Suckers, the new shoots that sprout at or near a tree's base, not only make the tree look messy, but affect its health. These shoots may be the result of root damage or bad pruning practices, but they're also one of a tree's natural methods of perpetuating itself. Often they grow from the root stock of a grafted tree. Allowed to persist, suckers compete with your prized tree for nutrients and water, reduce air circulation around the trunk, and spread into areas where you don't want them. Remove suckers before they reach diameters greater than 1/4 inch.
Put on gloves to protect your hands from injury. Grasp a sucker near its base with both hands. Pull sideways in one quick, strong motion to break the shoot off at its base. Repeat this process to remove each sucker.
Dig into the ground with a trowel at the base of any sucker that will not break off with a pull. Keep the hole's diameter as small as possible to avoid disturbing or damaging the roots of the tree or other nearby plants. Dig down to expose the sucker's base where it grows from the root.
Cut through the base of the sucker with pruning shears. Position the cut flush with the top of the root. Backfill the hole with soil, tamping it down firmly over the root.
Gather the suckers into a wheelbarrow or other container, and take them to a trash bin or compost pile. Cut each sucker into 2- to 4-inch sections, and place them on the compost pile or in the bin.