How to Select A Nursery Tree

Part of good tree care starts with selection of a good tree. When you’re at the nursery, you want to keep certain things in mind. Remember, there are advantages of selecting good quality nursery trees. A good quality tree is more likely to survive, establish more quickly and live longer in your landscape. Choosing a good quality tree at a nursery can reduce the likelihood of limb failure from structural defects. Be a smart buyer and evaluate your tree carefully.

Many arborists would consider a container-grown tree as their first choice. Although this nursery-grown tree might be a little more expensive, it has a very good survival rate with minimal care. The roots in the container are 100% intact and the tree has not been stressed by having been dug up from the ground. Container grown trees are usually smaller than balled & burlapped trees, which we’ll talk about in a bit. That’s a good thing because smaller is better to ensure that the tree can spread out its roots and get on with the business of growing once you plant it in your landscape at home.

Where there is less of a tree to feed, the roots can expend energy on growing themselves. By allowing the roots to grow, you’ll see a beautiful crown in the years to come. When shopping for nursery trees, you should be picky. Check out several nurseries, both large and small. You’ll want to pay attention to some factors.

With a balled & burlapped tree (B&B), you should carefully access the quality of roots before planting. These young trees were grown from seed in one location and then years later were dug up and wrapped with burlap prior to the season they were shipped to the nursery. In the process, some roots have been severed. If not sold the first season, roots will continue to grow and are forced into a circle under the burlap. They often girdle the trunk or become contorted or tangled. If you do want a B&B tree, make sure it’s a good one.

What should you look for in nursery trees?

Whether they’re container-grown or B&B, you should look for the following things:

  • Little to no scarring on the trunk from the limbs to the root flare,
  • Minimal dead branches throughout the crown (hopefully, there are none),
  • An overall healthy appearance – avoid a beat-up looking tree,
  • No blotches or holes on the leaves (these are usually caused by pests or disease),
  • A strong central trunk as the central feature. Avoid a double trunk. Remember that branches can be pruned over time to balance the appearance or the weight of the tree,
  • For B&B, the string or wire around the trunk is loose enough to dig your finger underneath it,
  • There are no obvious roots already circling the trunk at the soil level (gently examine with your fingers). For a B&B tree, check underneath the collar of the burlap/string. Prod it a bit with your finger to notice whether the trunk is smooth and flares out naturally without interruption.

Once you’ve selected your nursery tree, take care with the trunk of the tree as you move it around. It can take a little wear and tear, but you should avoid nicks and cuts and scraping with tools or hard surfaces. You’ll want to limit how much recovery and healing the tree will need to focus on so it can redirect its energy to the roots. You’ll also want to protect the tree from the wind on the ride home. It’s best to secure it in the back of a truck if you can to avoid any damage. The tree can handle being on its side for a bit if you must put it into an SUV or sedan. Make sure you bring a tarp so you can avoid messy cleanup later.

Now that you know what to look for in a tree at a nursery, we encourage you to go out and get a tree for yourself. If you still have questions, feel free to call us at 512-341-8888. We are happy to give you solid advice on choosing trees at local nurseries.

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