Allen Wilson: Controlling tree sprouts

Question: I have a flowering crabapple tree that has many shoots at the base of the tree trunk. I trim them, but they grow right back. They are unsightly and they are multiplying. Is there anything I can do to prevent these unwanted sprouts?

Answer: Tree sprouts can be a particularly vexing problem because at the base of each sprout are latent buds that will develop new sprouts when the original sprout is removed. If you catch the sprouts when they are quite small and soft, you can often snap or tear them off. This removes the entire sprout with its buds leaving a slight indentation in the wood. You can also cut them off with a sharp knife, cutting into the wood slightly. If they come from below the soil surface, dig down and remove them where they are attached, taking some of the root with them. You can also place weed fabric on the ground around the tree to keep sprouts from coming up. This works quite well except right against the tree trunk.

Sucker Punch is a Bonide product available in many full service nurseries and garden stores that stops regrowth of sprouts. John Crook of Town &Country Gardens offers the following suggestion based on his experience with this product.

“To help reduce new suckers it is best to use Sucker Punch or Sucker Stopper spray in conjunction with pruning. For best results, either prune existing sprouts and apply this product during the dormant season, or during the summer pruning season (June) when the new shoots are 6 to 12 inches in height. The later applications have been the most effective. You can spray the cut area immediately after pruning and then spray any regrowth when it is a few inches high.”

Sprouts in the upper part of the tree are referred to as water sprouts. From my June 4 column, here is the best way to prune them: June is the best time to remove those fast growing water sprouts in the upper part of the tree. They can be quickly and easily snapped off with your fingers when they are soft and flexible. Snapping is preferable to cutting, because it removes tissue that can regrow another water sprout, sometimes in the same growing season. If you wait until fall or winter to remove those sprouts, new ones will grow to replace them next spring. And if you happen to have more new water sprouts later, snap them off while they are young and soft.

Bonide Sucker Punch is also effective in reducing water sprout growth in the upper part of the tree.

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