How to Stop Tree Roots from Sprouting in the Lawn

How to Stop Tree Roots from Sprouting in the Lawn

We know trees – inside and out, from the top down. You name it! We can figure out what’s going on with a tree in your yard.

That’s why Joy from San Jose, California, reached out to us for help! She asked, “We have a spring-flowering pear tree in the center of our small front yard. It has sprouted shoots all over the grass. Is there any solution other than removing the tree? What can we do?”

Well, Joy, we teamed up with tree care industry experts to explain why tree roots sprout, how to remove them and if you can stop them from growing again.

Everything You Need to Know About Tree Shoots in Lawn

Why do shoots grow at the base of trees? Are some trees more prone to that?

Tchukki Andersen, a board-certified master arborist and staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association, details why this happens.

“Many tree species have latent buds beneath their bark. When a tree becomes stressed–say because the tree was damaged by a storm–those latent buds begin to grow. Essentially, the tree is trying to regenerate itself,” Andersen explains.

Ash trees start sprouting if it’s infested with emerald ash borer, while honey locusts are infamous for growing suckers all over the lawn. Andersen says, “Oaks, maples, cottonwoods, poplars–pretty much any hardwood tree–will begin to sprout if under stress.”

“To the tree, those shoots are a method to endure damage. To humans, they can be a nuisance,” Andersen adds.

There is good news, though. Trees that have sufficient sunlight, water and nutrition are less likely to sprout.

I have tree shoots all over the yard. How can I remove those tree seedlings or water sprouts?

Emily Renshaw, a certified arborist and the credential maintenance coordinator at the International Society of Arboriculture, answers this.

“It can be time-consuming, but I’ve found cutting the sprouts with a good pair of hand pruners looks and works the best. Be sure to cut those sprouts down as low as you can,” Renshaw advises. “Plus, hand pruning is relatively easy if the sprouts are still small.”

Prune and remove shoots as you see them grow to keep the situation manageable. If you leave them, those seedlings can grow into individual trees or try to take over the grass entirely.

How can I stop tree roots from sprouting – especially in the lawn?

Dan Krug, a certified arborist and an assistant district manager at The Care of Trees, a Davey company, office in Chicago, Illinois, handles this common question.

“Really, the best thing you can do is cut the suckers as Emily mentioned, and keep your tree healthy. Sucker growth is genetically what trees do when they become stressed, which makes it tough to effectively control,” Krug says.

Some people try sucker stopper products. “It’s really tricky. You need to use it very carefully. Follow the label precisely, just like if you were taking medication,” Krug explains. “If you use too much, the product becomes dangerous. You can burn the tree, see its health decline or could even kill it.”

Instead, a local arborist may safely be able to apply a growth inhibitor to stop the tree shoots.

If you DIY with a sucker stopper product, monitor your tree for the next few days. If you see distorted or brown leaves, you likely applied too much and should flush the system, like you would to remove winter salt.

“Constantly removing tree suckers can become overwhelming from a mental standpoint,” Krug notes. “But remember: there’s no such thing as a perfect tree. Always do your research before planting, and ask an arborist before you plant a new tree. We think about these types of issues, so you don’t have to.”

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  • The Tree Doctor August 28, 2018 >Poplar trees have a shallow, fibrous root system and tend to form colonies by sending up root sprouts. All the sprouts are connected to each other below ground through their root systems. In lawn areas, mowing the shoots off will eventually use up the stored reserves of the root system, but this can take time. Treating the sprouts in lawn areas with a broadleaf herbicide labeled for lawn use can work as well. The systemic chemical will be absorbed into the root system improving control. If the shoots are coming up in non-lawn areas, they can be cut with pruning tools or spot treated with appropriate herbicides. The shoots will likely continue to pop up until the root system is exhausted. Hopefully, this helps!
  • Carole Rose August 26, 2018 >We have an ornamental pear tree in our front yard and it has thousands of small pear which are falling off the tree now. When they fall to the ground the bees eat them and get crazy. can I stop this tree from producing fruit. The fruit are the size of an 1/2 dollar. Thanks
  • Mary Casey August 23, 2018 >We cut a few popple trees in our yard and now there are little trees sprouting up everywhere!! How can I control this?
  • The Tree Doctor July 3, 2018 >Hi Mary, I do not believe the oak sprouts would be causing your grass to die. Likely some other landscape issue. I recommend you contact a local turf specialist in your area. He or she should be able to look at your situation, make an accurate diagnosis and provide management options. Best of luck to you, Mary!
  • Mary Brown July 3, 2018 >In my backyard the grass is dying. I have been told it is because of the oak sprouts. Is this true and what can be done to prevent ?
  • The Tree Doctor September 5, 2017 >Hi Morella! We wouldn’t recommend digging them up individually, as that would be extremely time consuming and difficult to manage. We would recommend using an herbicide on the seedlings that you can find at most home improvement stores. Hope this helps! Here if you have any other questions, Morella.
  • Morella Villalobos August 26, 2017 >Our neighbor cut down a huge 60-70 year old poplar last year and now we have a forest of mini poplar seedlings that have completely taken over our back yard. (Feels like more than 500. My son said use poison . I stay away from poisoning anything. So should I just do the one-on one cutting away saplings as close down as possible? We tried this earlier in the summer and they grew back with a vengeance!
  • The Tree Doctor July 7, 2017 >Hi Ravi. Great question! Usually in about 4-5 years the roots will no longer have enough energy to keep sustaining new sprouts. If you continue to mow them down, eventually they will not grow anymore. You can also hire a professional to try to cut into the roots and paint the cuts with herbicides (although this can be difficult to do). Hope this helps! Here if you have any other questions, Ravi.
  • Ravi Krishnan July 5, 2017 >We cut a honey locust tree in Oct'15 and ground the stump in the same month. In 2016, we saw saplings on our lawn. We used to mow or dig out them during spring/summer. In late summer, we unearthed a few roots and applied salt/vinegar/rock salt/triclopyr solutions through drill holes. In 2017, we see more sprouts. Is there anyway we can kill the roots?
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