Suckers are also known as epicormic sprouts or water sprouts. They are a type of growth that emerges from dormant buds along the trunk and branches of a tree. There are some tree species like the live oak that are more likely to produce suckers.
They may appear for a variety of reasons. Suckers show up mostly on parts of a tree that are newly exposed to sunlight. In urban areas, these pesky little sprouts are often signs that a tree is under stress. Trees that have had some storm damage or have been overly pruned and thinned will develop suckers to compensate for the loss of leaf surface.
A common practice to improve the look of the tree is to remove the sprouts either partially or completely to the tips of the branches. In the industry, this is often called ‘lion-tailing’. Be careful, though, because this can cause stress to the tree for a few different reasons. The tree grows suckers when there is a need to increase photosynthesis. It requires a lot of energy and resources to generate growth. The sprouts can protect bark that is directly exposed to sunlight by providing shade for it. Sun scald can often cause trees to decline especially in warm places like Texas.
With continuous exposure to the sun, the bark begins to crack. It exposes the vascular system, making the tree vulnerable to the entry of pests. This will accelerate the decay of wood which makes the branch vulnerable to breakage. Lion-tailed branches can also break under heavy winds because the sail or leaves are all on the tip instead of being spread out along the branch where it can better deal with wind pressure. When an epicormic sprout, or sucker, is well developed, it offers the arborist a chance of pruning back to it in case the tip of the branch has died or broken. This preserves more of the branch and decreases the amount of stress and wounding the tree will face if the whole stem had to be removed back at the trunk.
When suckers are removed, it can trigger more of them to grow so you need a professional to help with this. We understand how suckers work. The best practice is to remove the weaker suckers that grow in undesirable places such as by major branch unions or over a structure. It’s important to allow the rest to develop and self-regulate. Some sprouts will become more dominant and shade out others. This means they can eventually turn into tissue that will resemble a branch.
Suckers can steal nutrients from the top growth of a tree so, when you notice them, give us a call. Our arborist will assess what needs to be done. Suckers can be removed quickly and relatively simply.