Can you prevent suckers?

docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)November 7, 2006

I have a 5-6 year old small orchard which consists of two mixed graft apples, two sweet cherries, a nectarine, and a 4-5 year old Macintosh apple (all dwarfs). Everything has been growing beautifully and I think my pruning has been appropriate. However, this summer I began seeing hundreds of small suckers popping out of the ground within about a 15' radius of the nectarine, so I'm assuming they are from the nectarine. Until now, I've had a strawberry patch underneath the trees, because when they were saplings there was enough sunshine. Because of the strawberrries, I didn't notice the suckers until they were 12-15" tall. I wasn't able to pull them up easily without disturbing the berries, so I just cut them off at the ground. As the season progressed, I gave up even trying to keep up with them (busy with other summer stuff). Now, I've got a small forest of woody suckers that are spreading into my nearby flower bed (I live in a suburb and have a very small garden). How can I prevent this from continuing? Any ideas? Thanks,


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I don't know what kind of rootstock you have on your nectarine tree, but the stone fruits I have grown, including nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums and cherries, sucker very little or not at all, especially by comparison with apple rootstocks, some of which sucker quite a lot.

Unless your nectarine has grown very quickly and vigorously, a 5-6 year old tree should not be able to throw root suckers out to a radius of 15 feet from the trunk. I am sure you are aware of the difference between suckers and seedlings, but are you certain the apparent suckers are not seedlings generated by mummified fruit fallen from the tree? Seeds from fallen fruit can become buried in the ground and practically invisible until they germinate and pop up. The way to tell is to pull up a young plant and see if it is a complete root or if it has a break at the end indicating it came from a larger root below. If these things are seedlings, the solution is to pick up the drops promptly.

To answer your original question: No, there is nothing you can do to eliminate suckers from a tree determined to generate them. About all you can do is to continue to remove them. I tend to favor jerking them out of the ground while they are still relatively small instead of cutting at ground level with a pruning shears. I would consider a tree that generates such numbers of root suckers to be a candidate for removal, unless it produces some pretty good useable fruit on a regular basis. And if it is really the rootstock generating these suckers, you would have some followup work to do in removing all the roots that remain, which could continue to cause problems.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 1:58AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Thank-you for your detailed response. I'm sure these are suckers, because when I pull on one I can see the ground raise along the length of the underlying root. I think my problem is the heavy clay soil in my neighborhood. The roots are probably shallow and have extended outward seeking the rich topsoil rather than fighting their way down through the clay. The maples in the back yard have similar shallow roots that sap the moisture from the surface, making it imposible to grow anything else under them. If I leave a pile of compost for a season, I have roots growing upward into the pile so I can't even get at my compost without ripping all kinds of roots. I'm actually glad to have you suggest removing the tree. I'm finding the work of orchard maintenence more chemical intensive than I'm interested in continuing. Now I just have to convince my husband that berries are just as good, so he'll let me tear the whole orchard out. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 7:32AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I have a couple peaches on "bush cherry", a semi-dwarfing rootstock, and they sucker like crazy. I got these trees from Millers several years ago, before I figured out it was not the best rootstock.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 10:17AM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

Spray them with a weak NAA solution.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 11:04AM
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miketrees(WA Australia)

We spray with NAA, a quite strong solution, the suckers don't come back in a hurry.
That suckering away from the tree sounds unusual for nectarines

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 7:41AM
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aka_peggy(Central Md 6b)

I have a 5 yr old paw paw that has started to sucker very badly this year. Where would you find the NAA?

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 9:07AM
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miketrees(WA Australia)

I only used NAA on stonefruit and apples, I dont know what it will do to pawpaw.
NAA is used in orchards as a growth regulator, so my guess is it would be avaliable in stores that supply them

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 7:50AM
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aka_peggy(Central Md 6b)

Thanks Mike:)

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 3:59PM
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botanybob(Northern Idaho)

I have not tried this but there is a product called Sucker Stopper which contains NAA. You should be able to order this online if it isn't available locally.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sucker Stopper

    Bookmark   November 15, 2006 at 3:35PM
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daphnexduck(Z8 Tacoma, WA)

I think I'll join Martha and take out my plum trees that are suckering all over. I thinned them last fall, and the suckers are worse than ever this spring.

The trees were on the property when I moved in (cut down to the ground), and although they now put out a lovely flower display in the spring, I haven't seen more than a dozen fruits in 10 years! I think they are some kind of Italian prune, very delicious when they actually appear, but the suckers are driving me crazy.

Thanks for all the info.
Daphne in Tacoma

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 3:31PM
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FWIW, our Italian prune, started from a friend's sucker years ago and badly abused, finally died this year, after providing lovely fruit quite faithfully. My wife was glad to see it out of her roses, but we miss that pretty little tree.

We may have successfully grafted a scion from one of its suckers to a Nanking cherry rootstock, in the hopes of having our prune again but without the invasive suckering. The graft took well and has nearly a foot of growth on it now. We'll let you know in a few years how it works out.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 8:26AM
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thisbud4u(San Diego)

Martha, I'm sorry to say, there is no way to stop suckers. There's another one born every minute.
Yours, PTB

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 12:11AM
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If you have any extra fruit suckers I will take them off
of your hand. Let me know

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 8:21PM
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