Root sprouts appear to be random baby trees or shrubs that keep popping up in your landscape. Getting rid of them can be difficult.
Many plants pass on their genetic information through seeds. Seeds are spread by birds, the wind, people, and herbivores. Plants can also propagate themselves vegetatively using suckers, adventitious shoots and root sprouts. These growths emerge from adventitious buds, which occur close to the vascular bundle, where they will have easy access to water and nutrients. The different names refer to where they occur. Suckers, also known as basal shoots, occur at the base of a tree or shrub. Adventitious shoots can form on stem internodes, leaves, roots, or callus. Root sprouts emerge from the root system.
Root sprout growth
Root sprouts often grow out of adventitious buds found on a tree’s extensive root system. Root sprouts are clones of the parent plant.They can be found a significant distance from the parent tree. Root sprouts can also grow from the roots of a tree that has fallen or been cut down. Apple, cherry, and guava are especially prone to root sprouts.
If a plant produces root sprouts, it is said to be surculose.
Root sprouts can be used to propagate new plants. They also use up a plant’s energy stores and can make a mess of your lawn or landscape. They are also responsible for one of the world’s biggest and oldest life forms.
The world’s largest life form
Tree roots spread. Then they can send up new root sprouts, which then create more roots and more root shoots. Given enough time and space, this process can create something really HUGE! In fact, root shoots are responsible for one of the world’s largest and probably oldest life forms: the singular root system of a grove of male quaking aspen found in Utah. Known as Pando, this root system covers 106 acres, weighs approximately 13 million tons, and is believed to be 80,000 years old. Sadly, Pando, is dying. Pando’s decline is believed to be a combined result of drought, grazing, and fire suppression. The U.S. Forest Service and private groups are trying to save it, but repeatedly killing off the root shoots with grazing (or hand pruners) does take its toll.
Why do trees produce root sprouts?
Some trees are more likely than others to produce root sprouts. In some cases, it is simply the tree’s normal method of propagation. Root sprouts can also be a sign that a tree or shrub is stressed. That stress can take many forms:
What can you do about root sprouts?
First, keep your tree as healthy as possible. Water it, feed it, protect it from lawn competition, weedwackers, and car doors. Mulch around but not touching the tree. Do a little research to find out what type of tree you are dealing with and what its needs are, and provide for those needs. This will reduce the tree’s drive to reproduce in this way.
If you spray herbicides on a root sprout, you will be poisoning the parent plant as well. Instead, you can kill the individual buds by tearing the new growth off, as close to the root as possible. Of course, this may require some soil removal. If you can tear the root sprout off of the root, you are likely to damage or kill that particular bud. If there is a section of root that continually puts out unwanted root sprouts, you can dig up the offending root and severe it from the tree or shrub. If all of that sounds like more work than it is worth, simply snip them off at soil level each time you see them.
There are also products available that you can spray on root sprouts, but I do not use them. Reviews appear to be highly mixed and applying just a little bit too much can seriously damage the tree or shrub those root sprouts came from. Other people swear by them. It's your call.
If you are really sick of all the root sprouts in your lawn, contact a licensed arborist. They can safely apply a growth inhibitor.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!