Invasive plants Shrubs Trees

Trees and Shrubs That Sucker

Illustration showing mother tree with baby trees popping up all around it.

By Larry Hodgson

Most trees produce only a single trunk over their entire life. The average shrub, too, produces all its branches from a single base. But there are exceptions to this rule, woody plants that send out suckers (basal shoots) from creeping roots, stolons, or rhizomes. Sometimes these sprout near the mother plant, but other times they can be a good distance away. And suckering trees and shrubs do tend to get out of hand over time.

Mother plant with suckers linked by roots.
Suckers are linked to the mother plant by roots, rhizomes or stolons. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

Sometimes these plants sucker only under specific conditions, such as when their roots are damaged by hoeing or when the mother plant is under stress. Others, on the other hand, sucker happily under just about any condition!

False spirea with cut leaves and fuzzy white flowers.
The false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia) is an example of a widely grown and attractive shrub… whose suckers do tend to get out of hand! Photo: Fanghong, Wikimedia Commons

You can turn this disadvantage into an advantage in areas prone to erosion because suckering trees and shrubs create a complex mass of rhizomes, stolons and roots that holds the soil in place. 

Laidback gardeners can also benefit from their tendency to wander by letting them fill in empty spaces in the garden. A single shrub that covers a large area means a lot less planting… and a lot less expense! 

Also, suckers are not just shoots, they are rooted plants: you can easily dig them up and replant them elsewhere, which gives you plenty of free green material for future plantings! 

Stopping the Spread

But no matter where you plant suckering plants, and even if you appreciate their ability to proliferate, you still need to know how to stop them.

They won’t be able to escape, for example, if they are surrounded by a terrace or trapped between the wall of the house and a walkway. And cities often use them as low-cost fillers for traffic medians: no way they’ll find their way of that kind of barrier.

Pail with bottom removed used as a barrier to prevent suckers from spreading.
A bucket or pot whose bottom has been removed will control almost any suckering shrub… but won’t be big enough for many trees. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

You can also plant them inside a barrier, such as a big pot or plastic bucket whose bottom has been removed (necessary for proper drainage).

Anti-rhizome barrier. Photo: bambooshield.com

Or install an anti-rhizome barrier, also called a bamboo barrier, a sort of semi-rigid plastic film of about varying heights (usually at least 2 feet/60 cm) that can be inserted into ground around the plantation. (This product is widely available in Europe and in parts of the United States, but I know only of one source in Canada: Canada’s Bamboo World.)

List of Suckering Trees and Shrubs

Staghorn sumac
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhons) is a charming shrub, but can easily get out of hand. Photo: southstlouisswcd.org

Here are some temperate climate shrubs and trees that tend to sucker, at least under certain conditions. Those that tend to be especially invasive are marked by an asterisk (*). 

  1. American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) hardiness zones 3–9
  2. American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) hardiness zones 4–8
  3. American elder (Sambucus canadensis) hardiness zones 3–9
  4. American hazel (Corylus americana) hardiness zones 3 à 9
  5. Apple (Malus domestica, some cultivars) hardiness zones 3-8
  6. Arrowhead viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) hardiness zones 2–8 
  7. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) hardiness zones 5–9
  8. Balsam poplar* (Populus balsamifera) hardiness zones 1–6
  9. Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta) hardiness zones 2–8
  10. Billard spirea (Spiraea × billardii) hardiness zones 5–7
  11. Black elder (Sambucus nigra) hardiness zones 5–8
  12. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) hardiness zones 4b–9
  13. Blackberry* (Rubus spp.) hardiness zones 3–9 
  14. Bog birch (Betula pumila) hardiness zones 2–6
  15. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) hardiness zones 4–8
  16. Bramble* (Rubus spp.) hardiness zones 3–9 
  17. Bristly locust* (Robinia hispida) hardiness zones 4a–8
  18. Buffaloberry* (Shepherdia argentea) hardiness zones 2–9
  19. Bush honeysuckle (Diervillea) hardiness zones 3–5
  20. Chokeberry (Aronia) hardiness zones 4–8
  21. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) hardiness zones 2b–7
  22. Cliff Green (Paxistima canbyi) hardiness zones 4b–7
  23. Common buckthorn* (Rhamnus cathartica) hardiness zones 2–8
  24. Common dogwood* (Cornus sanguinea) hardiness zones 3–7
  25. Common lilac* (Syringa vulgaris) hardiness zones 2b–7
  26. Common plum (Prunus domestica) hardiness zones 4–9
  27. Creeping mahonia* (Mahonia repens) hardiness zones 5–8
  28. Devil’s walkingstick* (Aralia spinosa) hardiness zones 6–9
  29. Dwarf sour cherry (Prunus × kerrasis) hardiness zones 2–8
  30. European alder (Alnus glutinosa) hardiness zones 3–7
  31. European Aspen* (Populus tremula) hardiness zones 1–9
  32. False spirea* (Sorbaria sorbifolia) hardiness zones 2–8
  33. Flowering raspberry*, ornamental raspberry (Rubus odoratus) hardiness zones 3–8
  34. Fragrant currant (Ribes odoratum) hardiness zones 2–8
  35. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) hardiness zones 3–9
  36. Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus) hardiness zones 4b–9
  37. Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) hardiness zones 2–8
  38. Hazel alder (Alnus serrulata) hardiness zones 4–9
  39. Hazelnut*, filbert (Corylus avellana) hardiness zones 4–8
  40. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) hardiness zones 6-9
  41. Inkberry (Ilex glabra) hardiness zones 5b–9
  42. Japanese angelica tree* (Aralia elata) hardiness zones 5b–9
  43. Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) hardiness zones 5b–9
  44. Lace shrub (Neillia incisa, syn. Stephanandra incisa) hardiness 5–7
  45. Lombardy poplar* (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) hardiness zones 3–10
  46. Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) hardiness zones 3–8
  47. Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba latifolia, syn. S. latifolia) hardiness zones 2b–7
  48. Nanking Cherry* (Prunus tomentosa) hardiness zones 3–7
  49. Northern bayberry (Myrica pennsylvania, syn. Morella pensylvanica) hardiness zone 4-7
  50. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolia) hardiness zones 5–8
  51. Pin cherry* (Prunus pennsylvanica) hardiness zones 2–7
  52. Pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) hardiness zones 5–9
  53. Pussywillow (Salix caprea) hardiness zones 4b–8
  54. Raspberry* (Rubus idaeus) hardiness zones 3–8
  55. Red osier dogwood* (Cornus sericea, syn. stolonifera) hardiness zones 2–7
  56. Rugosa rose* (Rosa rugosa, some cultivars) hardiness zones 3–8
  57. Running serviceberry* (Amelanchier stolonifera) hardiness zones 3–8
  58. Russian almond* (Prunus tenella) hardiness zones 2–8
  59. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) hardiness zones 2b–7
  60. Russian salt tree (Halimodendron halodendron) hardiness zones 3–8
  61. Sand cherry* (Prunus pumila, syn. P. besseyi) hardiness zones 2–6
  62. Sea buckthorn* (Hippophae rhamnoides) hardiness zones 2b–8
  63. Shadblow serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) hardiness zones 4–8
  64. Siberian dogwood* (Cornus alba) hardiness zones 2–7
  65. Silverberry* (Elaeagnus commutata) hardiness zones 1b–6
  66. Smooth hydrangea* (Hydrangea arborescens) hardiness zones 3–9
  67. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos) hardiness zones 3 or 4–7
  68. Staghorn sumac* (Rhus typhina and glabra) hardiness zones 3–8
  69. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) hardiness 4–9
  70. Sweet fern* (Comptonia peregrina) hardiness zones 2–6
  71. Sweet gale (Myrica gale) hardiness zones 1–9
  72. Thorny olive (Elaeagnus pungens) hardiness zones 7–9
  73. Tree of heaven* (Ailanthus altissima) hardiness zones 6b–9
  74. Trembling aspen* (Populus tremuloides) hardiness zones 1–9 
  75. Vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis)hardiness zones 5b–8
  76. White poplar* (Populus alba) hardiness zones 3–8
  77. Wild rose (Rosa spp., many species) hardiness zones 2 to 5
  78. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) hardiness zones 3b–9
  79. Yellowroot* (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) hardiness zones 4–9

Text based on an article originally published in this blog on June 13, 2015.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Trees and Shrubs That Sucker

  1. I assume lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is in this category?

  2. Christine Lemieux

    I appreciate your lists! I had Bayberry and it is a bad one for suckers!
    I appreciate your lists! Northern Bayberry proved to be a bad one!

  3. Suckers of grafted trees are different from the original tree, since they are from the genetically different roots. (Some suckers are between the soil and the graft union, but are classified as ‘suckers’ because they are below the graft.) For some trees, suckers grow more vigorously and overwhelm the desired tree. For example, shaddock is a dwarfing understock for citrus, but still grows more vigorously than kumquats. Suckers commonly replace kumquat trees before anyone notices what happened. Suddenly, the kumquat tree is very thorny (with huge thorns) and producing five pound ‘kumquats’.

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