Garden tip from Pruning Made Easy by Lewis Hill, Storey Publishing, softcover, $19.95
Shearing without fearing is the subject of Pruning Made Easy by renowned nurseryman and author Lewis Hill. Step-by-step illustrations demonstrate pruning techniques for flowers, shrubs, bushes, hedges, vines and trees. Managing suckers is just one of the many lessons from the book, part of the Storey’s Gardening Skills Illustrated series.
Suckers are fast-growing shoots, usually vertical and erect. They tend to appear as a cluster of branches close to the base of a tree trunk, but sometimes (especially on plums and cherries) they pop up from the roots anywhere under a tree, even a distance away from the trunk.
- What causes suckers? A lot of sucker growth occurs on fruit trees when a slower-growing variety is grafted onto a vigorous-growing rootstock.
- What’s the difference between water sprouts and root suckers? Water sprouts emerge from branches and root suckers emerge from the ground.
- What should I do when I spot them? Mow or clip them off at ground level as soon as they appear, while they’re still on the small side and succulent.
- What if I don’t remove them? If they appear from below the graft, they’ll grow into a wild tree or bush that will crowd out the good part of the tree within a few years. They will also sap valuable energy from the tree.
- Can I transplant them? Because suckers look like new, young trees, it’s tempting to think you can transplant them to form a new fruit tree of the same variety. But such trees usually produce fruit of inferior quality because they have come from the rootstock rather than the named variety.
- Can I use them for grafts? Certainly, give it a try if you like to experiment. You can produce new trees that are of good quality by cutting a small, pencil-thin limb or bud from a named variety — say, a ‘Delicious’ or ‘Rome Beauty’ apple — grafting it onto one of your wild sucker trees, and planting the result where you’d like a new tree to grow.