Managing tree suckers and water sprouts

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Tree sucker sprouts and water sprouts are vigorous, upright, epicormic shoots that grow from dormant buds on older wood. They are mostly a problem on fruit and landscape trees, can grow very large in one season and occur most often under stressful conditions like drought, after severe pruning and limb loss.

Both kinds of sprouts should be removed immediately while remembering that a water sprout can be used to develop a new main trunk if there is severe damage to the old trunk.

Water sprouts are easily pulled off and some people do just that but personally I find that this can cause damage to the tree. Better, in my view, to cut them off close to the tree and treat the wound.

Suckers are much harder to deal with as they are attached at or below ground level and should be removed with as much of the root or basal material as possible.

That, though, is the theory. In practice it is normally not possible to remove the sucker properly as normally people will deal with the issue far too late.

Root suckers do also occur when a tree feels – as strange as that may sound – that it is dying and tries in that way to perpetuate itself.

In most cases root suckers only appear on tress that also would be ideal coppicing material and should the tree that is producing such risers really be in the process of dying it is then a good idea to – if it is a woodland tree – to manage it as a coppice tree.

© 2010