Tree Care

By Sharon Naylor

July 18, 2013 5 min read

If you notice a large number of 'little branches' growing upward from the older, established limbs of the trees in your yard and landscaping, that's likely not your plant growing new limbs. Instead, those thin branches are more likely to be suckers, a danger to your tree's health and growth.

According to Steve Nix, the guide to forestry, tree-sucker sprouts are "vigorous, upright shoots that grow from dormant buds on older wood." They're seen most often on landscape and fruit trees, and are often an indicator that your tree has an injury or dead wood sections. Nix says, "The tree is trying to compensate, using these sprouts to increase vigor," but these suckers need to be removed as soon as possible so that the tree can direct its nutrients to the established trunk, major limbs, smaller branches and leaves that comprise their structures.

"But those little branches fill in my tree so nicely," you might think. Again, they're stealing strength from your tree, so they have to go. And this is not a do-it-yourself job. If you were to tear away those thin sprouts, you might injure your tree's core or create 'wounds' that will soon turn into ugly mounds on your tree branches, where your tree has developed a scar to protect its vulnerable inner core. And depending on your type of tree, the spot where suckers are cut away might need to be treated with a special sealant that is formulated for your tree's particular type.

Call a tree service right away to schedule its team of professionals, who will assess the exact variety of tree or trees in question, assess how long your suckers have been growing, configure any natural sealant needed on your bare wood spots and then schedule a day for their workers to safely access those high-up branches using a cherrypicker. Professionals also have the proper cutting tools to saw off suckers where needed -- and do so right to the same level as the branch for the most attractive result.

If you were to climb your tree to cut off suckers yourself, you'd not only put yourself at risk for a fall, you'd likely do a poor job of cutting your suckers off evenly while trying to keep your balance. And if your saw is even the least bit dull, you would shred the tree and cause it damage, perhaps leading to your tree's demise.

If your tree looks sparse after you remove the suckers, don't fret. You've just thinned the tree so that sunlight can reach more of its leaves for nutrition and photosynthesis. When suckers are gone, so too are any pests that may have made a home in them.

Once your suckers are removed, you'll want to ensure that you don't allow them to take over your tree again. Here are some tips to help:

--Keep your trees in good health. Very often, trees will start to grow suckers when they experience stress, such as overwatering or underwatering during times of drought, or when the tree is experiencing disease or pests. Take a good look at your trees often to assess any signs of disease or pest damage, and talk to your local nursery's tree specialist to get detailed instructions on how much water your particular kind of tree needs. Older trees might escape your watering regimen, particular if you think regular rains are enough for it. Your tree may need more water. Or less. If your sprinkler system for your lawn douses your tree, or if your tree sits in accumulated water after rainstorms, suckers may grow. So you might have to adjust your watering plans, or arrange drainage away from your tree roots to correct the problem. And of course, you might need to have your tree professionally treated for pests or use an organic pest repellant.

--Don't over-prune your tree. You might think you're helping your tree by pruning it several times a season, but over-pruning can actually stimulate the growth of tree suckers.

--Prune regularly. Regular, healthy pruning accomplished on a schedule recommended by your nursery tree expert, done at the proper time of year for each of your tree varieties, can help prevent suckers from growing.

You may never eliminate tree suckers, since your tree is doing what it does naturally. But with regular care and careful removal of suckers before they grow too large, and leave a large bare wood spot where the sucker is cut away, your tree will continue to grow full and healthy for many years of enjoyment and full value of your investment.

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