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Diggin' It

Thoughts about trees for Arbor Day and all year-round

As national Arbor Day approaches, it's time to think about trees -- planting them for future generations, teaching kids about them, and learning how to estimate the age of a large tree.

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If don’t have room for a tree, consider donating to a park or conservation group that plants trees in your community.

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And if you like, you can go out into your community and look for the old trees, a barometer of your town when it was young. Bring the kids along to let them learn how the trees have grown. Measure them so you can place them at a moment in time. It’s a way to teach your children or yourself a little history and have fun outdoors at the same time.

How to estimate the age of a tree

Big doesn’t necessarily mean old. Willow trees are notorious for growing leaps and bounds in just a few years, so it is difficult to estimate their age. There are a few methods to approximate the age of a tree without cutting it down and counting the rings. One is called measuring at CBH or circumference at breast height. This method allows you to identify the general age of a tree but not the exact age. (It may be off a few decades, taking into account environmental conditions)

Here's how to do it:

1. Measure the tree’s circumference in inches 4-1/2 feet above ground level.

2. Determine the diameter by dividing the circumference by 3.14.

3. Multiply the diameter in inches by the appropriate factor listed below to determine the estimated tree age.

Tree species factor

Abies concolor, White fir 7.5

Acer rubrum, Red Maple 4.5

Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple 5.5

Carya ovata, Shagbark hickory 7.5

Fagus grandifolia, American Beech 6

Fagus sylvatica, European Beech 4

Gymnocladus dioicus, Kentucky coffee tree 3

Liriodendron tulipifera, Tuliptree 3

Pinus strobus, White Pine 5

Quercus alba, White Oak 5

Quercus palustris, Pin Oak 3

Quercus shumardii, Shumard oak 3

Tilia Americana, American Basswood 3

Ulmus Americana, American Elm 4

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Denise Schreiber is the Mrs. Know It All of “The Organic Gardeners” on KDKA Radio and “Ask the Expert” for Pennsylvania Gardener magazine. Her new book, "Eat Your Roses," will be published soon. Click here to read her previous article at Diggin' It.

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