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Tree Root Sprouts

Some trees are likely to form root sprouts

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension


Q. I have a crabapple tree that constantly grows sprouts around the base of the trunk. Is there anything I can do to keep this from happening? If I prune them off, they seem to grow back faster than ever. I have tried covering them with black plastic but the tree sprouts grow right through it.

A. The vigorous vegetative shoots that grow around the base of grafted trees are known as 'suckers'. Many small ornamental trees, including crabapples (Malus spp.), are grafted onto rootstocks for a number of reasons. Rootstocks are chosen to increase winter hardiness, impart dwarf growth characteristics, or even confer disease resistance. It is very common for suckers to grow from buds on the rootstock.
 


Remove Sprouts Frequently

They should be removed frequently, both for aesthetic reasons and to keep the tree healthy. A thick growth of suckers around the base of a tree competes for water and nutrients, impedes air circulation, and they are an easy path for insect and disease problems to gain entrance into the tree.

Tree root sprouts
Root sprouts or 'suckers' on a Crabapple tree

  
Black plastic is a useful mulch in vegetable gardens, and can also help keep weeds down under annual flowers. It is not as good around perennial flowers or woody ornamentals, though. Black plastic impedes the flow of air and water in the soil, and can heat the soil to temperatures that can damage the roots of trees and shrubs. And, as you have discovered, it will not stop those suckers from growing.

 


Less re-growth from summer removal

Pruning suckers in summer results in less re-growth than pruning them in late winter or early spring. If you remove suckers when they are small, you might be able to pull them off rather than pruning them. This often removes the bud they are growing from, which means that particular bud will not re-grow. This will not completely stop the tree from suckering because there are other, dormant buds present, but it helps. Also, there are products known as plant growth regulators that can be sprayed after you prune the suckers out that will prevent re-growth for about three months. One that might be easiest for home gardeners to find is called Sucker Stopper (napthaleneacetate), made by Monterey Lawn and Garden Products. I checked their web site, but they do not list any suppliers in western Pennsylvania. It can be purchased online, though. You might also ask your local garden center to order it for you.


Precautions

One final caution: Never spray suckers with any type of weed killer. The herbicide can be taken up by the tree, and cause extensive damage, if it does not kill the tree outright.

MORE

North Carolina Arboretum

Deer rubbing tree trunks

Gardening columns

 

   


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