Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

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!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - October 11, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Removing suckers from Escarpment oak in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a small but mature grove of Escarpment Live Oak in my back yard. Five years ago we removed the St. Augustine grass that grew under these oaks and since then root suckers have begun to grow around the base of the trees. The area of root suckers is gradually expanding and I would like to remove them and plant an understory of other native plants, but I have been told that removing the suckers would harm the mature trees as the suckers are providing oxygen to the roots of the grove. Is this true? Also, can removing the suckers increase the chances of oak wilt? If it is OK to remove these suckers, is there a preferred method or time of year to do this? Thanks for all your help.

ANSWER:

We really have two different areas of concern here-the suckers and the chance of oak wilt. We have had many questions about the root suckers of various trees, including oak, recently and will select a couple of those questions that apply best to where you are. We can at least relieve your mind about the tree getting oxygen from the suckers. If a tree has been injured and is dying, often it will put up suckers to provide some leaves to manufacture food for the still-alive roots beneath the ground. If you have a healthy oak, it is much better to just cut off the sucker. However, you must remember the cardinal rule about protecting oaks from Oak Wilt-don't prune anything from February to June, as that is when the insect vector for oak wilk, the nitulidid beetle, is active. So, get after those suckers now, and quit in mid-January. The first previous question we want to refer you to is discussing oak wilt, and we encourage you to follow all the links and find out all the problems you might face and where to get help.

From another previous answer, also from Austin, here are our recommendations on getting rid of the suckers:

You are probably doing the best thing in just clipping those little suckers off at the ground. They're unattractive and as time goes by, you could have a whole grove of teeny tiny live oak trees, which is probably not what you had in mind. And that could be a problem, too. In a wild, untended situation, this clonal method of reproduction could result in a grove of trees commonly referred to as a motte, with interlocked roots. Oak wilt, one of the biggest attackers of the live oak, can be spread through that root system. Prevent developing an "oak wilt center" by getting rid of those little sprouts.


 

 

More Trees Questions

Trees to hide telephone poles and wires
September 28, 2009 - I am looking for trees to plant between my house and the street to hide telephone poles and wires. My top priority is to add strong, gold color in the fall. Spring flowers would be a plus. Because ...
view the full question and answer

Native Perennials for Bees and Butterflies in VA
April 15, 2015 - What native perennial plants and trees can we plant to help honey bees and butterfly larvae in Harrisonburg, VA?
view the full question and answer

Natural lifespan of wild plum trees
May 12, 2008 - We have a small border of Wild Plum Trees in our yard. Every year it seem that one or two of the biggest trees die. Do they have a specific life span? We transplanted the trees/bushes from the panh...
view the full question and answer

Denying cows access to flowers through fence
March 20, 2008 - What flowers can I plant that cows will not eat? They stick their heads through the fence and eat anything they can reach. I would like to plant something in the fence row that will not hurt the cows...
view the full question and answer

Why aren't all blue spruce trees blue?
February 07, 2010 - I have been looking at blue spruce trees recently and I have noticed at a couple tree farms that not all blue spruce look blue at all. Some that are listed as Co. Blue Spruce are very green. The sha...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.