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What Are Root Suckers and What To Do About Them


Some varieties of trees in our yards naturally reproduce by sending out new growth from the tree roots or the base of the trees. You may have noticed some of these sprouts and wondered why your tree has all of these growths coming from the roots. The bottom of your tree may start to look more like a shrub after a while if these new growths are left alone to continue growing. These sprouts are called root suckers. That leaves the question, do you leave them to grow or should you be concerned and work at removing them?

Why Do Root Suckers Grow?

Root suckers tend to grow when there is stress on the tree. Since suckers are a tree’s way of reproducing, when a tree is stressed in its environment, the natural response of the tree is to reproduce to try to keep its species going. Stressors can be wounds to the tree or they can be environmental, such as soil void of nutrients or a response to drought conditions. Damage caused to a tree root by a lawnmower or weed trimmer can cause enough stress for suckers to form.

When a tree has a wound, hormones are released to help heal the wound. The hormones cause rapid cell growth to help seal off the wounded part of the tree. The same hormones also cause new growth to form, and thus, root suckers start to grow.

Root Suckers: Friend or Foe?vernon-imel-what-are-root-suckers-and-what-to-do-about-them

Root suckers are a nuisance in a homeowner’s garden environment. Growing suckers is a natural process that’s fine when trees are in the wild, but in a landscaping environment, they can cause a serious problem. Suckers take much-needed nutrients and energy away from the trees they’re growing on. Root suckers can also cause the roots to start to rot by creating unwanted shade and drawing moisture to the area. Suckers can even overtake the areas surrounding the parent tree if left alone to grow.

It is highly recommended to remove tree root suckers. Some trees require sucker removal several times a year. Staying on top of sucker removal will help minimize the risks caused by their growth.

How to Properly Remove Root Suckers

To remove root suckers from the parent trees, you’ll need some tools. Gardening gloves can be useful to protect your hands while pulling root suckers by hand. Some pruning shears can be useful to cut suckers that cannot be pulled by hand. A lawnmower can be used for areas of high sucker growth. Having a gardening shovel or spade is useful if you need to dig down to the roots and see where suckers are growing from. You might need soil or mulch to cover any areas where the soil has washed away, leaving roots exposed.

Start sucker removal by grabbing the sucker low to the ground and pulling it up and away from the originating growth spot. See if the sucker can be removed manually. If you aren’t able to remove the sucker by hand, use pruning shears to cut them away as close to the ground or even below ground level.

If there is an area of high sucker concentration, you can carefully use a lawnmower to trim the larger area of growth. After mowing as close to the ground as possible, use your gardening shovel to dig down to the roots and see if the suckers are originating from one area. If so, remove that part of the tree root by cutting it off. This will prevent further root sucker growth and lessen the need for sucker removal in the future.

If there are roots that are exposed and growing suckers, cover the roots with soil or mulch. This will help limit future sucker growth in that area. Herbicides are dangerous to use on healthy trees and not recommended for limiting sucker growth. If you would like to try using herbicides on areas of high sucker growth, leave it to the professionals and contact Vernon Imel Tree Service for expert assistance.

How to Prevent Root Sucker Growth

Preventing root sucker formation is important because, once they grow, they typically keep coming back. There are a few proven methods of prevention. Surrounding the area under the tree with a black plastic barrier before covering with mulch can help stop sucker growth. This blocks the roots from growing through the barrier, essentially, suffocating new growth.

Plant growth regulators are another option to prevent sucker growth for a short time period of about three months. There are limitations to which chemicals can be purchased by those who aren’t professional landscapers. Homeowners can purchase plant growth regulators containing the chemical naphthalene acetic acid (NAA for short). For stronger chemicals, you can rely on professionals to help administer them properly and safely. Vernon Imel Tree Service is always here to help with any root sucker issues you may be battling.

How to Replant Root Suckers

Since root suckers are used by trees to reproduce, suckers can be used to propagate new trees. A single root sucker can be removed and replanted to grow a new tree. Removing a root sucker for replanting works best on trees that have not been grafted so that you know what tree variety will grow. Most tree suckers that grow on grafted plants will grow the type of tree the root system was grafted from and not the variety from the main part of the tree.

To replant a sucker, you must remove it with as many roots as you can from below and replant it in a location that has the same amount of sunlight as the originating tree. Be sure to dig a hole twice as deep and fully cover the roots with soil.

Root suckers can be prevented, but if you’re battling a recurring root sucker problem, contact us at Vernon Imel Tree Service. We can help with all your tree landscaping needs.