It's not uncommon for rose plants to be grafted (joined together) to produce hardier rootstocks. The graft or bud union looks like a small, knobby knot and should be planted just below the soil's surface. Then, ideally, the rootstock will send down roots and the top portion of the plant will produce the canes and blooms. However, sometimes things don't go as planned. There is a chance that canes, called "suckers," can be produced by the rootstock. These suckers emerge below the bud union on and around thriving perennial rose bushes. Canes that grow out of the rootstock will not produce the same amount of rose flowers as other parts of the bush. Instead, they will suck the nutrients away from the more productive top portion of the plant, hence requiring removal.
When to Get Rid of Suckers on Roses
A branch that comes from below the bud union is surely a sucker. Most suckers will emerge in the springtime, growing vigorously, and the leaves won't exactly resemble those on the upper portion of the rose bush. Instead, they will look immature, light green, and somewhat curly. Suckers will not produce any flower buds at all or, if they do, the flowers will not be the color, shape, or size you would expect from the variety of rose you purchased. So, the earlier you recognize these rouge sproutings, the better, as eradicating them at once will assure an abundant midsummer showing.
Equipment / Tools
- Gardening gloves or latex gloves
- Pruning shears
- Garden trowel
- Paintbrush (optional)
- Tree wound sealer or Elmer's glue
- Organic compost (optional)
Locate the Sucker's Connection Point
Follow the sucker beneath the soil, using a garden trowel to pull back some of the dirt to expose the connection point. This point could lie just beneath the surface or it may reside down deep.
Prune the Sucker
Cut the sucker with shears as close to the connection point as possible. Make a clean snip directly next to the original root or main cane.
Seal the Wound
Use a tar-like tree wound sealer or Elmer's glue to seal the exposed area of the cane. Apply it with a paintbrush or gloved finger.
Let the Sealer Dry
Keep the exposed wound open to the air to let the sealer dry completely. If rain or clouds are in the forecast, this may take up to one day.
Replace the Soil
Once the sealer is dry to the touch, replace the soil around your rose bush. Then, as part of yearly maintenance, mix in some compost, should you desire.
Monitor the Bush
Suckers can pop up throughout the growing season. If you see others form, repeat the above methods.
Maintain Plant Health
Suckers tend to form on plants that are stressed. Therefore, regular watering (but not overwatering) and seasonal pruning will help your rose bush stay healthy and ward off future suckers.
Sucker Removing Tips
Suckers that are not removed from a rose bush will eventually take over the plant. And cutting suckers with pruners just above the soil line seems to encourage more suckers.
Some professionals recommend digging down to where the sucker originates and then pulling, twisting, or tearing it off instead of cutting it (for fear that cutting will encourage more suckers). If you choose to use this method, do so as gently as possible so you don't further damage the plant.
Don't be surprised if suckers pop up several feet from the originating rose bush. Just follow the same procedure: Trace the branch back to where it originates on the rootstock and cut or tear it off below the soil line.
Do not use a spray-on sealer. The material is not thick enough to fully cover the wound and may cause another sucker to form in its place.
Grafted vs. Non-Grafted Roses
Roses grown from grafts benefit in terms of the hardiness and health of the plant, as branches are usually grafted onto the rootstock of a hardier plant. The top part of the plant, the scion, is the rose variety you are purchasing. This is the part that will bloom and will produce the variety of rose flowers you are expecting. Once grafted, a rose plant's roots can handle cold winters and may gain some disease resistance as well. This helps the rose bush survive in colder climates.
Wild rose and heritage varieties are usually grown from cuttings and will not produce suckers. If you purchased such varieties, take note that any canes that emerge from the soil are usually a viable part of the plant and originate from the rose's root system. Leave them be and they will add to your showy display.