NGA Articles: How to Buy and Plant Trees

How to Buy and Plant Trees (cont)

By: Lance Walheim

Choose a Healthy Tree

It pays to be a smart shopper when buying trees. As hard as most nurseries and garden centers try to properly care for their trees, the longer a tree has been in the nursery, the greater the chance for something to go wrong. A missed watering here, not enough fertilizer there, and a tree will suffer. Such trees are likely to grow slowly or poorly once they're planted in the landscape.

Trees are sold three ways: bare-root, balled & burlapped (B&B), and in containers. What these trees look like and brief descriptions of the advantages and disadvantages of each is shown and explained below.

Examine a tree carefully before buying. The largest individuals of a group may be too large for their root-balls. The smallest trees of a group may be stunted from some type of stress. In general, select a tree of modest proportions. Look for a tree with a balanced canopy and evenly spaced branches extending out in all directions. It is best if branches are distributed along the entire length of the trunk.

The trunks of some trees have been headed, which causes several branches to grow from just below the cut. Such a tree may appear attractive and in good proportion, but for large-growing trees, the branches may be too low and weakly attached unless most are pruned out.

Foliage growth along the lower trunk contributes to its strength. The trunk should be straight and evenly tapered from top to bottom. Ideally, the tree should be able to stand up by itself without staking. If not, it will require staking for a longer time after planting.

Avoid trees with broken branches, wounds on the trunk, poorly colored foliage, obvious signs of insects or disease, or a previous season's growth of less than six inches.

If you can't plant as soon as you get your trees home, make sure you take care of them until you can. Temporarily store all types of young trees in a shady location. Partially bury the roots of bare-root trees by digging a shallow trench, placing the roots in the trench, and covering them with moist soil or organic matter. Take care to ensure that the root-balls of B&B and container trees don't dry out.

Check Drainage

Especially if you suspect drainage problems, dig a test hole near the tree's site a few days or weeks before planting. Fill the hole with water, let it drain, then fill it again. Time how quickly the water drains. If it is less than 1-inch per hour, or if it hasn't drained completely in 24 hours, you have a drainage problem. Solutions include planting elsewhere, planting in raised beds or mounds, or installing a drainage system (consult a landscape contractor). You may be able to improve the drainage by drilling through the hardpan in the bottom of the hole. Ask your county cooperative extension office or nursery to find out about local soil conditions and probable depth and thickness of the hardpan.


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