A Sucker Born Every Minute

It occurred to me recently that the phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute” could apply to gardening.

PT Barnum
PT Barnum

After the leaves have fallen is a good time to prune. You can see the structure of the plant and new growth won’t emerge in response to your cuts.

A big part of pruning in my garden is removing suckers as needed. Suckers are new stems that may grow from the base or from underground horizontal stems. Suckers are what will turn a shrub into an impenetrable thicket. Suckers can pop up yards from the base of the mama plant.

Suckering dogwood. Photo from University of Minnesota Extension Service.
Suckering dogwood. Photo from University of Minnesota Extension Service.

You may want a thicket (good for wildlife), but if you don’t it is wise to hunt down suckers and cut them to the ground every year. Though in the case of suckers from the crown in some instances you may want to cut the older stems and let the new suckers grow in.

I have several shrubs that are prolific when it comes to producing suckers. Shrub dogwoods tend to be in this category, such as Grey Dogwood (Cornus racemosa – I have lots of these) and Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). The same is true for some Viburnums, including Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus L. var. americanum Aiton). Oh, and I can’t forget Black Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Highbush Cranberry
Highbush Cranberry

The phrase about suckers being born every minute is usually attributed to the showman P.T. Barnum. but it may have actually been coined by  a critic of Barnum’s named David Hannum.

Gray Dogwood
Gray Dogwood

I always thought P.T. Barnum also said “Never give a sucker an even break”, but that was actually W.C. Fields. In fact he made a movie of that name.

Do you ever give suckers an even break in your garden?

24 Comments on “A Sucker Born Every Minute”

  1. Well….I have a confession, I am a sucker for suckers!!! I have so much ground I want to cover with shrubs and trees that I encourage shrubs and trees and perennials to take all the room they want. I even bought some shrubs that are quite famous to spread but in their defense, they do bloom nicely, attract pollinators and their fall foliage is quite lovely: the Sorbaria Sem. But in a small garden I would garden quite differently.

  2. The ones we’ve had the most trouble with have been a couple of low-growing, non-native Spireas. The suckers got so bad, the shrubs died off and all that was left was wispy suckers. It was time to pull them out! I replaced them with perennials. It will be interesting to see how they come back next spring. Suckers are obnoxious!

  3. You had me at the title of this post! I am a sucker hunter as I simply don’t have the space for a thicket. My blackhaw viburnums are plants that I watch closely for this as are some of my dwarf blackhaws. Happy sucker hunting! Nicole

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