Suckers are a common, yet frustrating, occurrence on many species of fruit trees. Here we will specifically discuss what to do with pawpaw suckers. With pawpaw seed propagation, such a slow and demanding activity, many gardeners may wonder, “Should I keep my pawpaw tree suckers for propagation?”. This article will answer that question, as well as other questions about pawpaw sucker maintenance.
Pawpaw Sucker Maintenance
In the wild, younger pawpaw trees sucker profusely, forming colonies of naturally cloned pawpaw trees. Pawpaw suckers may sprout up several feet (1 to 2 m.) away from the parent plant’s trunk. By growing like this, older pawpaw trees provide sun and wind protection to tender, young saplings.
With more roots, colonized wild pawpaw trees can expand into areas to take up more nutrients and water, while the wide spread of pawpaw thickets can also generate more energy through photosynthesis. However, scientists at Kentucky State University who specialize in pawpaw propagation have found that two different varieties of pawpaw trees are required for optimal fruit development of cross-pollinated pawpaw trees. In the wild, dense thickets of pawpaw trees grow true to their parent plant and do not always produce very good fruit.
In the home garden, where most pawpaw trees are grafted varieties, we usually do not have the space to allow a colony of pawpaw trees to form, unless we are growing them specifically for privacy or screening. On hybrid pawpaw trees, suckers that form beneath the graft union will not produce exact replicas of the present pawpaw tree.
While having two or more different types of pawpaw trees can seem beneficial for high fruit yields, propagating pawpaw trees from suckers generally has a low success rate. However, that is not to say it cannot be done. If you wish to try your hand at propagating pawpaw suckers, the sucker should be detached from the parent plant with a clean, sharp knife or garden spade a year before transplanting it. This allows time for the sucker to produce its own root system away from the parent plant and reduces transplant shock.
Should I Keep Pawpaw Tree Suckers?
While pawpaw trees are not a heavily commercialized crop because of the fruit’s short storage life, most pawpaw growers recommend removing pawpaw suckers as soon as they appear. On grafted plants, suckers can rob the plant of vital nutrients, causing the grafted portion to die back or reducing fruit yields from depleted nutrients.
To remove pawpaw suckers, you will need to dig down to where the sucker is growing from the rootstock and cut it off with clean, sharp pruners. Simply mowing or cutting pawpaw suckers at ground level actually promotes more sprouting, so to be thorough you must cut them at root level. As pawpaw trees mature, they will produce less suckers.
Sometimes, trees produce suckers as a survival mechanism when the original tree is sick or dying. Though pawpaw trees are relatively free of pests or disease, if your pawpaw tree is shooting out an abnormal abundance of suckers, it is a good idea to inspect it for serious health problems.