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By Mrs FM

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Alan J Hartley



All Suckers Aren’t Bad!

Many Trees Sucker whether they are Native trees like Ash and Sycamore, or more ornamental varieties such as Stags Horn Sumach and Sambucus (Elderberry). Some sucker freely whereas some will only sucker when the trees are under stress from being damaged such as with being heavily pruned. Other Trees may be shallow rooted and when their roots are damaged, through digging around the tree for instance, the roots will throw up Suckers. Suckers are often a nuisance as the original Tree can become an overgrown thicket with time.
This is especially true of things like the Sumach that many people see as an invasive pest. However, from another point of view, suckering trees can be used to stabilize sloping banks of soil with their dense root masses. The general thought is though, that Suckers are an unwanted problem. Trees that have been grafted such as most Fruit Trees including Apples, Pears, Cherries and Plums, are all prone to Suckering and the Suckers of these will not be wanted and should be cut off at the Trunk as soon as they appear. If not they will grow rapidly and drain the energy from the Grafted part of the Tree that produces the Fruit and that you want to encourage. Yes they can easily be dug up to give free Trees, but they will not be the same as the Grafted Fruit Tree. Indeed they will give a tree the same as the Root Stock Tree that the Fruiting Tree was grafted on to. However, for things like Wild Plums and Wild Cherries that also Sucker freely, and have not been Grafted, the young Suckers will be the same as the parent tree and can usefully be dug up and replanted elsewhere.
This is also true of Hazels, although Hazels don’t Sucker freely, and is even true of the ornamental Red Hazel (if they have not been grafted.) It is said that you should always plant Trees at the same depth they were grown in the Pot, but if you plant some species a bit deeper they will throw out shoots underground that will give you self rooted cuttings very much like Suckers. I did this when I planted my Red Leafed Hazel and regularly get a number of self rooted Cuttings in this way each year. This Winter was no exception and I got about 10 such Cuttings. They did not have much root on, but taken at the right time in the Winter, they will produce some more roots while still semi dormant and get away in the Spring with their buds breaking to produce new, small, individual trees exactly like the parent. I also have a lovely Twisted Hazel, but unfortunately it has been Grafted, so I have pegged down a few thin Branches in the hopes that they will root by that method instead. I did wonder if the Grafting was to control the Contortion of the Branches, but instead, now believe it may be just to dwarf it. If that is the case and the Shoots root, I will have some free trees, that will get quite big like a normal Hazel, and they will need heavy pruning to restrict them, but they will retain the characteristics of the parent tree with its twisted stems.

Some people think Willows sucker, but like Hazels, they don’t really unless there is damage to their roots that grow near to the surface. Alternatively they can be planted a bit deeper to encourage underground shoots from the dormant buds in their trunks. Again Trunk damage to the Tree such as Coppicing, as with Hazels, will also encourage suckering, although Willows root so easily from Cuttings that there is no need to do this. I have a lovely “Twisted,” Willow in my back garden that gives me lots of Cuttings when I prune it to keep it in shape and I have found that I can best root these at Work every year by simply putting them in a tall container of water for a few weeks.
Another Tree that will readily throw out self rooted Cuttings from below Soil level that are not really true Suckers, is the Fig. However, Figs root so easily in so many other ways that you can soon multiply up your numbers if you want to and you could even create your own Fig Orchard at virtually no expense at all. (Indeed, I understand that this is traditionally how most Vineyards are planted and created with thousands of Grape Vines.)
Indeed, Figs root readily root from both “Air Layering,” and “Ground Layering,” as well as simply from Hardwood Cuttings taken before Winter. They do take some months to root by any method, but you do get a relatively high success rate although they will then take a few more years to produce sizeable trees. However, as with all Tree Cuttings, if the cuttings were taken from a mature and fruiting tree, then the Cutting will think it is a mature tree and start fruiting almost immediately even if it is only a feet tall.

It’s not only Trees that produce Suckers, but many other plants do as well including a lot of Shrubby plants such as Liquorice, Bamboo, Kerria Japonica and Acuba Japonica. Suckers are often produced close to the surface of the ground in most plants, but in Liquorice they can go down as much as 5 or 6 feet. This can make it difficult to control if grown in the wrong place and indeed similar growing plants are often a nightmare to eradicate. Such a plant is the concrete busting weed called Japanese Knotweed. This plant is so difficult to kill when it gets hold that it is in fact a notifiable weed. Giant Hogweed is another such pest that was brought into the country by the Victorians as a Garden Plant and has spread out of control along many of our River Banks and indeed many of the Bamboos that people plant in their Gardens will spread by underground shoots to such an extent that they too often become problems.
Smaller plants often spread by underground shoots as well and although most people would consider Ferns a welcome addition to their gardens, the local Forestry Commission wage a never ending battle every year to control their rapid growth and spread. The Shuttle Cock Fern, or Matteuccia Struthiopteris is one of many such Ferns that spread by underground rhizomes and so does Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon. Both are very popular garden plants, but planted in the wrong place can and will, become a nuisance. From another point of view though, if you want more plants of the same type, they could not be easier to multiply up by removing and potting some of the young offsets that readily develop. Other garden plants can easily be multiplied up by digging up new offsets as well. Indeed many Herbaceous plants including some Heleniums, Asters and Alstroemeria are what they call “Clump Forming,” because of their habit of spreading outwards by underground shoots that grow very much like Suckers, but are called Rhizomes. However, they too can easily get out of control if their spreading growth is not checked occasionally.
Like Herbaceous Plants quite a few of our worst Weeds like Nettles and Squitch spread by underground shoots and it is this ability that makes them such a problem. Their shoots are not really Suckers either of course, but they do behave in a similar way.
Some of our best Fruit Bushes also spread by underground shoots that are like, but not really Suckers, and that includes Raspberries. Many people think that Raspberry “Suckers,” are of no use, but as they are not generally Grafted, the underground shoots will always produce plants that are identical to the Parent plant. This means that you only really need to buy one Raspberry plant and with time, you can easily multiply it up into a row with as many plants in as you want with no extra cost! Black Currant and Gooseberries Bushes will often Sucker as well, especially if you weed round them disturbing their roots a little. Again as they are not usually grafted you can happily remove the young offsets to give you some more Free plants.

Strawberries are another fruit that multiplies up readily with its spreading habit. These plants definitely don’t make Suckers, but they may as well do with their prolific over ground runners that easily root down to make new plants. Garden plants like Ajuga, Stachys, or Lambs Ears and Silene throw out shoots that rapidly spread and root down just as easily to give lots more Free plants.
So although it must be said that many of our worst weeds are Suckering Plants and indeed other plants that Sucker can become a nuisance, many of our most favourite plants can be included in that category and their spreading habit is one of the things that makes them so popular.


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