How do I stop the spread of the sumach plant?

Updated April 13, 2018

With bare branches resembling velvety stag horns, stag's horn sumach (Rhus typhina) adds structure to winter garden landscapes, and its large leaves are ornamental throughout summer and into autumn, when they turn deep red and orange. This large shrub spreads through shoots, called suckers, that appear from the ground near the original plant and grow into new stems. Cutting suckers off regularly or containing the plant's roots stops its spread.


Stag's horn sumach suckers pose more of a problem in some planting sites than others. When growing in garden borders, the shrub invades all available space, shading out other plants and depriving them of water and nutrients. Growing in an island bed surrounded by lawn, regular lawn mowing removes suckers before they can establish. Planting stag's horn sumach in large containers also prevents its spread because suckers can't penetrate the container wall, though they may appear within it.


Regularly removing stag's horn sumach suckers helps prevent its spread. Most suckers appear in late autumn to winter, so check plants monthly for new shoots. They could appear 2 or 3 feet away from the plant. Cut them off as low as possible, pushing the knife into the soil or dig up them up with a garden fork, pulling up the roots back to the parent plant. Removing the maximum amount of material reduces suckers' vigour. Take care when cutting stag's horn sumach as the foliage can irritate skin.


An alternative to controlling the spread of stag's horn sumach is to coppice it. Clumps of stems live longer than single-stemmed plants and are more attractive, bearing larger leaves. In early spring, cut all stems down to 5 to 7.5cm (2 to 3in) above the ground. Allowed to reach its full size, a single plant grows 4 to 8 m (13 to 26 feet) wide and tall in 10 to 20 years, and forms an effective windbreak.


Stag's horn sumach is a low-maintenance shrub. It thrives in most garden soils and situations except full shade sites. Full-sun sites give the best autumn colour and it prefers well-drained soil. Once established, stag's horn sumach tolerates drought well but plants need watering while young. New stems are sometimes killed by frost but otherwise the plant is very hardy. It bears clusters of red fruit in the autumn but these and all other parts of the plant are poisonous to eat.

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About the Author

A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.