Why do you remove suckers from lilac trees?

Discussion in 'Woody Plants' started by lily, Jan 15, 2009.

  1. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    My old lilac tree has some suckers shooting straight up and they have some nice looking buds on them. I know I'm suppose to cut these off. Can someone please tell me when I should remove them? and where I should make my cut? but most importantly WHY do we remove suckers? What exactly are they and their purpose? Are they detrimental to the tree? I sure hope this isn't a dumb question... I thought maybe they might make my tree bushier? Please educate me on this. Thank you everyone.
     
  2. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    You only have to remove them if the main plant is a particular named cultivar grafted on wild lilac rootstock - if you leave the suckers from below the graft point, they will eventually overtake the graft.

    If it is on its own roots, then you don't need to remove them. Just let them grow and they'll develop into new branches which will flower when they are old enough.
     
  3. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Hi Michael, thank you for your reply. I'm sorry but I don't if the lilac tree was grafted on a wild lilac rootstock or not. This tree has been on the lot for years before I moved here. Now, when you say 'below' the graft point, does that mean the shoots that come up through the ground near the trunk? If it's on it's own roots (what does that mean)? What does 'overtake the graft' mean? The suckers that I am talking about are growing out of the branches from the main tree. Please bear with me, I'm still trying to learn. Thanks again Michael.
     
  4. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    The grafting, if any, would have been done at ground level. So suckers from the branches are OK, as they're above any graft point.
     
  5. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Okay, I think I get it. Last year, there were some suckers coming out of the ground near the base of the trunk. I remember removing those as suggested by my neighbor but I never could understand why. So, those suckers that I removed were actually coming from the original root stock?
     
  6. aesir22

    aesir22 Active Member

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    Sometimes, plants we buy are actually made up of two plants. We'll use citrus for an example. Certain types of citrus do not have strong roots. So, if they are grown from seed, they are 'on their own roots' meaning the roots are the same as the rest of the plant.

    If the citrus in question has weak roots, the plant can be attached to another set of roots that are strong. In citrus, you usually find lemons and limes are attached, or 'grafted' onto the roots of another, stronger citrus type. The graft line is usually an inch or two above the soil and looks like a scar. It is where you have the desired plant attached to the roots of a different plant. This way you get the strong roots and the nice plant :)

    If anything grows out of the trunk below the point of the graft, it is from the roots. If it is allowed to continue to grow, it will eventually take over the desired plant it is attached to. So, in our example, the strong root stock will take over the lemon, letting it die off, and replace the lemon with branches of its own. You have lost your lemon to the rootstock.

    This is why it is best to cut off the suckers. They grow beneath the graft line and kill your plant to take over. If your tree is grafted, suckers will be below the graft line. If there are branches growing out of other branches, above the graft line, these are not suckers, and should be left alone :)
     
  7. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    aesir22, I'm really happy this morning that I asked this question? I appreciate your taking the time to explain this so that I have a clearer understanding. You said 'if there are branches growing out of other branches', above the graft line, that these are not suckers and to leave them alone. If they aren't suckers, are they just new branches growing straight up? These are simply growing out of the other branches on the tree. Thanks again.
     
  8. Silver surfer

    Silver surfer Contributor 10 Years

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    Lily, have a look at this pic, which shows a grafted plant which has not been properly maintained.......

    http://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/images/contortedfilbert.jpg

    It shows a twisted hazel, Corylus avellana contorta. This is by nature a slow growing shrub/tree. It has been grafted on to the ordinary hazel, Corylus avellana... this is a really strong fast growing tree.You can clearly see the 2 different types of branches. If the straight suckers are not removed they will completely overwhelm the slower growing twisted shrub.

    Many trees are grafted, as are many roses.
    Hope this helps!
     
  9. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Common lilacs renew and perpetuate themselves with new shoots from the base or down low on the plant and in my view should actually be kept in a state of replacing older twiggy stems with vigorous young ones more rapidly than they would on their own. With any that are grafted the gardener has to study them over time and become familiar with which parts of the specimen are producing shoots from the stock and which are making those from the scion, keep the stock from making its own new top.
     
  10. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Re: Why do you remove suckers from lilac trees? [Pics]

    Thanks again everyone for all your help!

    I thought I'd put a photo of my lilac tree and you folks can see what I'm talking about. The left side of the tree looks to me like it has grown suckers. They seem to be growing straight up instead of branching outward. Are these new branches or are they suckers? Do I just leave them? Last year, my tree didn't have a whole lot of leaves on it but it had lots of lovely blooms. I'd like to see more leaves. I removed all the faded blooms right after they faded. Should I prune my tree again? If so, when? and when do I fertilize it? What kind of fertilizer should I give it? I know - lots of questions but I really want to care for my lilac tree. I love lilacs. Thanks very much.
     

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  11. JenRi

    JenRi Active Member

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  12. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Hi Jen, I think that is the same link that Luddite gave to me. Yeah, it's a shame to let it go like this. I think the Hazel shrub looks really interesting with the twisted branches. But I'd like to know for sure if those are branches or suckers coming out of my lilac tree? Any ideas? And do I just leave them there? Thanks for your help Jen.
     
  13. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    The key point is whether or not a given specimen was propagated by grafting. Impossible to tell this from pictures of dormant specimens, the flowering behavior has to be observed. Rootstock sprouts will produce different flowers than the rest of the top. With lilacs that are not grafted you want to leave the basal and root sprouts in place, as that is how such shrubs renew and continue themselves.
     
  14. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Thanks Ron,
    Last year I took a photo of it while it was budding. So, I'm attaching it here and hope it helps. Also, last year there were suckers sprouting up from the base.
     

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  15. K Baron

    K Baron Well-Known Member

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    Lily, I would not cut any of the branches that appear to be in question as shoots/suckers... keeping the shrub uniform and pleasing to your taste seems more appropriate. Now, speaking of suckers... my Syringa has produced dozens of shoots sprouting at the base of this 20 year old plus shrub... taking away the beauty of the knarly trunck... to each their own I suppose.... no pix for now, it is hibernating in snow!
     
  16. Silver surfer

    Silver surfer Contributor 10 Years

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    Lily, Hope this doesn't confuse you more! In the 2 pics you posted above, your lilac shows perfectly normal new shoots, growing from where someone has pruned it before.
    Suckers, as I tried to show in the twisted hazel link, come from below the graft, which is frequently at ground level. From you single pic, I cannot see any suckers.
    If a lilac does sucker it will be from ground level. The shrub may have started with white flowers,or double flowers, the suckers will probably be the common single purple flowered one. So, if in doubt, do as Ron says, wait and look at the flowers.
    However, I am worried, the lilac and hydrangea next to it, both seem to be in flowerpots sunk into the ground. Both these shrubs are vigorous and the roots need the space to grow in proportion to the top growth. In spring, please plant them out.
     
  17. JenRi

    JenRi Active Member

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    You give me too much credit lol....I was merely commenting on the poor hazel in the pic Luddite posted,hence the quotes! I know nothing about lilac trees or grafting so knew I wouldn't be much help.

    Anyway I'm glad you at least know what to with your lilac now:)

    This is quite and interesting thread, I didn't realise Lilac trees were commonly grafted, I'll have to have a look at the one in our garden back home and see if I can see any signs.
     
  18. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Hi Luddite, it was me that pruned it last year because it was all scraggly. So, it grew those new branches just this past year after I pruned it. I thought they were suckers because they were growing straight up. I'm really glad to know they are branches. I know they look like they are in flower pots but they aren't. That is just rubber edging around each plant. I am removing those but I need some ideas on to make it look more attractive in my backyard landscape?? The flowers are purple. There weren't any white ones. Thanks Luddite.
     
  19. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Some specimens may keep the old gnarly trunks for a long time; here, where the climate is not perfect for lilacs many lilac "trees" lean and even fall over if old, thick stems are retained.

    The natural basic mode is a suckerous shrub that renews itself from the base. Pruning as a tree-like shrub, with no new stems being allowed to come from near or below the surface of the ground may prevent this.
     
  20. lily

    lily Active Member 10 Years

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    Thank you Ron. I always appreciate your help.
     

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