The Q&A Archives: Franklinia Suckers

Question: I have a beautiful Franklinia tree in my yard. It has developed about 3 suckers coming off the base of the trunk just at the dirt line. I would like to cultivate these suckers to give to my parents for their yard. My Dad is fascinated with the Franklinia. What is the best way to do this? Should I pile soil up to the base of the suckers, in hopes they develop their own roots? When is best to separate them from the mature tree? Fall or Spring? If Spring, how do I keep the little fellas alive over the winter?

Answer: Suckers, or water sprouts as they are sometimes known, are vigorous shoots that grow from latent buds in older wood. Appearance can indicate a vigorous, healthy plant, or can arise if the plant is under stress, such as from drought, nutrient deficiency or injury to the top of the plant. If the plant has not been grafted onto a rootstock, the suckers will resemble the plant. If they originate from below the graft, they will be quite different from the top of the plant.

Since a sucker is an upright shoot arising from a horizontal root, it's generally called an adventitious shoot. Shoots of this kind can be encouraged to grow roots through the propagation method called layering. In the spring, bend one of the suckers down so part of it touches the soil. Nick it slightly and hold the wound open with a small pebble. Then bury the injured portion in the soil, leaving the top of the shoot exposed. Anchor the buried part so it remains in contact with the soil. Roots will develop at the injury site. Once new growth is discovered on the top of the shoot, rooting has probably taken place. After roots develop you can cut the shoot from the parent plant and pot it up.

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