Written By Brendan Murphy.

Posted on March 24th, 2016.

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Your woods are always changing, but from walk to walk, that change might not be obvious. One way to see how your woods grow and change is to take photos of the same subject season after season or year after year. When you put those pictures together, you get something powerful: time lapse photos.

Trees grow so…so……slowly……….

Your woods are always changing, but from walk to walk, that change might not be obvious. One way to see how your woods grow and change is to take photos of the same subject season after season or year after year. When you put those pictures together, you get something powerful: time lapse photos.

I do a lot of tree planting, and time lapse photos are great for tracking how those young trees are doing over time. To show you the value of time lapse photos, I thought I’d share a story about two pin oaks I planted.

It started in the spring of 2011. The pin oaks were just two of a bunch of seedlings I was planting that season, all around 3 or 4 feet tall.

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By early May, the planting was done. My two pin oaks were both in the ground and protected from deer browse using tree tubes. One pin oak wound up at Junior Lake Park in Yorktown Heights, NY, while the other was a little further south at Leonard Park in Mt. Kisco.

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The initial growth for both trees was impressive. By June, both oaks had already shot out of their protective tubes. That’s about 18 inches of growth in just 6 weeks. Wow!

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By the end of 2013, though, the trees began taking different paths. The pin oak at Junior Lake seemed to sputter out, while the one at Leonard Park flourished. Even so, both were big enough that their tree tubes could be removed and replaced with mesh bark protectors to prevent male deer from scraping off the bark with their antlers.

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In 2014 and 2015, the Leonard Park oak continued to grow a thicker trunk and widening crown, though it didn’t gain much height. The Junior Lake oak fared the same, but grew even less. By 2015—just 4 years after planting—the Junior Lake tree’s crown was barely half the size of its fellow oak’s over in Leonard Park.

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Why did these two trees fare so differently? Like most questions about trees and woodlands, the answer is “It depends.” Even though both trees were pin oaks, they could have had very different genetics. The one at Leonard Park may just have been better equipped to survive and therefore grew more quickly than the one at Junior Lake. Environmental factors could also be at work; maybe the Junior Lake site had poorer soil or less-than-ideal water drainage. Finally, it could stem from the way I planted them. Tree planting is more complicated than just sticking a tree in the ground, and if I didn’t do the Junior Lake tree’s planting just right, that could have hurt its growth.

I’ll probably never know exactly why these two trees grew so differently in their first four years, but by taking photos of them annually, I was at least able to see that variety. I’m excited to keep photographing these two trees and see what the next four years brings to them.

If you want to get started with time lapse photos on your property, consider this MyWoodlot activity on setting up photo points. It’s geared around watching a woodlot recover from a disaster like an ice storm, but the same methods will work for observing change just about anywhere on your land.

Photo points are a great way to monitor projects you do on your land. Use them to see how your apple trees respond to pruning, or how your woods regrow after a timber harvest, or which plants come up in your food plot. You could even use them just to watch the growth of your existing trees as they get bigger and bigger…albeit slowly.


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