One of the most frequently asked questions we get from customers is about suckers, there appears to be some confusion and mystery about what they are and what to do if they appear.

Some of our previous articles and video’s show how roses are grown, to recap - they are budded onto a rootstock, which is a “wild” rose, in our case we use Rosa laxa, but there are other rootstocks that can be used e.g. Rosa multiflora.

Think of the rootstock as a surrogate mother, it provides the variety (the named rose) with a root and feed system enabling it to grow into a healthy plant, the top of the rootstock is cut off from the root just above the graft (the place that the rose was budded into the rootstock) so the variety you buy is in fact a union of two different roses – the rootstock (root system) and the variety (the top)

A sucker is produced if the rootstock subsequently grows, producing shoots from any part of it’s stem above the union (where the plant was budded) if it has not been cut off (headed back) close enough to the union or it’s root system, which can be from two places – near to the stem or from underground roots that develop into underground stems that pop up at some distance from the main plant.

It is just a fact of rose growing, usually pretty rare but it can happen.

Suckers are easy to identify, most customers know that a sucker leaf is made up of seven leaflets – three pairs of two with a single leaflet at the point – but a lot of roses have seven leaflets as well, in fact it’s common to find leaves with five and seven leaflets on the same shoot on the same plant.

Sucker shoots have the following characteristics:

  • They have leaves with seven leaflets and are pale grey green in colour (unlike a lot of rose varieties where the young leaves are often red or bronze)
  • Suckers are often more vigorous than the variety and can become dominant. 
  • If left they will flower, the flowers are small with a single whorl of petals mostly pale pink or off white in colour.

The only way to control suckers is removal.

If you see shoots appear from the stem above the union, cut the stem off cleanly closer to the union, if they appear close to the stem but from under ground level,feel down (under the soil) the sucker to where it is attached to the root and push downwards – they usually come away easily – avoid cutting them off at ground level as they will reappear! If they appear some distance from the plant lift them free from the soil (try a fork) and trace them back to the root system and cut off as close to the root as is possible.

This is why we like to plant roses so the union is above soil level – if strange looking shoots appear from below the union they can only be suckers.