What is the Difference Between Seedlings and Saplings?

What is the Difference Between Seedlings and Saplings?- Both sapling and seedlings are the growth stages of a tree. They represent the same entity yet both of them are different. The key difference between a seedling and a sapling is their size. They differ both in height and breadth. Seedlings can only grow from seed as obvious. Whereas a sapling can be developed from vegetative plant parts other than seeds. Sapling is the true representation of a young tree.

To understand the difference between these two terms you should learn the criteria for their naming. We all know that both seedling and sapling are two stages of a tree. So there must be some difference to resemble their different names. As for the convention, the name of these two resembles their origin. A seedling is named for its origin as seed and sapling to represent a young tree. In both cases, they differ in their DBH.

What is the Difference Between Seedlings and Saplings
What is the Difference Between Seedlings and Saplings?

Sapling is said to those plants that are less than a year old and have DBH range from 1 to 6 inches. On the other hand, A seedling only retains a DBH of 1 inch or less. They are the first growth phase of a plant after sprouting.

Check out my previous post: Can Plants Drown? How to Save a Drowning Plant?

What is DBH?

DBH stands for Diameter at Breast Height. In simple words, DBH denotes the diameter of the main trunk of a plant at a height just below the first branch separation. It resembles the girth of the trunk. There is a definite criterion to name a plant’s stage according to its DBH.

In a sapling, you can look out for its main body size just below the cotyledons. Most probably every seedling has a DBH of less than 1 inch. At this stage, no plant has a truly developed trunk structure.

On the other hand, a sapling or plant of age greater than 3 months may have a strong solid trunk formation. You can relate this structure to the mature tree.

Now it is obvious that a seedling will have a thinner trunk as compared to a year-old sapling of the same tree. Thus, The DBH of seedling and sapling is their key difference.

Check out my favorite garden tools on Amazon.

What is a Seedling?

A seedling is the first stage of a visible plant. It grows from seeds and develops into trees. So you can also denote a seedling as the initial phase of a tree’s life cycle.

Almost every seed-bearing plant or tree is a developed form of its seedlings unless they are grafted. In nature, this is the usual method of plant propagation.

Now other than botanical classification, There’s also a general convention for the term seedlings. seedlings are plants grown from seed. This maintains their identification other than grafts or cuttings. That’s why if you grow a lime, lemon, or any fruit from seeds then the plant at all stages of its life will be a seedling.

This convention is not biologically correct yet every nursery gardener follows it. So it is better you decide whether you need a botanical definition or a naming convention as a seedling.

A seedling usually transplants bare rooted. There is no structured rootball available as a sapling.

Also read: How Do I Start Composting? at my Home Garden

What are Saplings?

A sapling is a young tree less than a year old. It is a plant that looks like its parent. It can also bear flowers and fruits. Therefore, you can easily say a sapling is a small tree yet to mature.

Every plant with 1 inch to 6-inch Diameter at the breast height is a sapling unless it’s the mature size of the plant species. A sapling is usually 3 months to 1 year old. Although this timing can differ with different plant species.

Every sapling will eventually develop into a mature tree.  It is only a matter of time and the growth rate of the plant. A sapling can take anywhere between 1 year to a decade to become a mature tree. Sometimes it can take even more to mature.

Just, for example, a bamboo tree matures in 12 years. Most probably every bamboo sapling will be cut and used before maturing.

This does not mean that a sapling cannot bear fruit or flowers. In fact, a plant can bear flowers and fruits once it gets its optimum height. So you can see a lime sapling blooming a fruit from the first year to even a decade after it’s been planted.

An interesting fact about saplings is that They don’t need seeds to develop. Instead, plants propagated by any means like grafting, cutting, or tissue culture are termed saplings. They resemble mature trees of their type and of course, they will grow and develop fruit if they can.

Saplings can have a well-defined root structure enclosed within rootballs or sometimes in containers.

beefsteak Tomato-seedling-transplant
beefsteak Tomato-seedling-transplant

You should also read this: What is the difference between Terracotta and Clay pots?

Difference Between Seedlings and Saplings

  1. A seedling is always smaller than a sapling. This is a visible difference between seedlings and saplings.
  2. The DBH of a seedling is only 1 inch or less while a sampling can get a size of 1 to 6-inch Diameter at Breast height.
  3. Seedlings can only grow from seeds while a sapling can be developed from any vegetative plant part along with seeds.
  4. A seedling is usually 2 to 8 weeks old while it takes at least 2 t 3 months to become a sapling. On the other hand sapling age from 1 year to 3 years depending on the plant species.
  5. Saplings have a more developed and dense root system than any seedling. A seedling will most probably have a main root with a couple or more supporting roots.
  6. Seedling is very fragile and soft than the sapling of any tree. Usually, the seedling doesn’t have a strong trunk like any sapling of the same tree.
  7. A seedling is more prone to pests and diseases while a sapling can sustain minor insect or pests attacks.
  8. The leaves of saplings are mature and stronger to support photosynthesis. Seedlings will rather have adolescent light green soft leaves. They do support photosynthesis but are not strong enough to stand direct overhead sunlight.
  9. The presence of cotyledons in a seedling is a clear visible difference that separates it from any sapling. These cotyledons will eventually drop and the seedling will develop into a sapling at later stages.
  10. The seedling will be followed by a sapling in its growth cycle. Whereas a Sapling will eventually grow into a mature tree. It will take time but ultimately you will have a tree of the same kind as you started with.

Final Words

There is a clear visible difference between seedlings and saplings of any tree. A sapling is a young tree with a DBH of 1 to 6-inches. It has probably grown from a seedling although it is not always true. You can have saplings developed from roots, buds, cuttings, leaves buds, layering, or seeds.

The difference in the origin of these two terms can also relate to their use in commercial gardening. farmers consider any seed bourn plant as a seedling no matter what its height or size is. This is very useful for them to identify the difference between a plant grown from a seed or a vegetative art at its mature stage.


Hi, My name is Sukant. I am an I.T professional. Gardening for me is not just a hobby, it's a way of living life with nature. My Ancestors were Commercial farmers: So I personally feel attached to the green. I am not an expert, I'm here only to share my gardening experiences. It's always Refreshing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts