Tree Buying Guide

Planting a tree is an investment—in time, money, and the future appeal of your landscape.

By Guy Sternberg


Planting a tree is an investment—in time, money, and the future appeal of your landscape. Considering that some trees might be around longer than you, it's important to plant the best tree for your site. Here are some things to consider before you purchase a tree:

1. Know your soil. A tree's health and vigor depend strongly upon the compatibility of your type of soil with the roots of the tree you select. Moisture retention, drainage, depth, and soil pH are key considerations.

2. Think about site. Pick a tree with a size and shape that fits your site. Pruning to control size is sure to disfigure the tree and frustrate you. Tall trees are dangerous under power lines; those with sweeping low branches are a nuisance next to your driveway or road; and trees with berries that overhang your pool can turn the water into fruit punch. Also, make sure that there aren't underground utility lines near the planting site.


3. Observe throughout the year. Before you settle on a species you want to plant, observe it growing in your area during all seasons. Check for leaf scorch or insect problems in summer, and look for damage due to poor winter-hardiness in early spring. If you want good color in fall, shop for your tree in that season so you can find the exact one you want in the nursery.

4. Stay local. To get a tree that's best adapted to your conditions, ask about its origins at your nursery. You want a tree that's been propagated from a locally grown (within 100 to 200 miles) source. Avoid those from parent trees found in entirely different climate zones.

5. Inspect before buying. When shopping, look for a well-grown tree with good branching structure, a strong central leader, and healthy, vigorous growth. Tip a container-grown tree out of its pot and check for live roots that don't circle excessively. If it's balled and burlapped, make sure the ball is firm and that its diameter is at least 10 times that of the tree's trunk.