When you plant a tree or shrub, it’s supposed to stay where you put it, right? It isn’t supposed to sprout little shoots in the lawn 12 feet away. Alas, some plants have a bad habit of doing just that, which infuriates my faithful readers. Let’s review the cases of four common offenders, before Grumpy gives you a solution you probably won’t like.
Southerners looooooove their crepe myrtles, until shoots with reddish leaves start popping up through the grass all around. Why does this happen? Root damage. Any time you sever a root while digging or throwing the javelin, the root doesn’t die. No, it decides to grow a brand new crepe myrtle and sends up root suckers. Removing or transplanting a big crepe myrtle can result in hundreds of suckers.
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Solution: Be careful where you plant a crepe myrtle, so you won’t need to transplant it. Plant anything that’s going underneath or beside it at the same time, so you won’t cut roots. If it’s already too late, you can try two things. First, apply Bayer Advanced Brush Killer to the shoots according to label directions. Don’t get any on plants you don’t want to kill. Or just keep cutting off the suckers at ground level. Without leaves to make food, the suckers eventually starve.
I hate Bradford pear for a multitude of reasons – it snaps in storms, its flowers stink, and its thorny seedlings come up everywhere. If you have one and cut it down as any sensible person would, you’re in for a big surprise. Unless the tree was dead, dozens of suckers will sprout in a circle around the trunk from roots that are still alive. This will drive you insane – the same condition that afflicts those who plant these pears in the first place.
Solution: Never plant a Bradford pear! If someone else did before you bought the property and you rightfully loathe the tree, you can cut it to the ground and immediately paint the surface of the stump with Brush Killer according to label directions. The trunk’s vascular system will transport the chemical to the roots and hopefully kill them all. If a few survive, spot-treat them with Brush Killer. Or use your mower to repeatedly cut them off until the roots starve. This could take a while, so amass some reading material.
WATCH: Why Bradford Pears Are The Worst Tree
The majestic live oak is the iconic tree of the Deep South. No other tree creates a sense of place and serenity like it. But sometimes that serenity is shattered by lots of shoots sprouting from the main roots. This can make it hard to walk or mow beneath the tree. Unfortunately, root sprouts are normal for live oaks; in the wild, you usually find copses of trees rather than single ones. Some trees sucker more than others. It’s the luck of the draw.
Solution: Do not apply herbicide to the suckers! Doing so could kill the tree. Instead, plant an evergreen ground cover such as Asian star jasmine under the tree instead of grass. In the fall, cut back the suckers to below the height of the ground cover. Do not prune suckers from February through June, as this could lead to infection with fatal oak wilt disease. Disinfect pruners before and after pruning by dipping them in a bucket of water containing 10% bleach.
Bald cypress is the king of swamp trees, thriving with its roots under water. However, it thrives in well-drained soil as well. In wet soil, its roots grow woody spires called “knees” that can stand three feet tall. Some folks think the knees bring oxygen to the roots. Others believe they help stabilize the tree in the muck. If you cut them off, they just grow back.
Solution: If you don’t want knees, don’t plant a bald cypress in moist soil. And just to be on the safe side, don’t plant one near a house, walk, pool, septic system, or in a small yard. The best location is in a large property next to a natural stream, pond, or lake.