Q: We had a Mayten tree cut down and the stump ground two years ago, and the suckers are still coming in! We have tried cutting them off and applying “Sucker Punch” to the base, to no avail. Help! What can we do to get rid of the hundreds of suckers we have?
Wendy Weir, Sacramento
A: According to UC master gardener Annie Kempees, there are several trees that produce many suckers from their surrounding roots. Three trees that come to mind are crape myrtles, certain varieties of plums – and the Mayten tree.
Note: A popular landscape tree in Sacramento, the Mayten tree (Maytenus boaria) is native to Chile and other parts of South America. Evergreen with small, pointed, shiny green leaves, this drought-tolerant tree often is used as a substitute for weeping willow, which needs significantly more water.
Slow to mature, Mayten trees grow to about 30 feet tall and wide with a rounded canopy and pretty “weeping” branches. Their habit of suckering can be a problem both when the tree is growing and long after its gone.
Now that your tree has been removed and the stump ground, it is likely there is still significant energy in its root system. Remember that most of the tree’s roots grew out toward the dripline where they picked up nutrients, moisture and sunlight. They will continue to send up suckers in hopes of new tree growth.
As soon as you see the suckers break ground and grow about 10 inches tall, get out your shovel and dig into the ground around the sucker. Try not to break it off until you find the root it’s attached to.
Use your hand pruners to cut off the sucker as close to the root as possible. Then dab the wound with an herbicide that will begin to kill the root.
If you can follow the root in both directions, dig it out.
Time, patience and hard work will eventually give you the success you are looking for. When using herbicides, extra care must be taken to keep the material from contacting desirable plants because this non-selective material can cause serious plant injury.
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