Sucker roots on apple tree?

(Question)

We recently planted an apple tree (2yrs old, I think). I’ve been reading about sucker roots possibly growing from the scion, if you bury the graft when planting. I can’t tell if this is what’s happening to our tree or not. See the attached picture, after I used the hose to clear away some soil around the base.

Do you think these are sucker roots… and if so, what should I do about them?

appletree

(Answer)

Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your inquiry. There are many advantages to planting trees. They clean the air, provide oxygen & shade, prevent soil erosion and provide shelter to other animals. Planting a fruit tree is an added bonus because you can harvest the bounty of fruit it will provide.

The key to growing a healthy tree begins with proper planting procedures. This Garden Guide outlines the proper steps for successful tree planting. A key factor when planting a tree is making sure not to plant the tree too deep. Planting a tree too deeply will eventually lead to the death of the tree. The place where the roots meet the trunk is called the trunk flare or the root collar. Unlike roots, trunks are not meant to be buried in the soil. If covered in soil the trunk may rot, become diseased or even die. The tree must be placed in the ground so that the soil grade is level with the bottom of the root collar. From your photo it is difficult to tell the location of the root collar. That being said your photo does show a picture of healthy roots spreading out from the base of the tree.

Root Suckers are actually long, whip-like leafy branches that emerge at the graft union or lower. They are often weakly attached; yet they grow vigorously and quickly. They are unsightly and take nutrients away from the tree. Suckers will become weak trees or branches if allowed to grow. Most fruit trees and many ornamental shrubs and trees are grafted. This process refers to taking a rootstock and surgically attaching the type of fruit tree you want to it. Many rootstocks aren’t the types of trees that produce tasty fruit, but they’re roots are better, stronger and more suited to planting. Suckers growing below the graft line or from the roots are baby versions of the rootstock, not the type of tree grafted to it.

Many young fruit trees will produce vigorous suckers annually. When young, you can pinch suckers off with your fingers. Some suckers grow so vigorously, however, that you may need to use pruning shears. Cut suckers as close to the trunk as you can. Using a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears, cleanly cut the plant sucker as close to the tree as possible, but leave the collar (where the tree sucker meets the tree) to help speed the wound recovery. Perform this tree sucker control as soon as you see any plant suckers appear so that you put less stress on your tree.

Enjoy the harvest and all those apple pies that you will be making in the future.