How to Get Rid of Tree Saplings in Lawn (Step-by-Step Guide)

Nothing beats the attraction of a well-kept lawn.

Especially when all your sweat and tears have been poured into it! But, sometimes you may come across an uninvited visitor:

A tree sapling…or two.

Sometimes, these can become a major problem for a gardener.

The trick is knowing how to get rid of tree saplings in lawn, as soon as you spot them rearing their nasty heads.

Here I have put together a step-by-step guide on how to get rid of tree saplings from your great labor of love.

So let’s get stuck in, shall we?

What are Tree Seedlings in Lawn?

Tree seedlings or saplings are young trees that arise from seeds.

When they spring up in the wrong place, at the wrong time, they can be super annoying.

Tree seedlings can be stubborn and highly adaptable shoots and usually show up for three different reasons.

Firstly, they can come from the seeds of a nearby tree. If you know the ‘perpetrator’ lurking around (aka the mother tree), then things are looking up.

Tree seedlings can also come from a larger, existing tree that is sending out tree saplings from its roots. Getting rid of these tree babies will be a trickier business.

But, nothing that can’t be fixed.

Then lastly, saplings can also spring up from old tree roots that have been cut down. Sometimes the trunk and remaining roots were not removed properly, allowing for the tree to send tree saplings out to keep it alive.

If you’re battling to get rid of tree stumps, check this post: The 10 Best Stump Killers for 2024.

small tree sprout in lawn

What are Tree Root Sprouts?

Tree root sprouts are shoots that arise from the root system of an existing tree. They’re also known as “shoots” or “suckers”. And they do just that- sucking nutrients and water from the main tree and rootstock.

So why would a tree start growing these?

Well, it’s often a sign that the tree has experienced some form of injury or is under stress. Suckers are a result of the tree trying to make more food for itself and so it develops more branches.

You can often tell where the tree is damaged based on the location of the suckers.

Damaged roots will cause the suckers to grow from the base of the trunk. While suckers that grow higher up on the trunk are found near a scar or wound caused by incorrect pruning. These are called water sprouts.

A high concentration of suckers may be a sign of old age or disease.

If boring insects are infecting your tree, then it means the tree is battling to transfer water and nutrients to its branches.

Trees that have been grafted have a high chance of developing tree root sprouts. This is when the graft fails at the base of the trunk and so the rootstock sends out tree sprouts.

Interesting, right?

Trees are great at showing you exactly what’s wrong.

tree sprout growing with green leaves

Why it is Important Killing Tree Seedlings in Lawn and Removing Tree Suckers?

Even if they are cute, baby trees, once they get a hold of your lawn: there’s no turning back!

These are not your regular weeds.

If left alone for too long, the roots will start to set deeper into the soil, and they will become thicker as time goes on. When it eventually comes to getting rid of the tree saplings, it becomes an even tougher task.

Unless of course, you really enjoy heavy lifting?

Tree seedlings and suckers will also become a nightmare to your lawnmower, as the tougher roots will likely cause some wear and tear.

Also, if you find tree suckers emerging near the base of a tree trunk, then it’s very important to remove them properly before their tender stems turn to bark. Continual cutting will keep promoting new growth.

And you won’t want that.

It will eventually look like the tree had a very bad hair day!

If you’re wondering how to prune tree suckers correctly. Here’s a clip showing you how to do it:

How do You Get Rid of Unwanted Tree Saplings in Lawn?

Those suckers have gotta hit the road Jack!

Let’s take you step-by-step through how to get rid of those unwanted trees from your lawn:

Step One: Find the Culprit!

Are you dealing with saplings that have started from a seed or a root system?

This is very easy to determine.

As soon as you notice the tree saplings beginning to emerge from your lawn, go straight away and try to pull one out. If resistance is minimal and you can pull all the roots out at once, then you’ll know the sapling came from a seed.

However, if you pull…and pull…

And just keep pulling… and it feels like you’re about to pop.

Then bam… the root snaps in your hand!

You will know that you’re dealing with a much larger root system below the lawn.

Not for the faint at heart my friends.

Right, onto the next step…

Step Two: Getting Your Bits and Bobs Together

Make sure you have the following items available:

  • A hosepipe (or watering can, sprinklers, etc.)
  • Gardening gloves
  • Foliar herbicide
  • Brush
  • Pruners
  • Spray applicator and a
  • A small shovel/ fork.

When I get stuck in a lawn, I generally want to minimize the impact on my grass. So I recommend using a long, narrow gardening tool.

For example, gardening tools with a V-shaped fork tip are great at getting under tree seedlings – especially if it’s tightly surrounded by grass.

Step Three: Removing Tree Saplings, Originating from Seed

Begin by watering the soil around the seedlings a day or two before you plan to remove the seedlings.

Then with your nifty shovel or fork in toe, you can start pulling out each seedling by hand. Try to remove as much of the roots as possible, as any root left behind will keep regenerating into a new plant.

Just be prepared for sections of your lawn to get a little damaged as you will end up pulling up the grass as well.

You can then patch each section up with the remaining lawn and flatten it with a shovel. If needed, you can reseed some patches.

Step Four: Using Herbicides on Tree Saplings

Let’s say the tree saplings have taken over your lawn in full force.

Or perhaps, removing each sapling by hand is not an option for you?

Time to call the Herbicides to the rescue!

Select an undiluted, non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate or triclopyr. These will be good at killing the tree saplings. Herbicides must be handled with great care, as they can cause damage to surrounding plants.

Use gloves when handling herbicides.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with the product you choose and read the instructions very carefully.

If you’re not sure which herbicide is best, then get in touch with a gardening professional who can point you in the right direction.

Also, it’s good practice to do a thorough check on the landscape to see what aspects may be affected by the herbicide.

man using garden sprayer in backyard

How do you apply the herbicide?

Great question!

Apply sufficient amounts of the herbicide directly to the seedlings, without saturating the plant. When using a spray bottle, set it on the direct spray setting. You don’t want to spray the grass or other surrounding foliage.

As soon as the herbicide works its magic, you can then pull up all the dead tree saplings at your heart’s content.

Then take a look at this article: TOP 13 Best Commercial Weed Killers 2024.

Step Five: Removing Tree Shoots (Originating From Roots)

Time to get the big guns out.

Removing root sprouts will be a simple task as they’ll be easy to reach. You may just need to put your back into it.

Simply remove each root sprout with a strong pair of pruning clippers and try to get as much of the root system out as possible. You could also try removing them with a lawnmower, however, chances are the sprouts will just keep sprouting.

Related reading: 9 Best Commercial Zero-Turn Mowers and Which Lawnmower is Right for You?

Removing each tree shoot at least an inch below the ground should be sufficient. No need for digging several feet down into the soil.

Here the objective is to deplete the stored food reserves in the root system before it can return new food to the larger root system.

Would removal be the only option?

It’s the only option if the existing tree is still alive and you’re not wanting to part with it any time soon.

A tree can feel like family sometimes.

Applying general chemicals to the tree shoots will cause damage to the main tree, which may result in the entire tree dying.

You also might want to think twice if the tree belongs to your neighbor!

Nobody wants to start a tree war.

However, if you’re dealing with an unwanted tree or perhaps an old stump, then it will be beneficial to add some good old herbicides to your efforts.

Once you have clipped off the tree shoots, then use a brush to dust some herbicide onto the larger root below.

There are also some unique herbicides available that can target the tree suckers, without damaging the main tree. These chemicals should be applied carefully and it’s best to ask a professional who can guide you through the process.

What if the sprouts are out of reach?

If you notice them sprouting higher up in the tree branches and stem, then it’s best to seek some assistance.

Nothing that a tall ladder and a tree professional can’t fix.

Get in touch with your local nursery or landscaping company who can help you with removing those suckers.

No need to break any bones.

tree saplings sprouting on the cut stump

Step Six: Taking a More Drastic Approach to Tree Suckers

Get ready for it:

You can consider removing the entire tree.

This is a more labor-intensive approach, however, if the tree is removed properly then chances are your problem with tree saplings will become history.

Alternatively, you can excavate and remove the larger root system causing the issue. By applying a weed barrier underground, you can stop the tree from sending out suckers in the future.

Now that sounds like a plan.

Step Seven: Ensure Good Lawn Coverage

One great way at keeping the weeds at bay is to keep your lawn compact and in good condition.

Tree seeds will find it more difficult to take root in a well-covered lawn.

Here are some great tips and tools to keep your lawn in good condition: Things to Avoid to Keep Your Lawn in Tip-Top Shape! and Lawn Care Tools.

Another good practice is to use weed barriers to keep the area around your tree free of sprouts. This will help your tree direct its efforts at growing branches on the main trunk.

Step Eight: Assess the Health of the Tree

When you know you’re dealing with tree root sprouts or suckers, then it might be worth doing a thorough assessment of the general health of the tree.

However, keep in mind that some trees are more prone to developing suckers than others. Such as the Crabapple and some other fruit tree varieties.

If the tree shouldn’t be producing suckers, then you know something is up.

Either way, ask a tree care professional to take a look at your tree to determine the source of the problem.

Step Nine: Keeping a Check on Things

Keep a close eye on the areas of the lawn where you have removed the tree saplings or applied herbicide.

If you notice any further growth, then pull the young plants out as soon as they emerge, and cut them off at ground level.

They will soon learn that they were never invited in the first place!

Getting to the “Root” of the Problem…

It’s all about finding out where the tree saplings are coming from and then establishing what best steps to take next.

Knowing how to get rid of tree saplings in lawn correctly, can be a challenge for us all.

However, these methods have started to work wonders on my lawn.

It might just take a bit of hard work at first and then a whole lot of patience.

I’m sure you have some thoughts to share?

We’d love to hear from you about how to get rid of unwanted trees in the lawn!

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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