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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Friday - May 17, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Suckers from Oak Tree Roots in Austin
Answered by: Mike Tomme

QUESTION:

Hi. I am a home owner in Austin TX with several live oak trees. We love them and want to keep them healthy. We have a nice landscape in the back yard and Iím wondering if you can answer a question for me. We have dozens of tiny live oak growth at ground level from the roots of our oak trees, and Iím wondering if I can stop this without hurting the trees. Pulling them like weeds does not seem to help. And where they occur most frequently is where we have bare ground with mulch, or maybe individual shade plants, where the oak growth is very noticeable.

ANSWER:

These sprouts from the roots are usually refered to as "suckers" and Mr. Smarty Plants has addressed this problem in one fashion or another in several previous answers (like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one). I addition, there are lots of questions about oak suckers on various gardening web sites.

To save wear and tear on your mouse, I'll try to summarize all of the above links in one sentence:

You can't get rid of them.

You can put up a fight though. The most effective way to deal with them is to cut them off below the ground surface. The problem with this is that there are usually too many for this to be practical and they will just keep coming up. But, if you have a small enough area like flower beds, it might work. Most people deal with the suckers in large areas by regular mowing or using a string trimmer while the suckers are still small. DO NOT attempt to control them with herbicdes. By the time you kill the suckers, you will have harmed the tree.

The most practical sounding advice I've read is in this article that suggests, "get a goat."

 

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