Ask the Experts, Tree Care & Trimming

Tree Suckers: Understanding Epicormic Sprouts

tree suckers aka epicormic sprouts

Is your tree suddenly producing an abundance of small sprouts along its trunk and branches? Commonly called tree suckers, these are known to Certified Arborists as epicormic sprouts and are important to understand in order to preserve the health of your trees.

What Are Epicormic Sprouts?

Epicormic sprouts, also known as water sprouts or suckers, are dormant buds that reside beneath the tree’s bark, waiting for the right conditions to burst forth. They typically emerge from the main trunk or large branches and can be either epicormic (arising from existing dormant buds) or adventitious (forming from new latent buds). These sprouts often exhibit rapid growth and a vertical orientation, differing from the typical branch structure. Epicormic sprouts are particularly common in many tree species found in the Southern United States.

The Role of Epicormic Sprouts in Protecting Tree Health

There are many misconceptions about tree suckers. The Tree Care Industry Magazine recently highlighted what they deemed the “epicormic conspiracy“, a misconception that sprouts rob energy from the tree and that they should be “cleaned” from the trunk and branches.

Contrary to this popular believe, Certified Aborists have proven that epicormic sprouts serve several valuable functions within a tree’s life cycle:

  1. Stress Response: Trees in the Southern region frequently face environmental stressors like drought, storms, or pest infestations. Epicormic sprouts act as a backup mechanism to generate new growth when primary branches are damaged or stressed.
  2. Regeneration: When trees experience injury or heavy pruning, epicormic sprouts can provide an avenue for the tree to recover and regenerate lost foliage.
  3. Survival Strategy: In some tree species, epicormic sprouts can be part of the tree’s survival strategy, ensuring that even if the primary branches are damaged, the tree can still produce leaves for photosynthesis.

Pruning and Epicormic Sprout Management

Pruning is an essential aspect of tree care in the South, as it promotes tree health, safety, and aesthetics. When dealing with epicormic sprouts, it’s crucial to follow ANSI A300 tree pruning standards. Certified arborists use these guidelines to ensure the proper management of epicormic sprouts:

  1. Targeted Pruning: In some cases, selective pruning can be used to remove epicormic sprouts, especially when they pose a risk to the tree’s structural integrity. Learn more about how to properly prune epicormic sprouts.
  2. Gradual Reduction: To prevent excessive regrowth, pruning epicormic sprouts should be done gradually over several seasons, ensuring the tree’s overall health is not compromised.
  3. Pruning Timing: Ideally, pruning to manage epicormic sprouts should be conducted during the dormant season to minimize stress on the tree.

Species-Specific Considerations

Live Oaks are particularly prone to producing epicormic sprouts (learn why here). Learn more Different tree species in the Southern region may exhibit varying tendencies for epicormic sprout growth. Certified arborists are well-versed in these species-specific traits and can tailor their pruning and care strategies accordingly.

southern botanical tree care experts

Don’t Be a Sucker

Epicormic sprouts are an essential aspect of tree physiology – don’t let anyone sucker you into thinking they are parasitic to the tree! These dormant buds play a crucial role in a tree’s response to stress and its ability to regenerate. Southern Botanical ISA Certified Arborists employ ANSI standards and species-specific knowledge to effectively manage and maintain the health and vitality of trees, ensuring they continue to thrive and provide numerous benefits to the environment. By understanding and respecting the role of epicormic sprouts, we can contribute to the long-term well-being of the trees that grace our landscapes.