Maintaining a healthy lawn requires a great deal of regular care and attention. There’s a lot that can go wrong if things are left unchecked, which could potentially leave you overloaded with playing catch-up.
While weeds are the most common invasive plant that you’ll likely encounter, there are others that you need to be aware of, especially if you have trees nearby. Tree sprouts can cause a lot of strain on your tree, your grass, and potentially your entire garden if left to grow for too long, so it’s important to recognize the problem early on and get to the root immediately.
What Are Saplings, Seedlings, and Root Sprouts?
If you’ve ever heard these terms, you may or may not be aware that there’s a difference between the three. If you’ve never worked in landscaping or lawn care before, this is an easy distinction to miss, but it makes a world of difference when it comes down to treatment.
Seedlings are simply just baby trees that are growing from seeds either planted manually or disbursed from a nearby tree. Seedlings take a few years to solidify into stronger, healthy trees, so you have time to recognize them and intervene accordingly.
However, seedlings can grow two to six inches per year, and get more difficult to unearth the older they get, so it’s important to catch them early if at all possible.
Saplings differ from seedlings in size. Tree saplings are the smallest version of a tree you’ll find. This is a key difference to keep in mind when learning to distinguish the difference.
While saplings and seedlings are both closely related to one another, there is one more variant you need to learn, and is the main topic of this article: root sprouts.
Root sprouts are essentially an offshoot of the larger tree. They’re another way for trees to pass on genetic information and continue to grow. Sometimes when trees (and other types of plants as well) are healthy, they’ll have offshoots of roots. The root system will stretch far beyond where it needs to be, and the roots will shoot up little tree sprouts.
This can happen either a distance from the tree itself, or immediately at the base of the tree. When tree sprouts occur a distance away from the tree, they’re referred to as, “root sprouts,” but when they occur as the base of the tree, they’re called “suckers” or “basal suckers.”
Knowing the difference between saplings, seedlings, and suckers makes a difference when determining the best course of action in terms of treatment or eradication, as you’ll find out later on.
Why Get Rid of Tree Sprouts in Your Yard?
As it is with anything in nature, everything is either in harmony or in competition. The relationship between your beautiful green lawn and the tree sprouts that continue to pop up is a competitive one, so something needs to be done.
You might notice that the grass area around a tree sprout, if left untouched for a time, is thinner, drier, and in danger of dying. Tree sprouts compete with the grass roots for nutrients and it’s often that the tree sprouts win, leaving your grass looking unhealthy.
Tree sprouts can also make it more difficult to conduct regular maintenance on your lawn. For example, weed whacking can become difficult when too many sprouts are present. The sprouts themselves are often too sturdy for a weed whacker to handle, which can either damage the weed whacker, or give you an unexpected extra step to take.
The same can sometimes happen with a lawn mower as well, but not as often. It’s possible to cut tree sprouts down with a mower, but your cuts won’t be as clean. You’ll likely leave behind torn, frayed bits of tree sprout still in the ground, which is even less attractive than a healthy tree sprout. So it’s best to avoid hitting them with a mower.
In some cases, if tree sprouts grow too large, they can negatively impact the health of the tree to which they’re attached by sucking energy and nutrients from the larger tree.
How to Remove Seedlings
Seedlings are the easiest to remove, but sometimes require an extra step in their removal. To remove a seedling from the ground, all you have to do is pull it up, roots and all. Make sure that you get all of its roots along with it so that it doesn’t regenerate later on.
Seedlings don’t usually require an extra step, but sometimes if left unchecked, they can become challenging to remove. If you have a seedling that’s grown into a small tree, you’re going to have more trouble getting it out.
To ease the process along, water the ground around the seedling really well. You want the surrounding dirt to be soaked enough so that the root system of the tree sprout becomes looser and easier to handle. Then you can more easily pull up the entire tree sprout and root system.
Just because you don’t want a tree sprout in your yard doesn’t mean that you can’t plant it somewhere else, though! You can easily transplant the seedling from your yard into a larger, more natural area. Wilderness and conservation areas may be good places to start, but check with your local forestry service before planting any foreign greenery on public lands.
If you find a place to re-plant, make sure that there’s enough shade, sunlight, and space for it to grow roots deep and spread out.
How to Remove Tree Sprouts
Tree sprouts are the more difficult of the two variations that you’ll encounter in your lawn. If you have a single or multiple trees nearby, you’re likely going to have to face it at least once.
Removing tree sprouts can damage the surrounding grass if not done so carefully. As we already mentioned, tree sprouts (or root sprouts) grow from the root of the nearby tree, so if you attempt to dig up the root system, you’ll end up digging up an entire root as well as the grass on top of it.
Tree roots don’t always grow deep underneath the ground. In fact, oftentimes they reach out horizontally, just below or just above the surface of the earth. Knowing this can help you prevent ripping up grass and roots unnecessarily.
Digging up tree roots also places more stress on the tree, which will actually force the tree into creating more sprouts, but we’ll talk about that more later on.
There are two major courses of action that you can take to remove tree sprouts from your lawn. The first is to determine what tree the sprouts are coming from, and then remove the parent tree entirely. This will kill all the sprouts and their roots in one go.
The less drastic option is to prune the sprouts. To do this, you’ll need a sharp pair of gardening shears or hedge trimmers and a bit of patience, depending on how many you have to deal with.
Pull the sprout up with one hand, and feel for the base of it with the other. You should be looking for a larger root from which you can cut the sprout. Once you’ve found it, cut it off with your gardening or pruning shears as close to the root as you can to eliminate the possibility of it growing back.
If you’re dealing with basal suckers, or tree sprouts that pop up around the base of the tree, you should follow the same method. Simply prune the tree sprouts as close to the base as possible to eliminate the possibility of them coming back.
It’s important to note that if you just prune them, but not all the way down to the root, you will only encourage them to grow back even more.
How to Prevent Tree Sprouts From Growing in Your Lawn
Preventing tree sprouts from growing in your lawn requires that you understand why they occur in the first place. Trees produce sprouts or suckers when they’re under stress, so treating the cause of your tree’s stress will ultimately resolve the issue of sprouts in your yard.
Whether your tree is damaged from a storm or infested with mites, the stress can cause sprouts to pop up.
Treating something such as an infestation can be as simple as applying an insecticide or fungicide, and can be an easy step to take when compared to digging up seemingly countless tree sprouts.
Make sure that you treat the root cause of stress on your tree, and then remove the sprouts. Sometimes removing the root sprouts will only place the tree under more stress, and cause more sprouts to emerge.
Sprouts are a tree’s way of coping with stress, but they can become a nuisance to any lawn’s caretaker. If you follow this simple guide to removing tree sprouts by treating the root cause first, followed by removing tree sprouts, we think you’ll be back to mowing your lawn sprout-free in no time at all!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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