How to Get Rid of Suckers on Roses

Pulling sucker away from the rootstock of a ​bush rose

Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 1 day, 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

It's quite common for two rose plants to be grafted (joined together) to produce hardier plants that are capable of surviving winter. Hardy rose rootstock is grafted onto another variety of rose that produces the above-ground growth and the type of rose blooms you have purchased. The graft or bud union looks like a small, knobby knot and should be planted just below the soil surface. Then, ideally, the rootstock produces a hardy root system and the above-ground portion of the plant produces healthy cane growth and beautiful roses.

However, sometimes things don't go as planned. There is a chance that vigorous growing canes, called "suckers," can be produced by the rootstock. These suckers emerge below the bud union. Canes that grow out of the rootstock will not produce the same kind or number of blooms as the grafted above-ground portion of the bush. The suckers steal nutrients away from the rose bush, weakening it, and thus need to be removed as soon as they appear.

When to Get Rid of Suckers on Roses

A branch that grows 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 above-ground portion of the rose bush. Instead, they will look immature, light green, and somewhat curly. Suckers will not produce flower buds at all or, if they do, the roses will not be the color, shape, or size you would expect from the variety of rose you purchased. So, the earlier you recognize these undesirable sprouts, the better, because eradicating them at once will assure an abundant midsummer showing.

Grafted vs. Non-Grafted Roses

Roses grown from grafts benefit in terms of the hardiness and health of the plant because branches are usually grafted onto the rootstock of a hardier variety of rose plant. The above-ground portion of the plant, known as the scion, is the rose variety you are purchasing. This is the part that will grow canes and produce buds that bloom into the variety of rose flowers you are expecting. Once grafted, a rose plant's root system can handle cold winters and might gain some disease resistance as well. Grafting helps a rose bush survive in colder climates.

Wild rose and heritage varieties are usually not grafted and are grown from cuttings and thus will not produce suckers. If you purchased these kinds of roses, take note that any canes that emerge from the soil are usually a viable part of the plant and originate from the rose's ungrafted root system. Leave them be and they will add more blooms to its showy display.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Gardening gloves or latex gloves
  • Pruning shears
  • Garden trowel
  • Paintbrush (optional)

Materials

  • Tree wound sealer or Elmer's glue
  • Organic compost (optional)

Instructions

  1. Locate the Sucker's Connection Point

    Follow the sucker beneath the soil, using a garden trowel to pull away some soil to expose the connection point. This point could lie just beneath the surface or it might reside down deeper.

  2. Prune the Sucker

    Cut the sucker with pruning shears as close to the connection point as possible. Make a clean snip directly next to the original root or main cane.

  3. Seal the Wound

    Use a tar-like tree wound sealer or white craft glue to seal the exposed area of the cane. Do not use a spray-on sealer. The material is not thick enough to fully cover the wound and might cause another sucker to form in its place. Apply the sealer or glue with a paintbrush or gloved finger.

  4. Let the Sealer Dry

    Keep the exposed wound open to the air to let the sealer or glue dry completely. If rain or clouds are in the forecast, this might take up to one day.

  5. Push Back the Soil

    Once the sealer or glue is dry to the touch, push back the soil around your rose bush and tamp down lightly. As part of yearly maintenance, you might want to mix in or top dress with some compost.

  6. Monitor the Rose Bush for more Suckers

    Suckers can pop up throughout the growing season. If you see others forming, repeat these steps.

  7. Maintain Plant Health

    Suckers tend to form on plants that are stressed. Therefore, regular watering (but not overwatering), deadheading spent blooms, and seasonal pruning will help your rose bush stay healthy and ward off future suckers.

Sucker Removal 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.

Article Sources
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  1. Sucker Growth on Roses. University of California Extension.