What can I do about those sprouts under my oak tree?

gillnurseryProblem Solving, Timely Tips21 Comments

There are almost never seedlings growing from acorns. If there were, you would be able to pull them up easily. What you see are sprouts from the roots of the existing tree; therefore, you do not want to spray a herbicide on them in an attempt to eliminate the sprouts for you will hurt the “mother” tree along with the sprouts.

Only a small percentage of oaks send up suckers from the roots. It is a genetic trait, like freckles, except I like freckles. But like freckles and sunshine, some trees have the ability to sucker, but do not unless stimulated to do so. Oaks having a slight tendency to sprout suckers will often do so when roots hit a barrier, such as trees confined to a parking lot planter, or between a sidewalk and driveway. Also, when roots are disturbed and damaged by rototilling, they are more likely to sprout suckers. But some trees never will make suckers. When choosing an oak in a garden center, if there are sprouts coming up at the inside edges of the container, I would avoid that tree. 

You may choose to mow them along with the grass, if grass still exists. Or if the grass has thinned too much, you might plant Asiatic Jasmine groundcover, and use hedge trimmers to trim the jasmine and oak sprouts to a uniform height. You can cover the area of sprouts with a heavy gauge woven geotextile, and then either mulch or spread large gravel or decomposed granite over the top of the geotextile. My favorite solution, when appropriate, is to cover the ground with geotextile and then build a wood deck. 

Or if you prefer a thick green lawn, you may remove the oak tree, and all of the tree roots with a backhoe. If you just cut down the tree, grind down the stump and all the large roots you can see, there will still be thousands of oak sprouts emerging from the remaining roots in your new lawn or bed area for a few years afterwards.  The area will need to be continually sprayed with an herbicide.


21 Comments on “What can I do about those sprouts under my oak tree?”

  1. Thank you other than pulling morning glory is there something we can spray that will not harm the oak trees
    We live on a ranch and have a few plus cattle

  2. Thanks James. I’ve read or scanned six online articles looking for a solution to this oak sprout problem and yours is the best so far. Not just saying that because I’m from CC. Wish there was an easy solution, but thanks for the answers and some alternatives. By the way, none of the three oaks I’ve bought from your nursery have had this problem.

  3. I have a large live oak and the sprouts around the tree have started to grow to a larger sprout being 5′ tall. Can I just cut them down and will they harm the large oak tree?
    Please advise. Thanks,

  4. Can these oak suckers be dug up and transplanted until they grow independent roots?


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  6. We live in the woods. Oak suckers mowed turn into small nails. My dogs foot got pierced by one between her toes and bled for some time. I can’t walk outside at my own new house without thick soled shoes for fear of being stabbed. This i cannot live with! I don’t see “pull and cut” being much different than tilling. What to do about the spikes?

    1. Just moved into a house with my fiancé and dog. We are having the same problem, I cut the grass really low exposing the suckers and most of the front yard is now composed of spikes … seriously “sucks”

      1. Yes its sucks. You can cover the sprouting area with heavy gauge geotextile and rock, or remove the tree and roots (major job). I had one gentleman tell me he excavated all suckers and surface roots and the tree had not resprouted. But I can’t believe that is a permanent condition/solution.

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    1. If you remove a tree, but it keeps sprouting from roots, triclopyr will kill those sprouts. But if surrounding trees or shrubs have roots in the same zone, they will be damaged.

  8. Hi, I plan to plant Hosta plants around the oak trees but the problem is the seedlings popped up around the tree.
    So the question is: will the seedlings harm the hosta plants, bleeding hearts or astilbe flowers? Thank you.

  9. By the way, I plan to purchase some more bags of the naturally organic topsoil to pour in the flower bed further away like 4′ to 5′ from the oak tree to make the flower bed for the hostas, bleeding hearts, ferns and astilbes. Will these plants be okay? Thank you.

    1. Marlo, I assume you are a long way from Corpus Christi. Those plants mostly will not grow here. But if your oaks are suckering from the roots, I would not plant in those areas, the sprouts will be very competitive with anything you plant.

  10. Is the a seed product for Floritam or St Augustine grass to avoid re-sodding? Maybe a suitable alternative to plant in bare spots until the Floritam fills in?
    Thank you!

    1. No seed for Floratam. Buy a few pieces of sod, cut them into 4″x4″ squares, partially bury them , keep watered and fertilized. They will spread fairly quickly next spring.

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