Issue: May 6, 2006

Starting new aspen trees to transplant


My son is trying to get some aspens started on a piece of property he has in Pagosa Springs, CO. I read on the internet that aspens reproduce better vegetatively. I interpreted that to mean from rooting or seedlings since it also discussed seeds and the difficulty of propagating from seed.

I have an aspen grove on my property in the Jemez area, so I dug up some roots. I don't know what to do with them because they were rooted much deeper than I thought they would be. I had hoped to plant them in a trough and hold them until fall. I don't have a trough deep enough and probably couldn't move it around if I did.

If I plant them deep in the Albuquerque foothills soil (gravel), I am not sure they will live. If they do, I would have to dig them up to transplant them, and that might cause damage to them.

I have two roots, each about 18 inches long. They did not have root hairs. They are about 1/4-inch in diameter. They were about 12-15 inches deep when I dug them.

Do you have any suggestions?

I could also dig some seedlings in the fall to transplant, but we tried that and the deer (or something) ate them to the ground. I thought that maybe if they came up from the roots gradually, they wouldn't be so conspicuous to the animals and might have a better chance of survival. Cages around the seedlings might help, but I think my son had used cages and they got knocked over.

Virginia L.



Vegetative propagation means creating new plants from a vegetative part of the plant, not from seeds or spores. This means growing new plants from cuttings, by grafting, or even tissue culture.

In the case of the aspen, the most convenient means of vegetative propagation is by means of root cuttings. This is easy because the aspen produces the new plants from its roots on its own. You only need to dig the new plants produced from the roots and transplant them. This is true of lilacs, some native roses, and several other plants. You may notice new plants developing from the wounds you made on the roots of your Jemez aspens when you dug up the roots. These new plants may be dug and transplanted into pots or directly to your son's property. Do not leave the roots exposed any longer than necessary.

You can also do as you have done. Dig some large roots (the diameter of your index finger or larger) and put them into pots of well-drained potting soil. Keep them moist and in a warm location until small plants appear in the pot. They do not need to be buried as deeply as you found them in the soil at the base of the tree. By starting them in pots, you will not need to dig them to transplant them. The roots you have collected (if not dried out by now) will be good for this purpose. Use large pots for roots this size or cut the roots to about 6-inch lengths. Cover the roots with 3 inches of soil.

To protect the new aspens from animals, put stakes in the ground several feet from newly planted aspen to support fencing material and prevent the cages from falling over. Use a fencing material that does not allow deer to put their heads through the opening. At the base, use small mesh fence material to keep rabbits out. The fence should be rigid enough and supported enough so that the deer cannot push it close to the new trees. In time, the trees will become large enough to tolerate some browsing by deer and with a root system large enough to produce new plants when they are damaged.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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