Removing Rose Suckers – Tips On How To Get Rid Of Rose Suckers

Removing Rose Suckers – Tips On How To Get Rid Of Rose Suckers

When you hear the word suckers, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely that sweet treat enjoyed from childhood. However, in the rose bed, suckers are ornery growths that spring out of the hardy rootstock of grafted rose bushes, just below the grafted knuckle union. Keep reading to learn more about sucker growth on roses.

What is a Sucker on a Rose Bush?

A grafted rose bush consists of the above-ground rose bush you desire and the below-ground rootstock. The above-ground portion is typically not hardy enough to survive in all climatic conditions. Thus, it is grafted (budded) onto another rose that is extremely hardy so that the overall rose bush is capable of surviving in most climates.

A truly great idea this was and is! But like all great ideas, it seems there is at least one drawback that must be dealt with. The drawback, in this case, would be rose bush suckers. The hardy rootstock most often used in the United States is Dr. Huey. Japanese rose (R. multiflora) or Fortuniana rootstock in the Southeastern United States are also popular. Any of these may get overzealous and decide not to support their new grafted companion, sending up vigorous growing canes, which we call “suckers.”

Removing Rose Suckers

Sucker canes will, if left to grow, suck the majority of nutrients necessary for good growth and performance from their grafted counterparts, weakening the upper part of the bush – many times to the point that the upper portion dies. This is why removing rose suckers as they sprout is important.

Sucker canes will usually take on a totally different growth habit from the rest of the rose bush. They will grow tall and a bit wild, much like an untrained climbing rose. The leaves on the sucker canes will differ from the leaf structure and sometimes vary a bit in coloration too, with few to no leaves. Rose bush suckers typically will not set buds or bloom, at least in the first year of their growth.

If a sucker cane is suspected, take a closer look at it and follow the cane down to the base of the plant. Grafted roses will have a bit of a knuckle at the grafted union. If the cane is growing out of the top part of that knuckle union, it is likely the desired rose bush. If the cane is coming from below ground and underneath the knuckle union, however, it is most likely a true sucker cane and needs to be removed ASAP.

How to Get Rid of Rose Suckers

To remove rose suckers, follow them down as far as possible, moving some soil back to the point where it connects to the rootstock. Once you have found the point of connection, prune the sucker cane off as close to the rootstock as possible. Seal the area of the cut with either some Tree Wound Sealer, which is a tar-like product. Note: the spray-on sealers are not good enough for this. The cut can also be sealed with white multi-purpose Elmer’s Glue or the white Tacky Glue from craft stores. If you use the glue, let it dry well before moving the garden soil back in place.

Not pruning back far enough only allows them to grow right back. The rootstock may continue to send up more that need to be dealt with in the same manner. Some will continue to have this problem for the entire life of the rose.

If you have a rose bush that comes back from its winter nap but does not seem to have the same growth pattern it had previously, it is highly likely that the desired upper part of the grafted rose died and the hardy rootstock bush has taken over. In such cases, it is best to dig it out and plant another rose of the same kind that you had there or plant another one.

Wild roses and the old heritage type roses are not grafted roses. The rose bushes grown from cuttings are grown on their own root systems. Thus, whatever comes up from the root system is still the desired rose. The good news is that many of the newer rose bushes are grown from cuttings and do not produce sucker canes.

How to Prune Roses & the Suckers

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Roses require annual pruning to maintain vigorous growth and encourage an abundance of blooms. Regular and correct pruning will ensure that your rose plant does not become overgrown and maintains an aesthetically pleasing shape. Through pruning, you can also monitor the health of your plant by identifying and removing damaged and diseased canes. Pruning away suckers is also important because it prevents those wild shoots from maturing and overtaking your rose bush.

Prune hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses in the early spring while they are still dormant. Prune climbing, rambling and heirloom roses just after they finish blooming.

Dip the blades of a pair of hand pruning shears and loppers in 70 percent isopropyl alcohol to sterilize them. Leave the blades submerged for a few seconds. Allow the blades to air-dry before cutting the rose canes.

Identify any dead canes by their brown to black color and shriveled appearance. Remove these canes from the rose plant first, cutting them off no more than 1/4 inch above their bases at a 45-degree angle. Cut canes with diameters of 3/4 inch or smaller with hand pruning shears and canes with diameters larger than 3/4 inch with loppers.

Put on a pair of heavy gloves to protect your hands from the sharp rose thorns. Identify any damaged or diseased canes. Locate the nearest outward facing bud below the damaged or diseased portion of the cane. Cut the cane at a 45-degree angle, 1/4 inch above the selected bud.

Cut back any canes that cross or rub against other canes. Remove any weak canes or canes with a diameter smaller than that of a pencil. Prune away any canes growing toward the center of the rose plant.

Prune away all but the four to seven healthiest canes with a diameter of at least 1/2 inch on floribunda, hybrid tea and grandiflora roses. Prune away the oldest canes first. Cut back these remaining canes to a height of 15 to 18 inches.

Prune away the older canes, leaving the strongest five to eight canes, on climbing or rambling type roses. Cut back the lateral shoots that extend from the main canes to 3 to 6 inches in length or five to eight healthy buds.

Remove the oldest canes on heirloom or shrub type roses first. Do not remove more than one-third of these roses' total growth as it may damage or stunt their growth.

Identify any shoots growing from below the rose plant's bud union. These shoots, also called suckers, grow from the rootstock of the rose plant. Dig down carefully into the soil around sucker with a trowel until you locate its base. Grasp the bottom of the sucker in one hand. Bend the sucker quickly and firmly to one side to break it away from the rose's rootstock. Backfill the hole with displaced soil and tamp it down firmly. Remove all suckers in this manner.


JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: Earlier this year, I visited the beautiful garden belonging to Penny McKinlay - a rose expert from Pittsworth in Queensland. Whilst I was there, she had some great advice about caring for grafted roses.

PENNY MCKINLAY: Now Jerry, here's a problem with grafted roses. When you have a grafted rose, you have two plants. You have an under stock which is a very strong, common plant.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: That's the root system.

PENNY MCKINLAY: That's the root system. and then you graft the special one on to that.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: And that's the bit with the flowers.

PENNY MCKINLAY: That's right. Now this blighter. see how he's attached under the graft on the rose and gardeners look at it and they say, "Oh isn't that a healthy shoot." It's not and it will eventually be so strong and so big, it will take over and the big mother rose will gradually get weaker and weaker. Now they've got to be eliminated and don't just cut them with secateurs. That is not a good. they will grow again. So I'm going to do it with my foot and also, if you've got a very sharp, sharp knife, you could pull it down and scrape right into the trunk and then dab a bit of water based paint on where it came out of and then pile your soil up around it.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: There you go. A bit of leg work on your grafted roses will keep them in top shape. Great tip. Thanks Penny.

COSTA GEORGIADIS: I really love Penny's down to earth approach. Roses certainly do bring joy to all the senses and Jane's found a garden where they also bring peace.

You hear the term “sucker” a lot when it comes to roses but many people are not really sure what it actually means. So with the spring bloom coming on I thought I’d take a moment to talk about them because they tend to bloom only in the spring and that it when it’s easiest to identify them.

Many roses are budded onto an understock or rootstock. (The other term you hear is grafted). This understock is not actually the rose variety you purchased. In the United States, the understock is almost always Dr. Huey and in some instances Rosa multiflora.

The rose variety you purchased is budded onto this understock and that is how a budded rose plant is made. The spot where the rose you purchased was budded onto the understock is called a “bud union.” This is the “knot” just above the roots where the canes grow out of. Everything below the bud union is the understock, and everything above it is the rose variety you purchased.

The way it is supposed to work is that the understock stays below the bud union in the ground and forms roots, and the rose variety you purchased stays above the bud union and produces the blooms you fell in love with.

But Murphy’s Law even applies to roses.

Occasionally the understock will produce a cane from beneath the bud union that pops up out of the ground and grows like mad. And because it is produced from below the bud union, it “sucks” the nutrients up before they can get to the rose variety you purchased. Hence the term sucker. Eventually these suckers will kill the rose variety you purchased, leaving you with nothing but understock.

But the first spring flowering is the perfect time to identify them before they can take over. Dr. Huey is a small dark red bloom (see photo), and R. multiflora produces sprays of small white, single blooms. Also R. multiflora is generally thornless, with lighter green foliage. The canes and foliage of Dr. Huey are generally harder to tell apart from the rose variety you purchased.

If you have a sucker, simply follow it all the way back to where it is growing from the understock. You may even have to dig down a bit. Cut it off right at that point of contact. If you cut above it, then it will simply sprout faster and even produce more canes—or suckers.

I hope this helps you not only identify suckers but also how to get rid of them. And by the way, if you have your own root roses, don’t worry about it. They cannot produce a sucker because there is no understock. And that is another reason why I prefer them.

Happy Roseing,
Paul Zimmerman

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Probably, Lyn. are they growing from the base? If so they will be from the briar rootstock to which your Ballerina was grafted to. best remove them.

Not so sure David - Ballerina is one of the David Austin roses and many of them throw up shoots from below ground - they're not suckers. Another member of the forum removed just such shoots only to be told by a member of DA staff that they were not suckers.

David Austin staff are very happy to give advice and can be contacted here

“I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

I take your point, Dove. Ballerina is a very old variety that I grew 40 years ago and I can't recall any undue base growth. it should be easy to identify if it is above or below the graft.

You'll see from DA's website that they recommend planting so that the graft is 3" below the soil surface - consequently if the OPs rose has been planted in this way there may well be strong shoots coming from below ground, yet from above the graft.

“I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

Another good point, Dove. but when I grew mine the trend was to plant with the graft on the surface, unlike now when (as you rightly say) the trend is to plant (for stability reasons) the graft below.

I know I'm bit old-fashioned, but I still plant mine the old way, as I can only see problems with suckers with this new-fangled way.

Yes, I remember being taught to keep the graft clear of the soil, but I've adopted the new way and now I bury it beneath the surface, as it makes sense to me.

In my experience the most likely cause of suckers is wind rock, and if the bush is planted deeply then hopefully it shouldn't rock and therefore shouldn't sucker.

“I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

Comments (8)


THAT SAID, what sort of bloom you get (and how much) will be dependent upon
what is suckering.

If your roses are budded on 'Dr. Huey' you will have a very very vigorous
once-blooming rambler. It produces masses of dark, wine-red semi-
double blooms in the spring. After that, it grows, and (in my climate) mildews and rusts.

If your roses came from the Canadian vendors, you will get R. multiflora, which
is a nice spring-blooming species rose.

There are other rootstocks, but those are the most likely to be in your garden.

The other possibility is that your rose is growing on its own roots, and in
that case, it will just be mature, vigorous growth of what you bought.

Weather changes blooms

Something strange and magical happens to some of the blooms on my Sally Holmes rosebush in late November and December every year. The clusters of blooms, which are a creamy ivory color all year, become pink on one section of this lovely large shrub rose. At first, I excitedly thought I had discovered a sport. For several years, I tagged the canes with the pink blooms with ribbon, but every spring, the tagged canes grew the typical Sally Holmes’ clusters of ivory blooms with not a pink bloom in sight.

Some varieties of roses do this. They have blooms that change color in colder or hotter weather. Double Delight, which is a red- and cream-blend rose, will often exhibit more red in hot weather, and with a bigger creamy center in cooler weather. The unusual multicolored Distant Drums has more apricot shades when it is hot and sunny, and more pink shades in the spring’s lower temperatures.

Fertilizing, Pruning, and Winterizing Roses

With the abundance of information available on roses and rose care, there is still some mystery about proper care and maintenance. For every different type of rose, there is probably a gardener with a different approach to their care. It is as much of an art as it is a science to grow beautiful roses, but the following information will give some important basics to help demystify the process.


Because roses are heavy feeders, a routine fertilization program is important for plant health and vigor. Roses grow best in the pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. Soils testing below 5.5 will need an amendment of dolomitic lime, 7 to 8 pounds per 100 square feet, to raise the pH into the desired range. Powdered sulfur can be used to lower the pH. For soils with a pH between 7 and 7.5, add 1 pound of sulfur per 100 square feet for a pH between 8 and 8.5, add 2 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet and for soil with a pH over 8.5, add 3 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet. Ohio soils are often deficient in iron when the pH is above 6.5. Iron sulfate can be used instead of powdered sulfur to decrease the pH and provide the needed nutrient.

Soil texture, which is the relative percentage of sand, silt, and clay composing soil, will influence the amount and frequency of fertilizer application.

It is always a good idea to amend your soil with organic matter, such as humus, peat moss, manure, or composted sewage sludge for an added source of slow release nutrients. The addition of organic matter will also improve the soil’s drainage and nutrient holding capacity. It is recommended that 2 to 4 inches of organic matter be added and worked into new beds to a depth of 12 inches. Many gardeners find the combination of organic materials and a fast release, complete, inorganic fertilizer, such as a 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, works best to produce beautiful roses.

In general, roses do well with an application of 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet (or 0.3 pounds of nitrogen per 100 square feet), divided into 3 applications per year. To calculate how much fertilizer to apply depending on the formulation, use the following example.


Basically, pruning is done to improve the appearance of the plant, to remove dead or diseased wood, to let in sunlight and air to the center of the plant, and to control the quantity and quality of the flowers produced. Deadheading, or the removal of spent blooms during the season, encourages more blooms (on continuous blooming varieties), improves the appearance of the plant, and removes potential harboring sites for disease organisms.

Prune rose bushes to a uniform height, between 12 and 24 inches remove suckers below the soil line. In general, roses should be pruned just before growth begins in March or early April. The exceptions are old (heirloom) roses and some climbers that produce blooms on the previous year’s wood. They should be pruned after they bloom.

Following a logical sequence of steps while pruning will help make the job seem less complicated. The first step is to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Cut the stems 1 inch below darkened areas, making sure you are cutting back to green wood. Make the cut at a 45ᵒ angle about ¼ inch above an outward facing bud. Inspect the pith (center of the stem) it should be white. If tan colored, continue pruning sections of the stem until the pith is white.

The second step is to remove branches growing toward the center of the plant. This opens up the plant for better air circulation and allows sunlight to penetrate the inner portion.

The third step is to locate crossing branches and remove the weakest one. Crossing branches may rub against each other, causing abrasions that may serve as openings for disease organisms to enter the plant. Remove sucker growth, which is growth coming from below the bud union. Sucker growth is from the root stock and is a different rose variety if not removed, sucker growth will crowd out the desired variety.

Finally, prune to shape the plant. Hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas can be pruned 12 to 24 inches in height, leaving up to 9 to 12 large (½ inch diameter), healthy canes. Old, shrub and species roses should be pruned lightly, removing no more than ⅓ of the growth. Miniature roses need only minimal pruning.

Pruning Rambling and Climbing Roses

The procedures for pruning Rambling and Climbing roses will vary depending on the type of rose it is. A pruning basic that remains constant, though, is removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood whenever noticed. This improves the appearance of the rose.

Deadheading Roses

Removal of spent blooms, called “deadheading,” is an important summer maintenance practice for roses, especially the continuous blooming varieties. To deadhead, remove the flower by cutting back, at a 45ᵒ angle, to the first outward facing bud in the axil of a leaf with 5 leaflets. The continuous blooming climbing rose is deadheaded a little differently. Remove the spent blooms just above the foliage, making sure not to remove any of the foliage since new blooms will be produced from the leaves immediately below old flower clusters.

Winter Protection

Winterizing roses is a very important maintenance practice to ensure vigorous growth from year to year. There are several things you can do to make sure your roses survive Ohio winters long before the cold winds. First, choose the most winter hardy roses available to plant in your rose bed. Next, make sure your roses are healthy and not under stress because they have a better chance of surviving winter than weak plants. Reduce stress on roses going into the dormant season by irrigating adequately in late fall and discontinuing nitrogen application in late summer or early fall.

Source: OSU Ext. Cindy Welyczkowsky & *Jane Martin

Watch the video: How to Prune Roses u0026 the Suckers: Garden Space