Basal shoots, also known as root suckers, are canes or shoots that grow from the base of a shrub or tree. These shoots help trees damaged by humans, fire, lightning, disease or cold regrow from their stumps. In some situations, such as coppicing, they are considered desirable. Other root suckers, such as those growing from fruit trees, are unsightly and draw energy from the plant. Root suckers may also appear on the cut stumps of undesirable trees. Only some species produce these suckers.
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Willow trees sucker readily and can even reproduce from suckers cut and planted in different soil. These trees are popular for coppicing, since they regrow from their stump with vigour. Some ornamental willows, including Belgian Red, Hutchinson's Yellow and Superba even produce colourful shoots suitable for ornamental hedgerows. Coppiced willow works well for basketmaking and wicker, and is a traditional material for British wattle and daub construction. In ornamental trees not meant for coppicing, root suckers can be a problem and require regular pruning.
Hazel, called filbert in Europe, is another tree that coppices readily, producing root suckers whenever the main tree is damaged or cut. Hazel trees may also produce root suckers on their own, creating a thicket of many small shoots around the main trunk. This is undesirable for commercial growers, who need to remove these suckers regularly, but can be attractive for ornamental growers.
Aspen trees sucker readily, sometimes producing new shoots a significant distance from the original tree. This can result in small plants coming up in lawns and gardens. Small shoots can be mowed, while larger ones require pruning. Avoid using herbicides on problem suckers, since they can kill the parent tree. Colorado Gardening reports aspen suckers root readily and can be transplanted. Aspen is not commonly coppiced, since the regrown wood is relatively low in quality.
Lilac bushes produce root suckers around the base of the bush, especially if the main trunk is diseased or damaged. These suckers do not grow as readily as those on some other types of trees, and require the use of rooting hormone for propagation. Lilac root suckers can be unsightly, and should be clipped off at pruning time, after the lilacs have lost their flowers, but before the next year's buds appear. According to the North Dakota State University Extension Service, damaged lilacs can regrow completely from suckers.
Many fruit trees, including apple, pear, crabapple and quince, develop root suckers. These are considered undesirable in producing trees, since they use resources that would otherwise be diverted to branch growth and fruit production. Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends removing all root suckers from fruit trees during annual pruning.
Mimosa trees, originally native to Asia, are a common ornamental in the United States. They are considered invasive and easily escape into the wild. These vigorous trees regrow readily from cut stumps, making them difficult to eradicate. Cut trees at ground level, then apply herbicide or repeat cutting when root suckers appear.
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- Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust: Coppicing
- North Dakota State University Extension Service; Questions on: Lilacs; Ron Smith
- Colorado Gardening: Questions & Answers: Aspen Trees
- Bluestem Nursery: Pruning Willows for Ornamental Effect
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Pruning & Training Apple & Pear Trees; Bob Polomski; January 2000
- Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative in the Parks: Albizia julibrissin -- Mimosa