September 5, 2015

1 - Sucker is the proper botanical term for shoots produced by adventitious buds that form on roots; them may be useful or problematic.

Yard and Garden September 5, 2015


I have sprouts coming up around the base of some of my trees (apples) and shrubs (lilacs). They appear to be the same plant as the tree or shrub, but are coming up some distance from the other plant. What are these? Are they coming up from seeds? I did not see any seeds on my lilac. Can I transplant them?


You are probably describing what are properly called suckers. In Botany the term sucker describes a shoot produced from and adventitious bud formed on a root. Many trees, especially cottonwoods and aspens normally reproduce in this manner. Lilacs and some of the native roses also reproduce by producing suckers. Raspberries and blackberries are among the many other plants that grow from suckers. Once the new plants are well established they may be dug up and transplanted. By autumn, a good time for transplanting, they should have produced their own roots and may be cut free from the root on which the adventitious bud formed. If they are transplanted to a location with well-prepared soil are watered well and mulched through the winter there is a good chance that they will establish and continue growing for you. You can also wait until late winter to transplant them. Do this before growth begins in the spring. The plants will be genetically identical to the root system from which they developed. If the tree was a grafted fruit tree, the new plant will not be of the variety you are growing and may need to be grafted to produce the desired variety. It may be a seedling rootstock to which the apple was grafted. The rootstock may produce acceptable fruit, but grafting will result in more desirable fruit. If the original plant is a type that is commonly sold as a grafted plant, then grafting may be needed. You may choose to just purchase a tree that is already grafted and avoid the challenge of grafting. Some gardeners will look forward to the challenge of grafting, so that is your choice.

Lilacs are usually not grafted, so the variety of lilac that grows from the sucker will probably be the same variety as the original lilac plant. Grafting will not be necessary. Aspens are not grafted and will be the same as the original plant. That is also true of raspberries and blackberries.

The production of adventitious buds is an interesting process that is useful to gardeners, but also can cause problems. Suckers can produce plants where they are not needed and adventitious buds that develop after topping or poor pruning of trees result in branches with a great likelihood of breaking as they enlarge. Branches growing from adventitious buds in topped trees are not as strongly attached to the tree as are branches from non-adventitious buds, those that are normally produced as a tree grows.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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