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Farmstead Forest: Several common tree species are prone to suckering, so it takes persistence and sharp pruners to keep suckers under control.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

March 8, 2024

2 Min Read
suckers surrounding a tree
CUT THEM OUT: The most effective way to deal with tree suckers is to prune them back to their base. If they are not controlled, as with this linden tree, suckers will grow vigorously and cause an unsightly change in the shape of the tree. Curt Arens

Some tree species are more prone to them than others. Those unsightly suckers, as they are often called, do not enhance your farmstead landscape. But how do we get rid of them?

There are many reasons suckers might appear. Some species such as crabapple, linden, hawthorn, maple, black locust, dogwood and most fruit trees are more prone to suckers.

We have a basswood, or linden, in our backyard that has vigorous suckers growing around its base each spring. This tree is more than 70 years old, but the suckers keep coming every year, in spite of our best efforts to keep them under control.

Aaron Steil, Iowa State University consumer horticulture Extension specialist, says suckers grow for many reasons, besides coming from a species prone to suckering. A vigorous root system is a main cause of suckers, Steil says.

Trees that are grafted to a rootstock, as many fruit trees are, seem to sucker often. Steil says that is because sometimes the rootstock is not well matched with the scion, or ornamental, upper portion of the tree. This promotes suckers that may look a little different from the scion if they are allowed to keep growing.

No easy remedy

The bad news about suckers is that there is no easy way to get rid of them. The best method is to use a hand pruner to cut them back to their point of origin as soon as they appear. This may take some persistence, and it may require moving some soil away from the base of the sucker to get it down to the origin point. Otherwise, it may result in even more suckers resprouting.

Related:5 prep tips for tree service trimming

Steil says that the suckers grow more rapidly in spring and slower in the summer, so regular pruning throughout the growing season is probably warranted.

There are some products that use a specific formulation of synthetic growth hormone or a contact herbicide, he says. But the verdict is still out on many of these products as to whether they are worth your money.

There are many reasons why suckers are a problem, including the fact that they are often unsightly in the landscape, they change the shape of the tree, they can reduce flowering and fruiting on some tree species, and they can harbor pests and diseases. These are reasons enough to simply stay on top of the problem by pruning them back as soon as they appear.

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About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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