What Shrubs Spread by Suckering?

A short list of some of the worst offenders

Kerria shrub with single flowers in bloom.
Renate Frost / EyeEm/Getty Images

What shrubs spread by suckering? It is an important question if you are the type of gardener who wants to grow only well-behaved bushes, low-maintenance plants that you can forget about for a while without realizing one day that they have spread out of control or, at the very least, have created an unsightly mess.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Some shrubs have a greater tendency than others to produce "suckers." While that word is generally used to indicate something bad (you would not want someone to call you a "sucker," would you?), the fact is that this tendency can be a good or bad thing, depending on your circumstances.

Suckering shrubs spread by pushing up new shoots around the perimeter of their original base. If you wish to check their spreading, keep a watchful eye on suckering shrubs and remove these unwanted vertical shoots as they appear by pruning them off. The need for you to remove these suckers means that such bushes can't be considered especially low-maintenance shrubs. This is an example of why suckering can be viewed as a bad thing; another is the fact that suckers sap energy from the main plant. Incidentally, a similar term is "watersprout," which is sort of the above-ground version of a sucker.

Now you know why suckering on your shrubs can pose a problem. However, it is not all bad news. If you wish to propagate bushes, suckering makes your job easy. Just sever the suckers from where they are pushing up from the main root system. Get a good chunk of roots to facilitate transplanting the shrubs.

Alternatively, if you have the space (this may apply especially to rural homeowners), in some cases you may be able to take advantage of these bushes' tendency to sucker by allowing the shrubs to spread on their own, thereby filling in an area. This tendency can be especially helpful on hillsides where there is a need for soil-erosion control. Suckering shrubs can be put to work in these areas to hold back the soil. You may have seen examples in your own area where your town's Department of Public Works (or the equivalent) has planted a mass of such bushes on a hillside along a highway. In New England (USA), burning bush shrubs were commonly planted in on slopes bordering highways―until it became widely known just how invasive they are.

Note, however, that this is not a good idea for shrubs that are susceptible to mildew and similar diseases: such shrubs need to be thinned, to promote air circulation (such is the case with the very first shrub on the list below, lilac, which is one of the most common victims of powdery mildew).

Short Lists of Shrubs and Trees That Spread by Suckering

The following are some of the suckering shrubs:

Grafted rose bushes also produce suckers. Marie Iannotti, our Gardening Expert, tells you how to handle rose suckers.

Some trees sucker, as well. Examples include: