This article was coauthored by Matt Bowman. Matt Bowman is a Gardener and the Owner of the Tradition Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 2006, Tradition Company provides car washing, lawn care, property maintenance, pressure washing, maid services, firewood delivery, and Christmas trees. With over 20 years of gardening experience, Matt specializes in organic vegetable gardening and general gardening practices. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Georgia.
There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
wikiHow marks an article as readerapproved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 11 testimonials and 81% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our readerapproved status.
This article has been viewed 582,602 times.
Estimating the age of a tree can be done pretty quickly and accurately by measuring certain characteristics. Depending on the type of tree, you can, for example, measure the circumference of the trunk, or count the rows of branches. The most accurate method, however, is counting the rings in the trunk, but this can only be done when a tree is cut, and you shouldn't chop down a healthy tree just to determine its age. Instead, try another method or a combination of methods to get an accurate estimate.
Steps
Method 1
Method 1 of 4:Estimating Age by Measuring the Trunk

1Measure the tree’s circumference at breast height. Average breast height, which is a forestry measurement, is 4 ^{1}⁄_{2} ft (1.4 m) from ground level. Wrap a fabric measuring tape around the trunk at this height, and note the tree’s circumference.^{[1] X Research source }
 If the ground is sloped, measure 4 ^{1}⁄_{2} ft (1.4 m) from ground level on the uphill side, mark the spot, then do the same on the downhill side. The average breast height is the midpoint between the uphill and downhill measurements.
 For a trunk that forks at a height less than 4 ^{1}⁄_{2} ft (1.4 m), measure the circumference just below the fork.

2Find the trunk’s diameter and radius. To find the diameter, divide the circumference by pi, or approximately 3.14. Then find the radius by dividing the diameter by 2.^{[2] X Trustworthy Source State of Michigan Official website for the State of Michigan Go to source }
 For example, if the circumference is 154 in (390 cm), the diameter is approximately 49 in (120 cm), and the radius is about 24 ^{1}⁄_{2} in (62 cm).
Advertisement 
3Subtract ^{1}⁄_{4} to 1 in (0.64 to 2.54 cm) to account for the bark. For tree species with thick bark, such as black oak, subtract 1 in (2.5 cm) from the radius measurement. Subtract ^{1}⁄_{4} in (0.64 cm) for species with thin bark, such as birch. If you’re not sure and just want a rough estimate, subtract ^{1}⁄_{2} in (1.3 cm) from the radius.^{[3] X Trustworthy Source State of Michigan Official website for the State of Michigan Go to source }
 Including the bark would add extra girth and throw off your measurements.

4Use nearby fallen trees to calculate an average ring width. Check around the tree in question for dead or fallen trees of the same species. If you find one with visible rings, measure the radius and count the rings. Then divide the radius by the number of rings to find the average ring width.^{[4] X Trustworthy Source State of Michigan Official website for the State of Michigan Go to source }
 Suppose there’s a nearby stump with a radius of 25 in (64 cm), and you count 125 rings. The average ring width would be ^{1}⁄_{5} in (0.51 cm).
 Growth rates vary by tree species and environmental conditions. The living tree you’re measuring probably grew at a rate similar to a tree of the same species that grew nearby.
 You’ll plug your ring width measurement or, if there are no nearby stumps, an average growth rate into an equation to estimate the tree’s age.
 Even if you have the average ring width, you can also use the average growth rate to estimate the age, then compare the results of the 2 methods.

5Look up the species’ average growth rate, if necessary. If you can’t find any nearby stumps or felled trees, search online for the average growth rate for the species of the tree you’re measuring. Including your location in your search terms could yield more accurate results.^{[5] X Research source }
 In general, a tree is probably around 815 years old for every 1 ft (0.30 m) of trunk diameter. For instance, if the circumference of a tree is 6 ft (1.8 m) around, it's probably at least 50 years old if it's a hardwood.^{[6] X Expert Source Matt BowmanGardener & Owner, Tradition Market & Garden Expert Interview. 21 April 2020. }
 For example, oak, ash, beech, and sycamore trees grow about ^{1}⁄_{2} to ^{3}⁄_{4} in (1.3 to 1.9 cm) in circumference per year. If you don’t know the species, plug both ^{1}⁄_{2} in (1.3 cm) and ^{3}⁄_{4} in (1.9 cm) into your equation to guess an age rage.
 For a more accurate estimate, factor in the tree’s location. In open conditions, growth rates are usually greater, or ^{3}⁄_{4} to 1 in (1.9 to 2.5 cm) per year. Growth tends to be slower in urban locations and crowded forests.
 Be sure to check how the growth rate is calculated. Many sources base growth rates on how much the tree’s girth, or circumference, grows per year. However, you might find rates based on the average ring width of the radius.

6Divide the radius by the average ring width. If you used a nearby stump to calculate the average ring width, divide the radius of the living tree in question by the average ring width.^{[7] X Trustworthy Source State of Michigan Official website for the State of Michigan Go to source }
 Say that, excluding the bark, your tree has a radius of about 24 in (60.96 cm). Using a nearby tree stump of the same species, you calculated an average ring width of 0.20 in (0.508 cm).
 Divide 24 (or 60.96) by 0.20 (or 0.508) to come up with an estimated age of 120 years.

7Divide the circumference by the average annual growth rate. If you found the average annual growth rate based on girth, or circumference, divide your tree’s circumference by the growth rate.^{[8] X Research source }
 Suppose your tree’s circumference is 154 in (391.16 cm), and its growth rate is between 0.75 and 1 in (1.905 and 2.54 cm) per year. Divide 154 (or 391.16) by 0.75 (or 1.905), then divide 154 (or 391.16) by 1 (or 2.54). Your estimated age range would be between 154 and 205 years old.
Advertisement
Method 2
Method 2 of 4:Counting Branch Whorls

1Count whorls to estimate the age of a conifer. Whorls are rows of branches that grow from the trunk at approximately the same height. Counting whorls is an option for conifers, or evergreen trees, but isn’t very useful for broadleaf trees, like oak or sycamore. This method isn't as accurate as counting the rings, but it's a way to estimate the tree's age without having to kill or injure it.^{[9] X Research source }
 Conifers produce whorls annually at regular intervals. Deciduous, or broadleaf trees, produce them irregularly, making it difficult to get an accurate count.
 It’s also easiest to count the whorls of a young conifer. You might not be able to see the top of a tall, mature conifer, and there would be more irregularities in its growth patterns.

2Count the rows of branches growing at the same height. At the base of the tree, look for a row of branches that grow at the same level, a bare length of trunk, then another row of branches. These rows are the whorls; count them until you’ve reached the top of the tree.^{[10] X Research source }
 You might see single branches growing between whorls or 2 whorls spaced closely together. These are irregularities that might indicate an injury or unusual weather conditions that year, so don’t count them.

3Include any stubs or knots at the bottom of the trunk. Check beneath the first row of branches for evidence of prior growth. Look for knots in the trunk and stubs where branches once grew, which you’ll count as additional whorls.^{[11] X Research source }
 For instance, suppose your tree has 8 recognizable whorls. Beneath the first row, you can see a few stubs that emerge from the trunk around the same level. There's also a row of 2 or 3 knots under the stubs. You’d count the stubs and knots as additional whorls, so your total count would be 10.

4Add 2 to 4 years to account for seedling growth. The tree germinated and grew as a seedling for a few years before it started sprouting woody whorls. Add 2 to 4 to your whorl count to factor in this early growth.^{[12] X Research source }
 If your whorl count was 10, your final age estimate would be between 12 and 14 years.
Advertisement
Method 3
Method 3 of 4:Counting the Rings on a Stump

1Examine the rings of an exposed stump. The number of rings on a stump indicates the number of years the tree lived. You’ll see rings of darker and lighter bands; 1 year of growth is composed of both a dark and light band. Since they’re easier to distinguish, count the dark bands to estimate the age.^{[13] X Research source }
 The rings can also tell you about the environmental conditions for a particular year. Thinner rings represent colder or dryer years, and thicker rings represent better growing conditions.

2Sand the stump to see the rings more clearly. If the rings are hard to make out, start by sanding them with coarse, 60grit sandpaper. Finish with a very fine sandpaper, such as 400grit. Spraying the surface lightly with water can also make the rings easier to see.^{[14] X Research source }
 You might find that some rings are too close together to see clearly. If necessary, use a magnifying glass to get a better view.

3Count the rings from the pith to the bark. Find the pith, or the small circle at the center of the concentric rings. Start counting from the first dark band around the pith. Continue counting until you’ve reached the bark. The last ring is pressed up against the bark and hard to see, so make sure to include it in your count.
 If you have trouble keeping track, try writing a number or making a mark every 10 rings with a pencil.
Advertisement
Method 4
Method 4 of 4:Counting Rings on a Core Sample

1Take a core sample of a living tree using an increment borer. To accurately estimate the age of a living tree without killing it, use a borer to take a core sample. An increment borer is a Tshaped instrument composed of an augur, or a bit, and an extractor, which fits into the augur. The end of the Tshape is a handle, which you turn to drill in and out of the tree.
 The length of your increment borer should be at least 75% of the tree's diameter. You can find increment borers online and at forestry supply stores.

2Drill into the trunk at breast height. Measure 4 ^{1}⁄_{2} ft (1.4 m) up the trunk from ground level. Position the borer’s bit at that height on the middle of the trunk.^{[15] X Research source }
 Taking a sample at breast height gives you an estimate called the DBH age. You'll need to add 5 to 10 years to the DBH age to estimate the tree’s total age.
 You'll take the sample at breast height because it’s not practical to take one at the tree’s base. Roots, brush, and the ground would prevent you from turning the handle, and it’s hard to drill while crouching or lying on the ground.

3Bore just past the trunk’s estimated center point. Apply firm pressure and turn the handle clockwise to drill into the tree trunk. Continue turning until you think you’ve drilled around 2 to 3 in (5.1 to 7.6 cm) passed the pith, or the center of the trunk.^{[16] X Research source }
 Calculate the tree’s radius to estimate how far you’ll need to drill. Measure the tree’s circumference, divide by pi (about 3.14) to find the diameter, then divide the diameter by 2 to find the radius.

4Insert the extractor, then turn the handle counterclockwise. The extractor is a long tube with teeth at an end. It fits into the augur, or the part that you’ve drilled into the tree. Slide in the extractor, then turn the handles clockwise to remove the instrument and extract a core sample.^{[17] X Research source }

5Remove the sample and locate the pith, or the center of the trunk. After sliding the core sample out of the extractor, you’ll see an array of curved concentric lines. These are sections of the tree’s rings. You should see a dot at the interior end (opposite the bark end) of the core sample that marks the center point of the concentric rings.
 If you don’t see the pith, place the sample on a large sheet of paper, and extend the curved lines to make full rings on the paper. Based on the rings you’ve drawn, try to guess where the center point would be, and estimate how many rings you’re missing.^{[18] X Research source }

6Count the rings on the core sample. After you’ve found the pith at the sample’s interior end, count the dark curved lines until you’ve reached the bark end of the sample. Use a magnifying glass if you have trouble seeing tightly clustered rings.
 If you have trouble making out the curved lines, sand the sample to make them more visible. Start with 60grit sandpaper, then finish with a fine grit, such as 400.
 Remember that your ring count gives you the tree’s DBH age estimate. Add 5 to 10 years to estimate the tree’s total age.^{[19] X Research source }
Advertisement
Community Q&A

QuestionWhat are the fastest growing trees?Matt BowmanMatt Bowman is a Gardener and the Owner of the Tradition Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 2006, Tradition Company provides car washing, lawn care, property maintenance, pressure washing, maid services, firewood delivery, and Christmas trees. With over 20 years of gardening experience, Matt specializes in organic vegetable gardening and general gardening practices. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Georgia.
Gardener & Owner, Tradition Market & GardenSoftwood trees typically grow fastest. These include conifers and pines. Hardwoods, such as elms, oaks, poplars, and maples, grow more slowly. 
QuestionHow does the age of a tree relate to its size?Matt BowmanMatt Bowman is a Gardener and the Owner of the Tradition Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 2006, Tradition Company provides car washing, lawn care, property maintenance, pressure washing, maid services, firewood delivery, and Christmas trees. With over 20 years of gardening experience, Matt specializes in organic vegetable gardening and general gardening practices. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Georgia.
Gardener & Owner, Tradition Market & GardenThat's really dependent on the species of the tree. However, for every 1 ft of trunk diameter, you can estimate that the tree is around 815 years old. 
QuestionHow can I know the growth factors of different trees?Jared ButlerCommunity AnswerLook online and enter the keywords "growth factor" plus the species of tree in question. Entering your location might give you a more accurate result. For instance, search for, "Growth rate + sycamore trees + Atlanta, GA." If you can't find good results, us a rough estimate of 3/4 to 1 inch (1.9 to 2.5 cm) of girth growth per year.

QuestionWhat are tree rings made of?Community AnswerTree rings are just new growth from the tree. The growth occurs in the cambium (which is the thin, continuous sheath of cells between bark and wood). In spring, the cambium begins dividing, which creates new tissue and increases the diameter of the tree.

QuestionHow old is a tree if it has 10 annual rings?Community AnswerA tree typically adds one set of growth rings to the diameter of the tree each year. One lightcolored "springwood" ring and one darker, denser "summerwood" ring constitutes one set of annual growth rings. So starting at the center of the tree at ground level, if you counted 10 sets of rings, the tree should be 10 years old. But trees may put on "false rings" during drought events, so unless you have experience interpreting growth rings, a simple ring count can be misleading.

QuestionHow do I determine the age of a tree?Community AnswerCount the rings when it's a stump. Otherwise, you're just going to have to estimate by seeing how thick, tall, and strong it is.

QuestionWhat causes the tree rings to grow unevenly?Community AnswerA tree ring's width is determined by how much wider the tree grows in one year. Generally, growth rings are widest in years of high rainfall and narrow in years of drought, when the tree has a disease, or is being shaded by other trees.

QuestionCan an apple tree be 80 years old?Community AnswerYes. Apple trees can live far longer than 80 years.

QuestionWhich ring is the growth ring?Community AnswerTree rings are usually composed of alternating narrow, dark rings and wider, light rings. Trees grow fastest in the spring, which produces the wide, light rings. During the summer, trees grow slower, and narrow, dark rings are produced. Each set of rings represents one year's growth for most trees that lose their leaves in the winter.

QuestionHow do I find the age of a tree by its tree rings?Community AnswerEach ring represents a year of growth; simply count the number of rings to determine age.
Video
Tips
 Tropical trees usually don’t produce visible rings, so you’ll need to use other methods to estimate tree ages in locations without a cold season.Thanks!
 While counting rings is more accurate than other methods, it’s not foolproof. Weather conditions, soil conditions, injury, and other factors may lead to multiple rings in a single year, or no rings at all.Thanks!
 Taking a core sample injures the tree, but it can heal itself. There are fungicide plugging compounds available designed to promote healing. However, these may actually promote infections, so plugging isn’t recommended.^{[20] X Research source }Thanks!
 Softwood trees like conifers and pines generally grow a lot more quickly than hardwoods like oaks, elms, maples, and poplars.^{[21] X Expert Source Matt BowmanGardener & Owner, Tradition Market & Garden Expert Interview. 21 April 2020. }Thanks!
Warnings
 Use caution when handling a borer, saw, or any other sharp instruments.Thanks!
 Don’t cut down a healthy tree just to find out its age.Thanks!
References
 ↑ https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5202838.pdf
 ↑ http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/TreeAge_401065_7.pdf
 ↑ https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/TreeAge_401065_7.pdf
 ↑ http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/TreeAge_401065_7.pdf
 ↑ http://www.rfs.org.uk/learning/forestryknowledgehub/treesbiology/treeage/
 ↑ Matt Bowman. Gardener & Owner, Tradition Market & Garden. Expert Interview. 21 April 2020.
 ↑ http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/TreeAge_401065_7.pdf
 ↑ http://www.rfs.org.uk/learning/forestryknowledgehub/treesbiology/treeage/
 ↑ http://articles.extension.org/pages/33763/treegrowth
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/44fieldtechniquetipsforcountingwhorls/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/44fieldtechniquetipsforcountingwhorls/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/44fieldtechniquetipsforcountingwhorls/
 ↑ http://abt.ucpress.edu/content/74/9/62
 ↑ http://abt.ucpress.edu/content/74/9/62
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/47incrementcoring/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/46fieldtechniquesforincrementboring/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/46fieldtechniquesforincrementboring/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/46fieldtechniquesforincrementboring/
 ↑ https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/forestmeasurements/chapter/47incrementcoring/
 ↑ http://www.timbreproject.eu/tl_files/timbre/Intern/4%20Work%20Packages/WP4/timbre_265364_D4.2_TC_guideline.pdf
 ↑ Matt Bowman. Gardener & Owner, Tradition Market & Garden. Expert Interview. 21 April 2020.
About This Article
To estimate the age of a living tree, first measure the circumference of the tree 4 ½ feet (140 cm) above the ground in inches using a tape measure. Then, find the diameter of the tree by dividing the circumference by 3.14. For example, if the circumference of the tree is 150 inches, you would divide 150 by 3.14 and get a diameter of 48 inches. Next, find the radius by dividing the diameter in half. Forty eight inches divided by 2 gives you a radius of 24 inches. Remove ½ inch or so from the radius to account for the thickness of the tree bark, leaving you with a radius of 23 ½ inches. Now you’ll need to look up the average width of an annual growth ring for the species of tree you’re measuring. For example, the average width of a growth ring for a tree might be 0.2 inches. Finally, divide the radius by the average width of one annual growth ring to find the tree’s estimated age. Twenty three and a half divided by 0.2 gives you 117.5. Therefore, the tree is about 117.5 years old. To learn how to determine the age of a dead tree, scroll down!
Reader Success Stories

"My sisterinlaw is a walker, but does not have a computer. She asked me to find out how you age a tree without cutting it down, because she walks past a tree that she thinks must be very old."..." more