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Last year I had to cut down a red maple tree. I was able to save three of its offspring.

One is ~2' tall and I moved it from where it volunteered behind a bush to the middle of the yard.

Another is ~8" tall and spent most of last year in a pot. Buried the pot in the ground in early fall.

The last one is a pure untouched volunteer, ~6" tall growing right up against the stump of the old tree.

How can I tell if these saplings survived the winter?

I see very small buds on all of them. Should these buds be hard or soft?

What other signs indicate a healthy, young red maple sapling?

  • FWIW two years later and all three candidates are doing fine. One is darn near 9' tall, the other a bit over 6', and the stump one is over waist high. She doesn't get as much sun. – Freiheit Jul 11 '16 at 12:44
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If you can pull a bud apart and it is still green inside, then things are looking good. If the buds are dry and brittle and don't show any life inside, then you may have a dead sapling. On the saplings that have branches, if the buds are not looking good, you can gently scrape a bit of bark off of the branch and look for a green layer. In any case, since it will soon be spring, you can always wait a few weeks and see which ones begin to leaf out, and that will be a definitive answer about which are healthy and survived the winter.

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