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Photo of whole sapling Close up of roots

See the above pictures for reference. Also for reference, the tree's location is in the southern Hudson Valley in New York state. There is a sycamore sapling growing through a crack in a sidewalk/concrete slab near my apartment door (the concrete is the city or the landlord's property, so definitely not something I can disrupt). The sapling is over a year old, maybe 2 years? I'm not sure. It is about 3 feet tall and at the base it is at most 1 inch in diameter. There is some type of large AC unit or something on the side of the building with a fence around it. This sapling has grown through a crack in the pavement between the AC unit and the fence. There are open spaces in the fencing so light still gets through. All the roots must be down below the pavement/concrete. I don't know how thick the slab is. There is one small root coming from the base of the sapling that is above the payment, but everything else must be below.

So that's the breakdown of the situation. My question is: Can I save this tree? I'm afraid if I were to try to uproot the tree, what would end up happening is the base of the tree would rip away from all its roots. I'd end up with the sapling from the trunk up with maybe one small root still attached, but the rest severed and below the concrete. Can I cut the tree at the base and try to treat it as a cutting? Although I am very experienced in household container plants, I have zero experience in regards to trees at all, let alone a situation like this! But I'd love to hear if it is possible to save this tree!

Thank you in advance for your time and expertise, I am sincerely grateful for any and all suggestions!

EDIT: There is an open sunny area near a decent sized creek not too far from me. I've been given the OK to plant the tree there, assuming its possible! There are no houses or structures directly near the area (its a park) so the tree would have plenty of room to grow, be healthy, and not cause any damage or be a nuisance! So the question is asked because I know the building owner will want to be rid of the tree soon and I'm just hoping maybe it can be saved instead of just killed because I've grown quite attached to the lil' guy! Thanks again for all the advice and suggestions!

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    Are you aware that a sycamore grows to 30m tall and 30m wide? How do you intend to fit this in your apartment? I see this as a similar question to "I've found a beached whale - how do I take it home with me?" Sure, we can give you solutions to the practical issues, but the only possible correct answer is "Don't!"
    – Graham
    Jul 1 at 10:02
  • Sycamore trees are super-tough. For example there are sand dunes in Michigan that have completely buried large sycamores, only to have them grow new roots and continue growing. However, they're not a pretty tree, and have the habit of continuously dropping branches, leaves, and bark. Good to be aware of when moving the tree. Jul 1 at 18:12
  • Mr. Graham: maybe I phrased something wrong in my question, I certainly didn't mean to give the impression that I was planning to grow a sycamore tree in a container in my apartment... I mentioned my experience with indoor container plants just a way of saying basically I'm familiar with plants a little, but know nothing about trees. If able to transplant I already have a sunny area near a creek with plenty of growing room I've been given the OK to plant the tree at. Jul 5 at 4:10
  • Here in the UK sycamore refers to Acer pseudoplatanus, which according to Wikipedia is called sycamore maple in the United States. Our (UK) sycamores are maples and have opposite leaves. Your plane tree has alternate leaves.
    – Peter4075
    Jul 8 at 20:18

5 Answers 5

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The thickness of the trunk suggests it's been there probably for 2 or 3 years; its roots will have spread down and sideways under the concrete, so without breaking up the concrete to extract it, I'm 99% sure you won't be able to get it out with its root system. A bigger concern is that, left in there much longer, it will lift and break the surrounding concrete as it continues to grow, so I'd be more worried about that than trying to save the tree. To prevent damage, it should really be cut down and chemically poisoned to stop its growth. However, you could try cutting it down to the base, making sure to keep those roots which are spreading across the concrete, reduce the height down to a foot and plant it somewhere in soil, burying those roots in the ground, keep it watered and see if it grows on. That, though, will still leave the problem of regrowth from the cut stump, which will happen unless it's treated to stop it growing there.

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The New Tree Owner Won't Thank You

This is not an answer so much as a frame challenge.

Sycamores are very nice to look at in someone else's yard. They are pretty all summer and produce really nice smelling seed-balls in the fall.

Having done yard work for people who had them in their yard, though, I can tell you that they are also one of the most "trashy" trees around. They shed bark strips and twigs all year round. Those have to be picked up or raked up before mowing. The seed balls make great bullets for neighbor target practice when mowing too.

They dump all their leaves at once in the fall (not a bad thing actually) but that's a LOT of leaves as the trees grow huge canopies. The leaves smell nice but they end up soaking up lots of water on the ground and plastering themselves to the landscape so you really want to get them up as soon as they fall if possible. If you don't manage to do that, you get to have fun scraping up wet sloppy messes to bag.

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  • They're also one of the most invasive species (second only to ash). Those seeds travel some distance, and a lot of them root. And the OP really hasn't appreciated just how big they grow either.
    – Graham
    Jul 1 at 10:00
  • I am very much aware of how large Sycamore trees grow to be. I grew up with one in our front yard. It was MASSIVE! Also, I remember raking the yard as a kid was a nightmare! So many leaves, twigs, and branches! Jul 5 at 5:20
  • @AudreyMichelle - OK, so you know. I just wanted to give a heads up in case you ended up giving it to someone else who ended up cursing your name 20 years from now every summer and fall, lol. They are beautiful trees. I think I would prefer getting a tulip poplar personally. They are similar in appearance and less painfully messy. Jul 6 at 18:47
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One idea, and I'm sure there must be at least a few others, is to super-saturate the area where the tree is rooted, best done by letting a hose run at a very slow rate for an hour or so. The plan is to get the soil/detritus that's filling the crack to a near-liquid state.

When you think it's wet enough, gently grasp the tree maybe a foot from the top and try to move it laterally, in line with the crack. The tree should move a little, but perhaps not more than 15% or so. Unless the tree feels very loose, I would then let the water run an additional hour or so and try again.

When/If you can easily move the tree in line with the crack, grasp it firmly by the base of the trunk and try to gently move it straight up. You may (and I stress, MAY) be able to slowly pull it from the ground without tearing too many roots.

I've used this plan with perennials that have long tap roots, like Baptisia, with a decent amount of success. Unless someone else comes up with a better idea, this may be worth a shot.

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Fairly easy to move when the tree is dormant. After it looses is leaves in the fall/winter. A dormant tree can tolerate significant abuse. Various trees are ( or were ) shipped bare root. I have received some with damaged packaging that seemed dead but revived in spring. Do you really need a sycamore ? : Or for several dollars buy a tree of your choice in the spring. Likely less work than getting the sycamore out of the pavement.

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This sapling has to be removed, or it will end up breaking the concrete.

If you want a tree in a pot, you could try this:

Get a container without a bottom, put it around the base of the tree, and fill it with soil. Make sure it's watered, so the roots that are already growing will grow into the new soil.

Then wait until the roots grow into the new soil. So, next winter you can cut it off from the concrete, and it'll have enough roots to be transplanted somewhere else.

You'll have to cut the trunk when transplanting it, so the growth of the trunk matches the roots. If a tree is transplanted with a lot of trunk and little roots, it will topple on the next storm.

Don't forget to poison the roots so it doesn't grow back and destroy the slab.

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  • Bobflux: This sounds do-able? For sure worth a try! Just for clarification: you're suggesting I cut the bottom out of a pot and place the pot on the concrete, surrounding the base of the tree. Then fill the pot with soil, so the base of the tree would be "buried" in several inches (depending on pot size) of soil. The trunk would be "underground" and this would cause it to grow new roots out into the new soil??Once an adequate amount of new roots grew, I could cut the trunk just above the concrete and basically have a whole new root ball for transplanting... did I get that right? Thank you!! Jul 5 at 6:05
  • Yes, that's the idea!
    – bobflux
    Jul 5 at 9:28

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