Suckering: Understanding and Managing Unwanted Plant Growth

Suckering, a process where new shoots emerge from the root system of a plant, is a phenomenon often encountered in the gardening world. While in some cases it might be a welcome sight, many gardeners find suckers troublesome and seek ways to control or eliminate them. This blog post dives deep into the subject of suckering, exploring what it is, why it happens, and how it can be managed.

What is Suckering?

Suckering is the development of new shoots, or “suckers,” from the base of a tree or shrub, or from the root system. These shoots are often vigorous and can quickly sap energy and nutrients from the main plant, leading to reduced growth and fruiting.

Why Do Plants Produce Suckers?

Suckers are essentially a survival mechanism. Here’s why they occur:

1. Stress Response:

  • Damage to the main plant, such as pruning, frost damage, or disease, can trigger the growth of suckers.
  • Solution: Avoid unnecessary injury and manage the health of the plant.

2. Genetic Traits:

  • Some plants naturally produce suckers as a means of propagation.
  • Solution: Choose plant varieties known for low suckering if it’s an undesired trait.

3. Grafted Plants:

  • Suckers may grow from the rootstock of a grafted plant, not the desirable grafted section.
  • Solution: Regular monitoring and removal of suckers.

Managing Suckering

1. Regular Inspection:

  • Regularly inspect plants for suckers, especially after pruning or other stressors.

2. Proper Removal:

  • Cut the sucker as close to the main root as possible without damaging it.
  • For larger suckers, a clean, angled cut will promote healing.
  • Avoid tearing, as this can cause more stress and more suckers.

3. Prune at the Right Time:

  • Prune during the plant’s dormancy to minimize stress and the chance of suckering.

4. Consider Plant Choice:

  • If suckering is a major concern, consider plant varieties that are less prone to producing suckers.

5. Utilize Barrier Methods:

  • In some cases, physical barriers may be placed around the root system to prevent suckering.

When Suckering is Beneficial

Not all suckering is bad, and in some cases, it might be desirable:

  • Natural Propagation: Some gardeners use suckers to propagate new plants.
  • Rejuvenation: For some shrubs, allowing suckers can rejuvenate the plant over time.
  • Wildlife Habitat: Suckers can create dense thickets that provide shelter for wildlife.


Suckering is a complex issue with both positive and negative aspects, depending on the specific situation and the goals of the gardener. Understanding the underlying causes of suckering can help in managing this phenomenon, whether that means encouraging it for propagation or diligently removing unwanted growth.

As with many aspects of gardening and horticulture, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all answer. Flexibility, observation, and a willingness to learn from both successes and failures can turn the challenge of suckering into an opportunity for growth, both in the garden and in our skills as gardeners. Always consult with local gardening experts or extension services for advice tailored to your specific plants and regional conditions, as this localized insight can be invaluable in managing and making the most of suckering in your garden.