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

gillnurseryProblem Solving, Timely Tips58 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.


58 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.

    2. And Wayne, I see I neglected to mention that though Floratam is superior in sun, Raleigh does better in shaded areas such as underneath large or closely planted live oaks.

  11. Think I may have gone about the sucker removal all wrong. I used a propane burner to burn down the sucker hedge that has grown up inside the brick wall perimeter around my Oak tree. I have noticed some browning of the leaves on the tree. Hopefully just a shock and it will green back up in a week or so.

    1. Hopefully. I had never thought of that idea, would be a little afraid of trying it. But sometimes a plant problem will make you so mad, you will try anything. Please let me know if this works out for you, and I will pass it along.

    2. Bill – do you have any updates on your torching approach? I hoped this would be the silver bullet… since i don’t like any of the other options :). Great blog, though. I appreciated reading through everyone’s ideas and James’ original post. Stay vigilant with those suckers!

    1. I never heard of anyone trying that, Gery. It might work. The matrix of the artificial grass might hold the suckers back, or you might need another layer under it of heavier construction geotextile. But artificial turf is usually put atop a base of crushed stone or similar, I worry that the extra layer of base material might cause problems for the tree.

  12. It’s truly a great and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared
    this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this.
    Thanks for sharing.

  13. I have been searching for an indepth article on these tree sprouts for sometime now. Thanks for the informaion and a couple of solutions.

  14. People who come in on this web site trying to sell something and leaving their advice for how the web site’s experts handle things, ought not to be so rude!!! Please stop and refrain from interfering in what this site was intended for. We come in for here advice, and we are not here to be sold on some other product from rude and nasty opportunists!

  15. Never say never! : > ) After an unusually wet spring and early summer many lawns in KC – including ours – are filled with the small seedlings from sprouted acorns. We know it’s acorns and not sprouts from the tree roots because when pulled every little seedling root has an acorn attached to it! Several shorter than usual mowings have not done them in – they just continue to leaf out again in a day or so. Hardy and persistent little guys! : > ( Considering attacking them by hand, but oh the hours it would take. Any other alternative?

    1. Suzanne, I’m at a loss for solutions. A broadleaf weed killer such a Triclopyr will kill oak seedlings without harming the grass, but a spray application will definately damage or even kill the main tree. Roundup will kill the seedlings AND the lawn without harming the main tree, if they are indeed seedlings and not suckers. Using a wiper application of Triclopyr with NO spillage of chemical might be successful, but is risky. So I can’t wholeheartedly recommend any of these. You could attempt covering with old carpet or refrigerator boxes to suffocate the seedlings, being sure you still apply adequate water to the roots of the main tree. Best of luck.

  16. This is so helpful James! I will try the go-turf and mulch. I don’t have large area, and initially pulled all of the sprouts by hand! (Two days) Once I pulled them, my other plants (Society garlic, lantana) started blooming! We are selling this house, but I want this little suckers to GO!

  17. And Wayne, I see I neglected to mention that though Floratam is superior in sun, Raleigh does better in shaded areas such as underneath large or closely planted live oaks.

  18. Geotextile is the devil. The previous owners put it down everywhere, with rocks and mulch on top. The problem is the world doesn’t stop. Leaves, catkins and such keep falling, burying the mess. You will never rake or blow it all away. Roots grow through it, making near impossible to remove. Now, deciding to dig a hole to plant a shrub is a torture instead of a joy.
    The inventor should be prosecuted.

  19. I still like the decking idea around the tree, but my concern is that they will eventually push up through the boards and being that there is “strength in numbers” may actually push up the deck!

  20. I have laid down thick black plastic rolls over the suckers and then covered that with mulch. Never saw those suckers again. In another area I am trying an herbicide Sucker Punch.. Too early to tell if that will be the answer

  21. The sprouting tree we have is in our front yard. If we cover it with heavy plastic for a few weeks, will that kill off the sprouts without harming the tree?
    It’s a small yard and we want it to look nice. Thanks Steve

    1. No, covering with plastic will not kill the sprouts. You can hand prune continually, or mow, or cover with heavy grade geotextile and rock.

  22. We removed the tree, grinded it down and still getting suckers. We are using round up. The suckered are relentless.

    1. Syl, our Brushkiller with Triclopyr will be much more effective than Roundup for killing out those oak suckers, but it will probably still take repeated applications. Applied according to label directions, it will not kill your St. Augustine grass.

  23. Hello – I just bought a home with beautiful oak trees in the yard – which is nearly covered with about 4″ oak sprigs – likely kept short by mowing. I pulled a few and there are no acorns attached so they’re coming from the main trees. After reading thru these comments, I wondered if any persistent ground cover might successfully compete with these? You mentioned Asiatic Jasmine. If I planted AJ, mowing would be impossible. Would a thick growth of AJ likely keep the sprigs from growing tall? Trying to figure this out! Thanks!

    1. No, groundcover will definitely not prevent the sprouts from growing. If you plant asiatic jasmine as a groundcover, you can use power hedge shears to trim the jasmine and oak sprouts to the same height, and the jasmine camoflages the oak sprouts since the leaf color size and shape are so similar.

    2. I think I like the geotextile fabric idea – covered by a deck! Any thoughts/recommendations about the best geotextile? I see woven and non-woven and heavy duty and commercial grade.
      Thank you so much!

  24. Please can someone tell me how I can get rid off the sprouts on my front yard Fron the Oak tree , have try everything and nothing works and by the way why the tree do that?

  25. Will torching the sprouts work as an alternative ? I have them all over my backyard so putting gravel over it wouldn’t be a solution…

    1. If you read above, you will see a reply from someone who tried this, and afterwards was noticing some browning in his tree. I had requested he give us a followup of the result but he has not. So I would be hesitant to try this. And I doubt it would be effective for much longer than mowing anyway.

  26. We live in the Florida Suncoast area (Tampa Bay area, gulf coast). We had a live oak that needed to be removed due to disease. It was cut and the stump ground down, but not completely because of a nearby huge rock. Now (within two weeks since it was cut), the entire lawn is full of suckers, and the grass is not growing well. We had suckers before, but not nearly what is there now. It’s taking over the lawn. The other comments discuss options without harming the tree, but the tree is gone. What can we do to eliminate them and re-grow the grass since the tree is already gone?

    1. If no other trees or shrubs have roots in that area, you could use triclopyr on the suckers. Follow label directions.

  27. I cut all the suckers as deep as I could, then used the plastic bags from hardwood mulch making sure they overlapped. Then I covered the plastic with a thick layer of mulch. This actually works pretty good. Only have an occasional sucker poking up.

  28. You are absolutely wrong about seedlings growing from acorns. I have about a million in my yard and flower beds. I know the difference between a sucker and a seedling.
    When I need advice I won’t be asking you.

  29. We have artificial turf and some sprouts are coming through. I am more concerned about mounding underneath the grass which may be where some are trying to come through. Our turf has been there for 8 years. As far as Sucker punch, it doesn’t even put a dent on them and very thick/goopy and very expensive for the amount of sprouts that we have. Our front yard as Asian Jasmine (well established) and it seems to keep down the suckers. Right now the other area we are weed wacking and putting a fence around it (to keep dogs off spikes) until we come up with another solution. We have been here 30 years. This has happened after a big (5 year) drought season. And once you start pulling them up, more will come up from the break areas.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Yours is the first time I’ve heard back from someone trying the Sucker Punch. I had my doubts as to whether it would work, but couldn’t say without someone reporting about it so thanks again.

  30. I’ve been pulling up acorn seedlings in a pachysandra bed for years. I see from your writers that some of the ones I can’t pull up are suckers, so I cut them off at the dirt, however I think they resprout the following year. Is there any chemical that could be used on the seedlings that will NOT kill the pachysandra?

  31. We have a cabin in Utah. Elevation is About 64 hundred ft.. We have grumble oak. Because of the drought, oak sprouts are totally out of control.
    We have tried Sucker punch in a very small ,but are afraid of killing our trees. What are your thoughts?

    1. My experience is only with southern live oak. I’ve never tried sucker punch or other hormonal chemicals but I doubt their effectiveness until I see at least anecdotal evidence otherwise. The only solution I know of is to cover it with a heavy gauge of Geo textile

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