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Many trees, shrubs and woody climbers can send up suckers from their roots which, if left, will turn into another plant. Tree and shrub seedlings may also be a nuisance, as they are often numerous and can quickly spread, becoming deep-rooted.
How to distinguish between suckers and seedlings;
Suckering is part of the natural habit of plants, and is one way they exploit a favourable habitat, instead of relying on seed spread, for example.
Some trees and shrubs are naturally shallow-rooting; many others may develop roots near the surface due to difficult growing conditions, such as a high water table or impervious subsoil. This makes them more prone to suckering.
Suckers can appear after root damage, resulting from digging or forking around trees, damage to surface roots during mowing, or where roots are accidentally or deliberately severed during excavations.
Seedlings can arise from tree and shrub seeds that drift in the air (ash or sycamore keys for example), are buried by wildlife (such as hazelnuts and oak acorns), or excreted by birds (such as holly or Mahonia seeds).
In the first instance, see if a non-chemical control option is feasible;
Removal of the tree may be the only solution when suckers are too numerous. Cut down the whole tree, remove any large suckers on the stump and then apply glyphosate (e.g. Scotts Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller, Bayer Garden Tree Stump Killer, Doff Tree Stump & Tough Weedkiller and Westland Deep Root Ultra Tree Stump & Weedkiller) or triclopyr (Vitax SBK Brushwood Killer) to the freshly cut surface. This helps to reduce the chance of subsequent sucker development, which can occur even some distance away. Sucker production should gradually decline as the stump and root system die.
Seedlings and suckers typically occur in places that are difficult to access, between buildings and sheds, for example. Here foliar treatment (applying it to the leaves) with weedkiller, using the products recommended above, can be effective, as there are seldom nearby plants that will be harmed. Apply weedkiller in summer. More than one application may be required. Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining different weedkillers available for gardeners; see sections 1d and 4)
Chemicals: using a sprayerChemicals: using safely and effectivelyChemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillersWeeds: non-chemical control
Bamboo controlBrambles and other woody weedsJapanese knotweedTrees: stump removal and treatmentTrees near buildings
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