at the end of the post.

I have a couple of trees that I regularly will need to remove suckers from. My Corkscrew Hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, has gorgeous contorted and twisted branches that look best when the leaves have fallen. It’s prone to suckers that hide the true beauty of the trunk of the tree so they get chopped off regularly.

I like to use a hatchet or billhook saw to remove the suckers at the base. Ideally, you want to get as close to the base as possible without cutting into the trunk. The nodes that send up more growth are located near where the suckers originate, so you need to remove those nodes in order to prevent regrowth.

To remove suckers at the base of a trunk, use a hatchet to hook around the suckers and pull them off. The blade will prune those that do not pull off more easily. Use pruners or the saw of the billhook saw to clean up any stubs that are left over.

To remove suckers under the soil, first try to pull them up. If they can easily be pulled off the roots then you are likely to get the growth nodes as well. If not, use the tip of the hatchet to loosen the soil around the suckers and then use the hook under the soil to cut the stem.

The hatchet can also be used to quickly remove watersprouts that grow in the spring and summer. Use the hook blade to swiftly remove the watersprouts at the branch. Then use the hatchet to quickly chop the pieces for the compost or yard waste bin.

I prune my espalier apple tree in the fall each year after letting it grow quite steadily throughout the summer. I use bypass pruners to remove the thinner branches, the billhook saw for the larger branches, and then quickly chop them up to fit in the green waste bin using the hatchet.

Here is my espalier apple before:

And after:

These tools can also be used for cutting back unruly and overgrown brush, removing tree roots from the soil, and dividing perennials. You can see more of the many uses of Fiskars clearing tools in this video:

Now that you are ready to get out and clean up those trees, I have some wonderful news to share: Fiskars is giving away a set of clearing tools to one lucky garden therapy reader! Simply leave a comment on this post telling us where you live and any details you would like to share about your garden and you will be entered into the draw for a set of tools from Fiskars: the very same Hatchet and Billhook Saw I use. You’ll be impressed with how versatile and efficient these tools are making it easy to complete different clearing tasks around the yard!

This giveaway is open to residents of Canada (excluding Quebec) and the US. This contest is now closed. The lucky winner was Mary Anderson! Congratulations, Mary!

You might like these other posts from our pruning series:

  • Learn How to Prune Like a Pro! Pruning 101
  • Want to Know When to Prune? This Will Answer All of Your Questions!
  • Your Guide to Pruning Hedges
  • The Best Garden Greenery for Holiday Decorating (and Which Ones to Avoid)
  • Care and Pruning for Decorative Topiaries
  • The Art of Espalier: Growing Fruit Trees in Small Spaces
  • The Essential Guide to Growing Lavender

GARDEN DOCTORS: Battling suckers around base of trees

Jacquie B. of Petaluma asks: What’s the best way to get rid of those shoots sprouting up the base of some of my trees?

I cut them off, but they keep growing back.

Those “shoots” are called “suckers,” and they are vigorous vertical stems that ruin a tree’s appearance. Both types of suckers — water sprouts that sprout up from the branches and root sprouts that grow around the base of the trees — are problems.

Water sprouts create too much shade within the crown (the center canopy of the tree) and are slow to flower or produce fruit.

Root sprouts compete with, and eventually overtake, the tree’s trunk. If a tree is grafted, the root sprouts will never have the desired form, leaves, fruits or flowers of the grafted variety because they are the actual root system of another tree of that genus.

The best way to remove suckers is to do it while they’re young, preferably ? inch in diameter, and during the early part of the growing season.

Simply take a hold of them and give a sharp tuck sideways, ripping them away at their growing points.

If this doesn’t work, or the suckers are too old to yank off and it’s too difficult, then cut them as close as possible to their growing points. If a sucker is not removed all the way back to its growing point, then new suckers can grow from the base of the old one.

You could also try holding onto the end of the sucker and hitting it at the base with a hammer, so it gets ripped off close to the ground. This will leave the remaining piece with a tattered cut rather than a clean cut, and chances are it won’t grow back.

Theresa C. of Healdsburg asks: What can I do with my spent tulip bed? They look beautiful when they’re in bloom, and then after that, I’m looking at unsightly, browning foliage. I planted them last fall, so this is their first year blooming.

Plant lots of summer blooming, color annuals in between the browning foliage. With an assortment of heights, the annuals will cover up the old foliage. Don’t cut the foliage off until it’s pretty dried up. The bulbs need the nutrients from the foliage to feed them for the next year.

If you want to, you could roll up the foliage and tie it in a loose knot so it will be out of sight.

You also could carefully dig them up. Without harming the bulbs, you can dig them and move them to a holding bed in a shaded area until the leaves all die back. Then simply sort out the bulbs, keeping the larger sized ones, and store them in mesh bags in a cool dark place with good air circulation. Replant them in the fall.

Alan N. of Santa Rosa asks: I have a large Magnolia x soulangeana (Tulip tree) that is doing quite well. Is it necessary to do any pruning on these trees?

Established Magnolias usually need very little pruning. Broken or criss-crossing branches should be cut out in midsummer when the tree is in full leaf. This will give the pruning cuts time to heal before winter, making them less susceptible to dieback.

DEALING WITH TREE SUCKERS

Sometimes a tree starts looking more like a shrub, with a bushy clump of young stems sprouting from the base or from a spot on the trunk. Those stems are called suckers, because they zap water and nutrients from the main tree. As suckers are unhealthy for trees and they are unsightly, it’s important to know how to eliminate them and when possible, how to prevent them in the first place.

Prune Them

Prune tree suckers regularly while they are still young. Use sharp pruners and make a clean cut as close to the base of each sucker as possible.

Loppers—long-handled pruners—are useful for reaching above your head. A pole pruner can stretch even farther, but it can be hard to handle; be careful not to damage the tree’s bark with it.

If suckers are so high in a tree you’d need a ladder to reach them, it’s best to have a professional remove them.

Causes

In general there are two reasons a tree might start growing suckers: because it’s under stress, or because a graft has failed.

Stress. Suckers are a tree’s attempt to grow more branches, often in response to some kind of injury. If the roots have been damaged, suckers may grow from the base of the trunk. If suckers grow higher on the trunk, they’re called watersprouts and they are usually at the site of a pruning wound, a crack or some other damage.

This response is the reason it’s important to prune suckers before they’re so old that their tender skin turns to bark. When you prune a large, woody sucker, you often create a wound that may prompt the tree to grow even more suckers.

Suckers can be a sign of age. Many trees sucker more as they grow old and start to decay.

They also can result from a disease or pest. If something such as a boring insect is interfering with a tree’s ability to get water and nutrients up to its branches, it may divert resources to suckers instead.

Some tree species are naturally more prone to suckering than others. But when a large tree has an abundance of suckers, it’s a good idea to have it assessed by a tree care professional to make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong.

Grafts. Many trees grown in nurseries are actually two trees—the trunk and branches of one kind of tree spliced onto the roots of another, usually a species that is more hardy and tolerant. Trees may be grafted for the sake of hardiness; to preserve the special ornamental characteristics of a cultivated variety; or because it’s just easier for nurseries to grow some species that way.

Sometimes, though, the graft near the base of the trunk fails and the rootstock—the part with the roots—starts sending out shoots of its own: suckers.

Grafts often fail on small ornamental trees such as crabapples and redbuds, making them prone to suckering. You can tell the cause is a failed graft if the leaves on the sucker are different from the leaves on the rest of the tree.

If you don’t prune out the suckers, the rootstock of a flowering tree can outcompete and overcome the tree that was grafted to it. You may not even notice until your crabapple blooms with different-colored flowers than you’re used to.

Tree suckers are not normally a significant problem but they must be dealt with to preserve the long-term health of a tree.

What Are Suckers?

Sometimes trees send up additional shoots from the rootstock at the base of the trunk of especially newer trees. Many trees are actually clones where a part of the desirable tree is grafted onto a rootstock that is a different tree. In some cases, like a crabapple the rootstock may be more aggressive than the selection that was grafted onto it. The rootstock may send up shoots. Those shoots are called suckers.

It is best to cut off those suckers by pulling back some of the soil and with a sharp shears, cut the sucker growth under the soil surface and then pull the soil and mulch back up the tree.

In the pic, you can see where a male selection of a Gingko was grafted onto a Ginkgo seedling. The main trunk is between the two green suckers and the bamboo stake is to the left of the main trunk of this young tree. Cut off those two green shoots as far below the soil surface as you can to force all of the energy into the grafted portion of the tree for best results.

It is not a good idea to spray the suckers with chemicals to kill them off as you do not want to kill off the rootstock. Your persistence in removing those suckers when young and small will be a simple and easy task and will benefit your tree greatly.

Removing those suckers on trees it the opposite thing to do for your shrubs where you should cut out the largest stems and allow those suckers to remain and renew the shrub with new young shoots.

by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener

Lilacs are known for what is called “sucker growth”. This is when the plant sprouts new growth from the root system. Some varieties are more prone to this than others, so to minimize suckering, choose varieties that generally sucker less. Do some research before making your purchase.

Generally, most trees and shrubs have the capability to suckering. When they are healthy, most trees and shrubs will sucker very little. When faced with some kind of stress, however, their response will be to send out suckers. Planting a tree or shrub too deep, a very common mistake, can cause a plant to sucker. Do not prune too much. Taking more than one third of the plants’ top growth can trigger the sucker response. When you take too much “green” from the plant it cannot make enough food for the root system. It will want to try to replace what it has lost. Prolonged drought, disease and pest infestation, anything that makes a plant think it is dying, can make it produce suckers if it is prone to that.

On grafted plants, it is important to control suckers. Suckers from below the graft union are growing from the rootstock, which is a different type of plant from what you bought and want to grow. A rootstock is often times a very vigorous type of plant and its sucker can grow fast and take over the plant you meant to grow.

Tearing, rather than cutting the sucker rips out the basal dormant buds that would otherwise be left behind to form new suckers. Put on some gardening gloves, get a good grip on that sucker and give it a yank. Don’t let the sucker get too big. The earlier you do it, the easier it will be to remove it. If a sucker has been allowed to live for several weeks, it may have grown to big to be easily torn off so a loper or pruner may be needed to remove it.

Have you ever taken down a tree that keeps on sending up suckers from the remaining root system? Suckers from underground roots will tend to keep on growing as long as the root system has food and of course that food comes from those new shoots. Removing the entire root system is the best answer to keep those suckers from coming back but it is not the most practical. No one wants a huge section of their yard ripped up to remove a root system. About the only thing you can do is to continually keep tearing off the suckers so they can’t make food. Remove them as soon as you see them so they cannot send food to the roots and eventually the roots will “run out of gas” and die off. This process can take up to 2 years. The active ingredient in Round-Up is glyphosate, a non-selective trans-locatable herbicide. You can use this on suckers, however, if they are located in your lawn, your grass will die too. Also do not use Round-up on suckers growing from trees and bushes as this will kill that tree or bush too.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and there are instances where you may want a plant to spread. Planting a series of suckering bushes, over time, can form into a privacy hedge, screen or barrier. These kinds of plants also do well in a naturalized or “wild” area. In an area that has a steep hill, a suckering shrub may be a low maintenance, beautiful answer. With some plants you just have to expect them to try to spread over time and accept it or make controlling them a part of your gardening maintenance chore.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/est/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co., and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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Sucker Punch Ready To Use

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ORNAMENTAL WOODY PLANTS

The maximum single application for ornamental woody plants is 3 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The maximum annual application for ornamental woody plants is 9 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The minimum retreatment interval is 5 days.

CONTROLS REGROWTH OF TREE SPROUTS FOLLOWING PROPER PRUNING

This prevents and inhibits vegetative growth in woody plants. After proper pruning, allow new sprouts to regrow and apply this when sprouts are no more than 10 inches tall. It is effective on many ornamental, flowering and shade trees such as:

American Elm, Carob, Chinese Elm, Coast Redwood, Crabapples, Crepe Myrtle, Flowering Plum, Pyracantha, Red Maple, River Birch, Silver Maple, Sugar Maple, Sycamore, Water Oak, Wax Myrtle, Willow spp (Black Marsh)

For most effective control of resprouts, prune to a lateral branch (drop crotch pruning) and apply this after resprout growth has begun. Do not leave stubs and avoid severe trimming. Treatment of all cuts is important.

FOR USE ON APPLES AND PEARS

Do not apply this to trees less than one year old as injury and stand loss will occur. Do not treat any tree that is not vigorous, healthy, and free from stress. The maximum single application for apples and pears is 3 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The maximum annual application for apples and pears is 9 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The minimum retreatment interval is 5 days.

NEW PLANTINGS

Apple and pear trees, healthy, vigorous and free from stress may be treated after planting when the trees show established growth. Remove sprouts and follow the application procedures described below. Do not apply to non-established or stressed trees as injury and stand loss will result.

ESTABLISHED PLANTINGS – SCAFFOLD LIMBS

Prune existing sprouts and treat during the dormant season. Thoroughly cover area where existing sprouts were removed but restrict treatment to the cut surfaces and 2 to 3 inches of the surrounding area. Avoid fine spray particles from drifting or splashing on surrounding fruiting wood or buds. Do not treat scaffold limbs after bud activity starts in the Spring. There has been some fruit size reduction on Golden Delicious and Anjou pears from excessive treatments to scaffold limbs on older, weaker trees. To minimize the chance of injury, limit treated areas to 10 percent of the total bark area of the tree. Do not treat weak trees and do not repeat applications on the same tree for at least one year.

TRUNK AND BASAL SPROUTS AND ROOT SUCKERS

Prune existing sprouts and apply this during the dormant season prior to green tip stage or during the Summer pruning season when the new shoots are 6 to 12 inches in height. The later applications have been the most effective. On bearing trees do not treat suckers during bud swell, bloom or fruit set. This period is from the start of growth to 4 weeks after petal fall. Application during this time can result in excessive thinning. Avoid spray drift of fine spray particles.

PRUNING CUTS ON LARGE LATERAL OR UPRIGHT LIMBS

To control sprouts in the vicinity of pruning cuts, treat several inches of bark around the cut. Do not allow the mixture to splash or drip onto other parts of the tree. Treat only in the dormant season prior to bud activity. Do not apply as a spray due to the possibility of spray contacting fruit buds.

OLIVES

The maximum single application for olives is 9 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The maximum annual application for olives is 9 fl. oz. of product per 1,000 sq. ft. The minimum retreatment interval is 5 days.

TRUNK BASAL SPROUTS AND ROOT SUCKERS

(Do not treat scaffold branches or pruning cuts on olive trees.) Prune off existing sprouts or suckers and allow new sprout to regrow. Treat with this product when sprouts are not more than 10 inches tall. This will control new sprout growth of olives but will not control old woody sprouts. Do not treat during olive bloom or fruit set. Limit treated areas to 10% of the plants total bark surface.

NON BEARING CITRUS

Use as supplied (undiluted) and follow the procedures described below for treating sprouts on scaffold limbs, trunks and rootstocks.

SPROUTING FROM SCAFFOLD LIMBS

Remove unwanted sprouts and thoroughly coat surfaces and surrounding bark. Remove trunk suckers and water sprouts and apply this product to the entire trunk from ground line to scaffold limbs.

ROOTSTOCK

Nonbearing citrus rootstock which is healthy, vigorous and free from stress may be treated. After planting apply this from the ground line to the first scaffold branches. Do not allow to puddle at the base of the tree as injury and stand loss may occur. Do not apply to rootstock if the bud union has not callused. In temperate zones where freezing may injure scaffold branches, restrict treatment to the frost free period to allow for a short period of growth between treatment and damaging freeze.

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You may think of weeds as the small yet not so insignificant plants that we often see dotted around our gardens, where we least want them – but what you may not know is that weeds can also take the form of much larger trees. Take the suckering tree for example, essentially any tree that has the ability to sprout roots or suckers away from the parent tree which can then take root in soil and multiply. Our time spent carrying out tree services in Perth often sees us dealing with this problem, which if left, can turn into a big problem. In this article, we’re going to tell you how to identify these trees and get rid of them.

Common Characteristics

You will often find that these trees all feature a very similar defence mechanism; the ability to sprout suckers in tremendous quantities when disturbed. This goes for the roots, the soil surrounding the tree as well as the branches it produces. Unfortunately, these suckers are often misrecognised for seedlings. As soon as they’re removed, more suckers are sent to the surface, increasing the scope and scale of your problem.

Common Suckering Trees

Here in Western Australia, we have our fair share of tree species which feature the ability to sucker. The most common you will come across are;

  • Broad-Leaf Pepper (above)

This species of tree originates from South America where it is known as the Brazilian Pepper. In Australia, we commonly refer to it as the Japanese Pepper. Whilst only female trees flower and produce berries, both male and female Broad-Leaf Peppers sucker extensively which can quickly cause problems for their owners as well as any immediately neighbouring properties.

This plant’s seedlings can be recognised by their long tap roots whereas a sucker will snap off once disturbed, revealing a hockey stick shaped end. The biggest mistake owners make with this tree is attempting to cut it back when it grows too big. You will find that the tree goes into a form of shock where it produces many more suckers than were present before – and to top it all off, the Broad-Leaf Pepper can even sucker when just left alone.

  • Robinia (right)

Sometimes known as the Black Locust, this tree is another common variety that produces suckers. Luckily, they are nowhere near as prolific as the Japanese Pepper but they can cause problems nonetheless.

The Black Locust does not respond well to having its roots disturbed or damaged as it will quickly produce many suckers in response. You will notice the presence of these suckers by the sharp thorns that grow from them – another defence mechanism that makes uprooting them undesirable.

Other Species of Suckering Tree

There are also several other common trees and plants that can prove to be difficult to manage. Tree of heaven is one such species that can cause untold problems due to the rate at which it produces suckers. In addition, you will find that this species will also cause a rash when handled, produces flowers which smell like rotting meat and can release toxins into the soil to prevent other nearby trees from growing.

Wild Cherry or Wild Plum trees can also inhabit older gardens and orchards. These trees often grow through birds feeding on their fruit and in turn spreading their seeds. The production of suckers is also prevalent here which can help this tree to multiply and continue expansion across an area. Once fully grown, you’re left with a large shrub with sharp, stiff stems, again resulting in more suckers produced.

Sucker Tree Removal

Suckering trees need to be treated very carefully when it comes to their removal. Unlike with other trees, it isn’t simply a case of felling the tree and removing it from your land.

It is very important that these trees are first poisoned, to ensure that they are dead and that they cannot exact any further defence mechanisms to prolong their existence.

  • The most common method of poisoning and killing suckering trees is by making use of a “tree and blackberry killer” herbicide.
  • Once you have purchased this herbicide, administer it to the tree in question by cutting off its suckers and then painting the cut ends with a liberal amount of herbicide.
  • If done correctly, this poison will make its way through the roots of the tree, eventually killing it and rendering it useless.
  • Once the herbicide has taken effect, the tree can then be felled in the standard manner.

It is important to both kill and remove the tree. If you simply apply a herbicide to the suckers and leave the plant in situ, you will likely find that the production of suckers becomes an ongoing problem.

Dealing with a Neighbours Tree

It may be the case that you have identified the presence of a sucker tree in a neighbour’s garden. In the first instance you should approach them and see whether they are amenable to having the tree removed. We suggest that you outline your concerns and highlight the fact that it will be beneficial for both parties if the tree is removed.

It is not uncommon for disputes to arise in these instances which result in civil court action. Your focus should be on demonstrating exactly why the tree is such a cause for concern as well as the effect it is having on your property.

If all else fails, we would suggest that you look into installing a root barrier where the tree in question adjoins your property. This barrier will prevent both roots and suckers from crossing into your garden, hopefully allowing you to avoid any problems.

Seek Help from the Professionals

Here at Perth Arbor Services, we have first-hand experience in dealing with suckering trees across Perth and Western Australia. We are in a position to provide advice as well as assist you in identifying the presence of suckering trees and suggesting a course of action. To make use of our services, simply give us a call on (08) 9227 0010 to speak to one of our team.

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