Trees growing from roots

How to move a prized tree

Ornamental trees and shrubs can outgrow their allotted space or find themselves in the way of a new patio or addition. By relocating a prized plant, the gardener can not only save a tree but also provide a great focal point for a reworked area. Several factors determine whether to move a tree or shrub — the beauty and age of the plant, its sentimental value and its chances of survival if moved — but one aspect carries the most weight: the size.

The do-it-yourselfer can probably dig and move a tree with a 11 / 2-inch-thick trunk, or a shrub or evergreen of about five feet high, said Dave Reed, vice president of Meadows Farms landscape and nursery company in Chantilly. Double the size and you will need “three or four strong people” to shift the excavated plant because of the weight of the rootball, he said.

In the fall, conditions lend themselves to what landscape companies call “on-site transplanting.” This is more than just a job for strong backs; you have to follow rules or risk killing the tree, evergreen or shrub. Here’s our primer.

How do you lift a tree?

There are two basic methods. The rootball can be dug by hand or excavated with a serious piece of equipment called a hydraulic tree spade. Tree spades are used for larger trees, though sometimes a big tree has to be dug by hand because of site conditions, in which case excavation will cost more than with a tree spade. Gardeners at the Smithsonian last month hand-dug an approximately seven-foot-wide rootball of a weeping Japanese maple and replanted it several hundred feet away, on the west side of the Freer Gallery of Art. The liberated tree had outgrown its space in the nearby Ripley Garden.

Does size matter?

Absolutely. The larger the transplant, the heavier the rootball, the greater the effort and the more likely the need for special equipment to dig and move the plant. Reed said his crews hand-dig rootballs up to about three feet across, beyond which they have to resort to a tree spade.

How do you measure a tree?

For deciduous trees, you measure the trunk’s width — or caliper — at six inches above the ground (for trees with up to a four-inch caliper). A two-inch-caliper specimen is a fairly large young tree. A four-inch-caliper tree is exponentially larger and heavier. For shrubs and broadleaf and needled evergreens, the digger takes into account the height of the plant in gauging the size of the rootball.

How do I know whether to move a tree or shrub?

First, ask whether the plant is worth saving. An old English boxwood, an ornamental cherry and a weeping Japanese maple are obvious treasures, along with any choice, slow-growing specimen. A fast-growing and common plant such as a Leyland cypress, arborvitae or Bradford pear wouldn’t be worth the expense, especially if it is getting big.

Transplanted trees, as a rule, are not guaranteed to live, making the cost of planting a new tree, with a warranty, more economically feasible.

David Watkins, of Merrifield Garden Center in Merrifield, offers this advice: “If it’s under two inches, it makes sense. If it’s between two and four inches, it becomes fairly questionable to move it versus buying a new tree.”

What are the dimensions of the rootball?

The correct size of the rootball is directly related to the tree’s height or girth. The sizes are standardized in industry tables, but a rule of thumb is that the rootball should be roughly one foot wide for each inch of trunk caliper.

How much does a transplant weigh?

The 15-inch-wide rootball of a young holly or viburnum might weigh as much as a grown man. The Smithsonian’s transplanted maple weighed an estimated 5,000 pounds.

How important is site accessibility?

Poor access can be a deal breaker, especially if mechanical equipment is needed: A contractor will need room to maneuver a tree spade as well as a clear path from the old location to the new one. Steps, structures, gates and other landscape elements can create serious barriers. Steep slopes present other challenges. If you have terrible site access but deep pockets, you can move a tree with a crane, an option that typically costs several thousand dollars.

What are the considerations for replanting?

A plant that prefers a little shade — a boxwood, rhododendron or hydrangea, for example — should not be placed in a new location that is either too sunny or too dark. Sun-loving plants moved to a shadier site will see flowering diminish. Soil pH can vary within a property, but the more likely soil problems will relate to drainage. Moving a plant to an area that stays wet can spell doom. And make sure there are no buried pipes or electrical lines before you start digging.

In the move, you might need to protect branches and reduce the width of the tree by carefully wrapping the vegetation in burlap.

Dig the new hole before you start excavating the plant. Match the hole’s depth to that of the rootball: The plant must not sit too low in its site, and once you drop it in, you won’t want to lift it out again.

What tools and other equipment will I need?

If you are hand-digging, you will need as a minimum a strong spade and a mattock for prying stones and slicing roots. Probably no one hand-digs more trees in these parts than Tom Moseley, who runs Maryland Gardens Tree and Shrub Farm in Potomac. Moseley uses a short digging spade with a steel reinforced shank, called a full strap nursery spade.

.I would also have handy a digging fork to deal with buried stones and an ax to sever roots. You might also want a long bar for digging and prying, called a spud bar. This is used for breaking the rootball free from the ground and for general maneuvering. You might also need a large dolly called a ball cart, for moving the transplants. Equipment rental centers have carts.

It is important to keep the soil in the rootball intact, to minimize root trauma. You might be able to place a transplant on a tarp and drag it to its new site, but if it is going to get jostled, you should wrapthe ball in burlap. Burlap comes in sheets or in rolls, and is pinned with nails and tied at the top. For extra security, some gardeners secure the burlap with rope circles at the top and bottom of the ball, which are then drum-laced together. After replanting, free any ties and ropes that might interfere with trunk growth and let the burlap rot in place.

What care does a transplant need before moving?

First, the soil around the tree should be deeply soaked to hydrate the tree and to make digging easier.

The best transplant insurance is a technique called root pruning. Several weeks or, preferably, months before the move, make an encircling slice through the soil and the roots — drive the spade as deeply as it will go at the correct distance from the trunk. Then leave it. In time, the severed roots will grow a tight mass of new feeder roots that will lessen the stress of the eventual move.

If you want to be a perfectionist, you can dig a six- to eight-inch-wide trench outside the sliced roots and backfill it with organic matter to promote a robust root regeneration. Moseley uses his own mix of equal parts rotted horse manure, composted leafmold and sand.

October is a great time to do this (we’re in root-growing season) for a tree that will be moved next February or March.When you dig the rootball for moving, it is vital, of course, to dig beyond the initial slicing to retain the new root growth.

Although root pruning is not always necessary, it’s highly recommended in advance of transplanting in the growing season, especially in the hot summer months.

What care does a transplant need after moving?

The same basic care as a tree that came from a nursery instead of across the back yard: The base of the trunk should sit an inch or two above the soil line, and the transplant should be well watered but not soaked constantly so that it drowns. A light mulch will help, but avoid mulch “volcanoes” that smother the trunk. The tree or the rootball might shift over the winter and should be reset after the ground thaws. Tree stakes might help.

Are some plants easier to move than others, even if they are the same size?

Small shrubs with fibrous surface roots such as azaleas, blueberries and boxwood can be moved like furniture. Moseley reports a lot of success with fruit trees, maples, lindens, crape myrtles and most conifers, though a Leyland cypress has a small root area compared with its top growth and will move in winter winds after transplanting. Many common shrubs are easy to dig up and relocate, including lilacs, weigela, nandina and forsythia. Taprooted trees such as redbuds and blackgums are harder to transplant. Oaks are also deep-rooted and require a deeper rootball. The white oak is notoriously difficult to move.

What time of year can a tree be moved?

Pretty much any time will work, with preparation, but it’s less risky to do it when the plant is most amenable. Reed likes to halt fall transplanting of evergreens after Nov. 1, because transplant shock and frozen soil don’t mix — the evergreens actually can dry out in winter winds. Deciduous trees and shrubs can be moved now until late November. Some trees don’t like to be moved in the autumn and should be moved in early spring, including oaks, redbuds and river birches. Hickories, filberts and other nut trees generally don’t like to be moved at all, Moseley said.

Can I “store” a transplant for replanting later?

Yes, but the tree should be held in a shady and sheltered location and the rootball must not dry out. You can cover the rootball in leafmold, compost or even woodchips — or heel it in to a spare patch of ground. Check periodically while watering to make sure the rootball is not exposed.

What is the cost?It depends on the size of the tree and site conditions. Reed said the straightforward transplant of a 11 / 2-inch-caliper Japanese maple should take a crew less than two hours and cost about $200. Moseley said he charges a minimum of $300 for a crew to hand-dig and $500 if he has to arrive with his tree spade.

Watkins said a tree-moving crew might cost $400 to $600 or more, but he often tells a homeowner that with fewer guys and no rootball wrapping, “I can just pop it out of the ground for $100, $200, and if it makes it, great, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Fall would be the time to try that.

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How to Grow a Tree from a Sprout

Reproduction by sprouts is practicable with some kinds of trees, and compared with reproduction from seeds, it has its advantages and its disadvantages. Sprouts grow much faster, at first, than trees grown from seed, because they have so much food material stored in the roots. This sprouting method is employed a good deal because the trees come on so fast and because you can just go on and cut your timber, and the sprouts grow up from the stumps.
And yet, simple as it looks, this stump-sprouting business has puzzles in it that would surely “stump” a young forester who hadn’t first learned something about it.
For instance, to get the best results from the stumps, the trees must be cut between early October and early April. If done in the summer the sprouts which Nature promptly sends up around the stump to help perpetuate the race of the fallen tree (since posterity by way of the seed is no longer possible) will be weak when winter comes and are likely to be killed; or, at least, seriously injured by the freezing cold which follows.
And the stumps should be cut low because decaying stumps often infect the tender little trees; and the more stump left to decay the greater the danger. And brush should be piled away from the stumps, because brush often harbors hurtful insects and fungi and always interferes with the growth of the sprouts. It’s just good housekeeping applied to man’s work, this keeping things nice and neat and “rid up” as you go along. (The Chestnut is considered the best tree of all for sprout reproduction, because it sprouts so freely, grows so fast, and makes such valuable timber, but it is dying off so rapidly, owing to one of the numerous bark diseases that trees are heir to, that unless Uncle Sam’s experts, who are working on the problem, find out how to check it, the beautiful Chestnut Trees will disappear entirely from our woods and, with them, one of the greatest joys of the autumn season when, with the very earliest frosts, the prickly burrs open, all of their own accord, and throw down handfuls of the delicious nuts, with their shiny, new coats: “Here you are, boys and girls! Help yourselves!”)
But even that isn’t all. For instance, would it make any difference, do you think, whether the stumps were sawed off smoothly or just chopped off any old way? And should the top of the stump be left level, like a floor, or with a slope, like a roof? And does it make any difference whether you break the bark on the stump; by tearing it, say, in case the tree is still attached to the stump after it has fallen? Here is what one of the interesting text-books that they study in the schools of forestry says about these things:
Stumps should be cut smoothly and sloping, so that water will run off and the danger from insects and fungi that attack rotting wood will be decreased. The bark should also be left intact, as wounded bark always invites similar invasion.
One thing more: a stump section should, as a rule, be cut clean of all mature timber so as to give the greatest amount of light to the young trees.
A forest thus kept up is known, in the language of the forester, as a “coppice.” The art of letting Nature do the work looked simple enough from a distance, didn’t it? But as Philip Armour, the great Chicago packer, said about business in general: “It looks simple to the outsider, but it’s like a sheep’s wool, it’s full of kinks.”
And there is plenty of opportunity for the exercise of good judgment in deciding on the stumps for your little stump nurseries. It is best to propagate from fine, prosperous trees rather than from those which, for any reason, have been stunted in their growth; on the same principle that you select the best ears of corn and from the most vigorous stalks, in choosing seed-corn. Also it may often happen that, among the trees in a wood-lot, there are some of better form and quality — say White Oaks in a Chestnut coppice — and these are left to grow. As any furniture man will tell you, Oak brings very high prices in these days, and good Oak Trees will put much more into the family “community-chest” than do trees used only for fuel, fence-posts, and such. When I said, back there, that a stump section should be cut clean, I meant that no trees or brush should be left standing merely because they weren’t worth cutting, for they needlessly shut off the light from the young trees you want to grow up from the sprouts.
Judgment must also be used in keeping the sprouts thinned out — much as in thinning out carrots and turnips and beets and things in the garden — and where the stumps become exhausted, as stumps will do after a while, and stop sending up sprouts, you will put vigorous young seedlings in place of them.
In order that a new crop of trees may be constantly coming on, at the same time that timber is being cut from year to year, a given area is divided up into sections, and a section is cut over each year. Many thousands of acres of woodland, especially in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are handled in this way.
To apply it to your own home-grounds — say you’re a farmer boy — your father divides the wood-lot into ten sections and, with the help of the hired man, cuts over one section each year. Then when you’re old enough to do your part and, perhaps, take the entire management of the farm off father’s shoulders, the annual tree-harvest will begin again in the section he started on the day mother and sister Mary baked the cake with the ten candles on it, in celebration of your tenth birthday.

Rooting a tree shoot into a tree: Camellia & Crepe Myrtle

Tree suckers will only grow new trees if they have their own roots. Your photos show suckers growing from the trunk of existing trees. Unfortunately, these cannot be transplanted to grow new trees because when you cut them free they will not have any roots of their own. Sometimes you will find suckers growing up from the roots of the main tree, growing up some distance away from the main trunk. Often these will grow their own roots while still connected to the main tree via an older root. When you see substantial roots when you gently excavate around the base of the new shoot, then you can sever the old connecting root, and transplant the new tree–though I like to let the new tree grow in place for several weeks in order to grow a few more roots and become more independent before I try to transplant it. Propagating new plants, including trees and other woody plants, from cuttings is a whole other matter. Different species have very different propagation requirements. I suggest you consult a good reference for information specific to the tree that you want to start. The American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation book is readily available at many libraries. The industry standard reference is The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation, by Michael Dirr and Charles Heuser. It may be harder to find at the library, but is often used as a textbook, so it is usually not hard to find online. Either book will outline the proper time of year, age of wood, starting medium and most effective type of rooting compound for the specific plant that you want to grow. Preventing trees from suckering is something else again. Some plants that we often use as trees actually grow naturally as shrubs, naturally pushing up new stems from the ground as time goes on. Many other trees sucker easily as a response to injury–and every pruning cut IS an injury. For some species, environmental conditions–like light on the trunk–can prompt the growth of new branches from dormant buds, and these often take the form of suckers (or “watershoots”). And perhaps most commonly, excessive pruning anywhere on the tree in any one growing season will generally result in a profusion of new vertical growth–i.e., suckers. In any case, when removing suckers, or any branch, from a tree, try to make your pruning cut outside (i.e., on the branch side) of the slight swelling where the branch meets the main trunk, as this “branch collar” is the source of the undifferentiated cells that are going to grow and cover the cut. If you cut away this branch collar the wound wood will grow much more slowly, or perhaps not all.

Woods Whys: Why is There a Tree Growing Out of This Tree?

Photo by David Zsido

Let’s begin with the original lower tree, which appears to be one of several similar-looking dwarf cultivars of white spruce. These are very common in the nursery trade, prized for their slow growth and highly symmetrical, densely compact form. This is a far cry from a typical white spruce, to be sure. And to understand why such a distinctive cultivar would appear to have yet another, entirely different-looking tree growing from it, we need to first know how the dwarf cultivar came to be.

Many such cultivars originated when some keen woods-walking observer noticed a “witch’s broom” in a spruce tree. This is a general term for a dense proliferation of stems and foliage originating from a single point on a stem or branch. These witch’s brooms, or “sports” as they are also called, have a distorted growth pattern that can look like a big squirrel’s nest or a dense shrub growing among the host tree’s branches. A variety of different agents can induce the formation of witch’s brooms in trees, but in northeastern spruces they are most often caused by rust fungi, such as spruce broom rust, or by parasitic plants, such as eastern dwarf mistletoe. Rusts are very hard on the host plant, reducing growth and leading to dieback, and mistletoes – despite their cheerful Christmas connotations – are ultimately a kiss of death to the host tree.

But witch’s brooms can also be caused by a genetic mutation within a single bud, which then grows into a shoot with a genetic makeup – and growth form – different from the rest of the tree. Such genetic brooms are less common than disease-induced brooms, but are also more likely to succeed. That is, if a particular witch’s broom is caused by a genetic change, it may not lead to the tree’s demise, and cuttings can be taken from it and grafted onto rootstocks. If it reproduces true to form, a cultivar is born. Indeed, this is how many dwarf spruces are propagated for sale as ornamentals.

So what gives with this tree? There it was, living its dwarfish life as intended by its horticulturist creator, who capitalized on an odd genetic fluke to create this unusual, slow-growing form. Then along came this new, odd offshoot of growth that looks nothing like the cultivar. It is not stunted, or particularly dense, or conical. It looks more like a regular white spruce tree.

Could it really be another tree growing in your dwarf spruce? In a way, yes, it could be. But not because a spruce seed landed and germinated there. Rather, it is genetically separate.

This “other tree” growing in the dwarf spruce cultivar is known as a genetic reversion. This branch on the cultivar has reverted back to the genetics and appearance of its parents. Just as a genetic mutation created the original witch’s broom from whence the dwarf cultivar came, sometimes a reverse mutation can occur and portions of the plant then revert to the original species’ form. As it happens, this is common in dwarf spruce cultivars. For unknown reasons, a bud will revert and the normal white spruce growth rate and shape will emerge in the new shoot, contrasting with the stunted form and growth of the rest of the cultivar. It sticks out like a whole new tree.

As seen here, the reverted portion will generally be more vigorous than the rest of the plant and, if allowed to remain, the reversion will eventually outgrow and overtake the cultivar. If you want to maintain the cultivar’s original form, you should prune out the reverted portion – back to a portion of the plant displaying the characteristics of the cultivar – before the reversion gets so big as to leave a gaping hole when you do remove it.

Or, just enjoy the bizarre look of your double-tree spruce and marvel at how the original form managed to outwit the horticulturist.

How Trees Grow

The buds, root tips, and cambium layer are the three growing parts of the tree. Buds elongate the branches and widen the crown (branches and leaves), the cambium layer adds diameter to the tree, and the root tips grow in length to support the growth of the tree.

Additionally, the roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil, which are then carried up through the sapwood or xylem to the leaves. Water and nutrients are then combined with carbon dioxide from the air and sunlight to make food through a process known as photosynthesis. This food is carried by the inner bark or phloem to all growing parts of the tree, even back down to the root tips


Buds are tiny leaves, stems and flowers located in a small case at the base of each leaf. Buds are formed during the summer months for the following year. Each spring as the tree comes out of dormancy, the scales fall off and the tree’s leaves, stems and flowers open up and grow.

The tree increases each year in height and crown spread of branches when the buds produce a new growth of twigs. Air supplies carbon which is absorbed through stomata or small holes or pores on the leaf surfaces. Leaves process the food obtained from carbon, sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil, and release moisture by transpiration. Trees produce oxygen as a byproduct through the photosynthesis process.


Root tips produce new growth and absorb water and nutrients from the soil. The taproot grows straight down while the lateral roots branch out. Additionally, the roots provide anchorage support for the tree. Roots use oxygen from the soil to carry out the growth process. Compaction of soil or an abundance of water is usually harmful to tree growth. However, some trees, such as baldcypress, have adapted to grow in wet conditions with a limited supply of oxygen.


Soil is one of the determining factors in what vegetation is present in an area. Some of the influences on vegetation species present include: soil acidity, alkalinity and salinity; saturation; topsoil and subsoil characteristics; soil texture (sand, silt, clay); soil structure and compaction. There are thousands of soil series. New series and phases (subdivisions) are classified everyday. Each series has different characteristics although there may be some similarities seen in other series.


The outer bark protects the inner wood layers from injuries, pests and disease. Hidden beneath the bark of the tree are the wood layers. The inner bark or phloem carries synthesized food from the leaves to the cambium layer and other growing portions of the tree. The cambium layer is microscopic and actively builds the cells which make more wood and bark. Sapwood or xylem transports sap or water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. The center of the tree, which provides strength and support, is the heartwood (dead wood or inactive wood).

Seasonal Changes

The majority of tree growth occurs in late spring and early summer. During most of the growing season, trees (plants) produce a material called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll enables plants to convert water and carbon dioxide in the presence of sunlight into carbohydrates, which plants use for food. This process is known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color. Tree leaves have other colors present most of the time, but the green chlorophyll is so dominant that it masks the other colors until fall.

Late spring and early summer is the time, typically, when flowers become fruit and the crown develops a full canopy of leaves. In addition, a new layer of wood is added around the trunk, branches, and roots. These layers are called growth rings. A light ring (or early wood) grows during this season when there is typically more rain. The shape and width of growth rings reflect what type of year the tree is experiencing. A wide growth ring may indicate that the tree had a year with optimum conditions. A narrow growth ring may be the result of a drought, competition with other trees for nutrients and sunlight, or other factors.

In the fall, production of the woody layers slows down and a dark growth ring or late wood forms. Most trees disseminate or disperse their fruit around this time thereby planting seeds nearby for reproduction. Or some of the fruit may have been eaten by birds or animals, passed through the digestive system and/or carried to new locations for dispersal. The seeds from the fruit will lie dormant until germination begins in early spring.

Also during this season, chlorophyll production slows, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, and the green color fades. When this happens, yellow and orange pigments, called carotenes and xanthophylls, become visible. Red, pink, and purple pigments or anthocyanin may also develop. The most important environmental factors controlling autumn leaf coloration are temperature, light, and water availability. Cool temperatures (above freezing), drought, and bright sunny days favor the production of anthocyanin.

Maples, sassafras, sweetgum, and sumac produce large amounts of anthocyanin, which accounts for their deep red colors. Some trees do not form anthocyanin pigments. Hickory and elm leaves are an example of this since they often display bright yellow autumn colors. Oak leaves often turn brown with very little yellow or orange coloration. This is because they contain large amounts of tannin or brown color and relatively few carotenes.

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Educator Extensions

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an award-winning environmental education program designed for teachers and educators of students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The PLT Activity Guides are available from participating in a one day workshop. Find more information about Texas PLT and workshops near you at If you can’t find a workshop in your area, contact us to schedule one at your facility.
The following activities relate to How Trees Grow from the PLT PreK-8 Activity Guide:

Grades PreK – 2

Grades 3 – 6

Grades 6 – 8

  • Every Tree for Itself (#27)
  • Have Seeds, Will Travel (#43)
  • Trees in Trouble (#77

For more information about Texas PLT, TEKS correlations and how you can get these resources:

Visit – or

Texas Project Learning Tree is sponsored by:
  • Texas Forestry Association
  • Texas A&M Forest Service

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Life Cycle of a Tree

As with all living things, trees have a life cycle – from conception (seed), to birth (sprout), to infancy (seedling), to juvenile (sapling), to adult (mature), to elderly (decline), and finally to death (snag/rotting log). Because trees are renewable, the cycle begins again either artificially through planting or naturally with regeneration of new seeds.

For the life cycle to run full circle, external and internal conditions must be favorable for the tree. This includes adequate space, water, nutrients, and sunlight for the individual species. The tree’s chances of growth and survival through a complete cycle greatly improve with these conditions. However, even with optimum conditions, various stresses such as insects, diseases, injuries, competition from other trees, weather, and time itself weaken the tree and can cause it to die. Although a cycle may be stopped at any time for many different reasons, a new cycle can begin again through varying regeneration methods (seed bank, new seed, root or stump sprout, transplanting, etc.). It may be the same tree, a new tree, or another tree of a different species but all trees originate from seeds.


Think about which came first – the tree, or the seed? Regardless of what you believe, the more you learn about them, trees are simply amazing. Seeds come in a wide variety of shapes, weights, colors, and sizes, depending on the species. All seeds develop from male and female parts of the trees producing fruits but not all of them are easily recognizable or edible. Some seeds are contained in a protective nut like an acorn, pecan, or hickory. Other seeds are found in fleshy fruits, like the black cherry, mulberry, or persimmon. The fruit of a pine is a cone and the seed is winged and resembles a miniature helicopter when falling in the wind from an open pinecone.

Wind, water, animals, and people disperse seeds to a wide range of landscapes including the forest floor, open fields, yards, rocky slopes, and roadsides. Anywhere the conditions are favorable for germination, seeds will sprout and grow.


An embryo is within each seed, but not all seeds will germinate. Favorable environmental conditions enable the embryo to grow, expand, and break through the seed coat using the stored food supply of the seed for the necessary energy to grow. The root grows downward to the soil to anchor the sprout and search for water and nutrients, while the sprout emerges from the ground seeking sunlight. Ideally, the sprout will find light and then the leaves, needles, or scales will develop further to allow the tree to make its own food through photosynthesis.


The sprout persistently grows and begins to develop woody characteristics. The soft green stem begins to harden, change color, and develop a thin protective bark. Leaves or needles develop and continue to search out light. The root grows and branches down and out resembling an upside down underground tree with a flattened top. The majority of the tree’s roots are in the upper portions of soil to absorb available water and nutrients but also to breathe. Like us, tree roots need oxygen or they will die. The seedling must compete with other trees and plants for its share of nutrients, water, sunlight, and space. Other threats include fire, flood, drought, ice and snow, disease, insect attacks, and the threat of being consumed by animals. At this stage, the tree is most susceptible to being killed. If it can survive these early years without harm, the seedling is well on its way to the next phase in the cycle.


A sapling is a small tree usually between 1 and 4 inches in diameter at 4.5 feet. This is the standard height where a tree’s diameter is measured – diameter at breast height (DBH). Typically, a sapling is the size of a tree that is growing in a commercial nursery for transplanting to your yard. In this juvenile state, the tree is not mature enough to reproduce. However, it is growing rapidly. The sapling encounters similar types of competition and threats to that of a seedling.


With favorable conditions, a sapling will continue to develop into a mature tree. During this stage in the cycle, each tree will grow as much as its species and site conditions will permit. In addition, flowers develop, reproduction ensues, fruits form, and seed dispersal can now occur.

The optimum time to harvest trees for forest products beneficial to people is during this stage in the lifecycle. In Texas, the majority of products are made from southern yellow pine (loblolly, longleaf, shortleaf, and slash). Hardwoods such as ash, hickory, mesquite, pecan, and oak are also used but southern yellow pine is the main commercially grown species to meet public demand for wood products such as those listed below. A few of the products made from Texas trees include: paper, dimensional lumber, cabinets, molding, doors, pallets, boxes, crates, trusses, fireplace mantels, furniture, oriented strand board (OSB), flooring, crossties, joists, decking, log homes, posts, poles, cooking wood, fencing, fuel, interior finishing, pilings, bridges, animal bedding, mulch, heavy construction timbers, charcoal, shingles, and many more. If a tree is never harvested, over the course of time it continues to provide many other benefits, but eventually will begin to decline.


At this point, the tree’s survival is determined more by external stresses rather than the tree’s vigor. These stresses take a toll on the tree making it more susceptible to insects and diseases, and it eventually succumbs to a causal agent or the pressures of competition from other more vigorously growing plants adjacent to the tree. The end result is no surprise.


The life span of a tree is as wide-ranging as the number of tree varieties, yet death is inevitable. Usually it is a combination of factors that finally overcome a tree and cause it to die. Injury, drought stress, followed by disease, rot, root dieback, coupled with a lightning strike and insect infestation is just one of many scenarios. However, sometimes it can be just one factor serious enough to cause mortality. Yet, the cycle does not end here. A standing dead tree, also called a snag, still plays a vital role in the life cycle.

Decomposition takes time. A snag slowly breaks down and returns nutrients to the soil as small limbs, bark, and branches fall to the ground. The snag also provides habitat, cover, and food for wildlife and insects. In turn, animals, insects, and fungi help break down the tree. Eventually, the snag will fall to the ground and gradually return nutrients to the soil where they are taken up again by other trees by providing for their growth.

And, the cycle begins anew.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an award-winning environmental education program designed for teachers and educators of students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The PLT Activity Guides are available from participating in a one day workshop. Find more information about Texas PLT and workshops near you at If you can’t find a workshop in your area, contact us to schedule one at your facility.
The following activities relate to How Trees Grow from the PLT PreK-8 Activity Guide:

Grades pre K – 2

Grades 3 – 6

  • We All Need Trees (#13)
  • Trees as Habitats (#22)
  • The Fallen Log (#23)
  • Nature’s Recyclers (#24)

Grades 6 – 8

  • Trees as Habitats (#22)
  • The Fallen Log (#23)

Children’s books that help depict a tree’s lifecycle include:

  • The Grandpa Tree by Mike Donahue;
  • The Lifecycle of an Oak Tree by Angela Royston;
  • The Lifecycle of An Oak Tree by Linda Tagliaferro;
  • From Acorn to Oak Tree by Jan Koffke;
  • The Pecan Tree by Barbara Langham

For more information about Texas PLT, TEKS correlations and how you can get these resources:

Visit – or

  • Texas Forestry Association
  • Texas A&M Forest Service

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Can You Grow Trees From Sucker Plants: Tips On Planting A Tree Shoot

There is a lot of information available about how to remove and kill suckers but very little about how to actually preserve them, leading many people to ask, “Can you grow trees from sucker plants?” The answer is a resounding yes. Keep reading to learn how to grow trees from suckers.

You can grow trees from sucker plants, which are just baby trees that grow from horizontal roots of the parent plant. They will grow to maturity if given the right conditions. If you have other places in your landscape where you would like a tree or perhaps a friend would like one, consider preserving your suckers.

How to Grow Trees from Suckers

The first step in sucker tree growing is to remove the sucker plant as carefully as possible from the ground. This is sometimes a difficult task due to the sucker’s proximity to the trunk or other vegetation.

Use a sharp, clean hand shovel to dig around the sucker. Check to see if the sucker plant has its own root system. If the plant does have a root system, you are in luck. Simply dig the plant out of the ground and cut it free from the parent plant. This is a highly non-invasive procedure that causes no harm to the parent plant.

If the sucker does not have its own root system, which happens, scrape off some of the bark under the soil line with a clean utility knife. Cover the wound with soil and check each month for root growth. Once roots have established, you can follow the steps above to remove your sucker plant.

Care of Sucker Tree Shoots

Place the new plant in a pot with plenty of light organic-rich soil and provide water. Water the sucker plant daily until you see new growth forming.

To take care of sucker tree shoots, it is necessary to provide plenty of time in a pot before transplanting out in the landscape or garden. Wait until you see ample new growth before moving the sucker to the ground.

Provide moisture and a light layer of compost and mulch to retain moisture and provide nutrients to the new tree.

Planting a Tree Shoot Once Established

The best time to dig up and plant tree suckers in the fall. This will give the plant time to adjust before colder temperatures. Choose an appropriate location for the tree based on its growing habit and sunlight requirements.

Dig a hole that is a little larger than the pot you have the tree in and slightly wider as well. Try to retain as much soil around the roots as possible when transplanting.

It is best to protect the tree with a small fence or ring of bricks so that you do not forget where it is. Provide daily drinks until the newly planted tree becomes established.

Shooting into tree

I searched for any scientific evidence that lead from bullets harm trees. I could not find any harm from the lead (other then the obvious physical trauma). You probably would not want to eat the tree, but there is no evidence that lead in moderate or even heavy amounts will cause to the tree to die, or live a substandard life.

Trees can survive for long periods with a few bullets in them.

Last week, park officials found a new one — although fallen — with two bullets still embedded in its trunk 148 years later.

“The real witnesses to the battle . . . are still here,” John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park historian, said Tuesday, “even though they can’t talk to us. . . . They’re the last living witnesses to this singular event.”

Maintenance employees found the bullets in an old oak tree that had toppled on Culp’s Hill, southeast of town, the site of bitter fighting between Union and Confederate forces on July 2 and 3, 1863.

The discovery was made Aug. 4 as employees cut into the fallen oak tree, and their chain saw struck the bullets. The park said the tree fell about three or four years ago. The bullets were about 13 feet up from the roots, and the part of the tree where the projectiles were found was about 27 inches in diameter. Washington Post; Gettysburg battle bullets found embedded in tree By Michael E. Ruane August 9, 2011

There might even be a bullet in the 2×4 your house is made from. We can see from the image below a bullet does not appear to harm the growth near the injury site any more than knot or broken branch would.


Plants can and do absorb lead, thought it seems it is more significantly absorbed from air then earth.

Riihling and Tyler (1968) grew plants from roadside seed in contaminated soils obtained near highways. The plants contained only 5-10 ppm lead in the dry weight of the plant, whereas the same species of weeds that grew in the same soils along the roadside contained 68-950 ppm lead in the dry weight of washed samples. These data indicate absorption of lead from the atmosphere. Lead in the Environment: Tom Gray Lovering U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976 (pg 69

But lead does not travel through the tree to any great degree.

A solution of lead arsenate was formerly widely used in orchard to control pests… However a study of uptake of arsenic and lead by apple and apricot trees growing in such soil has found that though uptake occurs neither metal reaches levels which are danger to consumer health. Metal Contamination of Food: Conor Reilly John Wiley & Sons, Apr 15, 2008 (pg45)

Trees exposed to metric tons of lead, do absorb some, but no indications of harm to the trees from it.

The researchers” survey found 11 metric tons of shot in the shotgun range and 12 metric tons of lead bullets in the rifle range. “These ranges are 10 years old. Most of the lead shot has accumulated on about four or five acres. Some shots have been into the woods, which cover hundreds of acres,” Rimstidt said.

However some lead escapes, he said. “But we learned that it is absorbed in the top few inches of soil and does not migrate beyond that,” Rimstidt said. “Lead is not very mobile. It does not wash away in surface or ground water.”

Another finding is that there are large amounts of lead in the trees near the shooting range – but not in a large percentage of the trees, Rimstidt said. “If and when those trees are harvested, they would be contaminated with lead “Science Daily:Do Lead Bullets Continue To Be A Hazard After They Land?, Source Virginia Tech November 5, 2004

Trees can be injured by trauma, same as a person. An occasional euphemism is to say someone died of lead poisoning when shot and this may be what is meant by phrase quoted in another answer “Few of these trees survive today, though. Historians say most literally died from lead poisoning.”

There is no doubt that lead in animal carcass is harmful for scavengers. (Not strongly related to points above but worthy of mention)

Most lead-core rifle bullets fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces when they strike animal tissue. Lead-tainted meat may become part of scavengers’ food supplies when any of the following occur: a wounded animal escapes a hunting attempt, an animal shot as a pest is not retrieved from the field, or when gutpiles remain on the landscape after a hunt. Over the past 3 decades, California condor recovery efforts have brought to light how this lead pathway in the ecosystem can threaten even the very survival of a species.But as you will see, impacts extend to many other wildlife species also. National Park Service: Lead Bullet Risks for Wildlife & Humans

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