Tree Selection & Planting

Buying a Tree

To help you in your selection process, we have provided you with some things to consider before you buy a tree. If you would like additional assistance, please schedule a consultation with us and we would be more than willing to answer any of your questions…

Tree Shape & Size

After deciding the function, consider the natural shape of the tree and what form would best serve the function. Doing so will mean that you will have to spend less money in the future to attain and maintain the shape you want. Also, before you buy a tree, it is important to consider the mature tree size and how it will fit into the space you have chosen.

Planting Site Conditions

Every property has a unique set of conditions that will influence your tree’s long-term success. The following is a list of the major site conditions to consider before buying a tree.

Soil Conditions: The amount and quality of soil present in your yard has an enormous impact on your trees. An arborist can test your soil for fertility, salinity, and pH (alkalinity or acidity). From these tests, an arborist can recommend ways to improve your soil quality (if it is poor) or they can suggest trees that fare well in those soil conditions.

Exposure: Different trees, just like other plants, require different amounts of light. The amount of sunlight available will suggest what species of tree you should plant.

Human Activity: The top five causes of tree death are the result of things people do: soil compaction, underwatering, overwatering, vandalism, and the number one cause – planting the wrong tree. With this in mind, it is important to consider the traffic habits of people on the property, such as walkways and lawn maintenance. You do not want heavy traffic right around the tree, neither do you want to be mowing right next to it.

Drainage: Trees, just like humans, require oxygen to live; however, they get oxygen from the ground and absorb it through their roots. Poor drainage is a serious problem because it removes oxygen from the soil, which can stunt a tree’s development, or worse, kill it. Here is an easy way to test for drainage problems: Before planting, dig some test holes 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep in the areas you are considering planting trees. Fill the holes with water and time how long it takes for the water to drain away. If it takes more than 6 hours, you may have a drainage problem. If so, ask your local garden center for recommendations on how to correct the problem, or choose a different site.

Space Constraints: Check the space around the tree, including both above and below ground, to make sure that there is enough room for your tree to grow to maturity.

Hardiness: Hardiness is the plant’s ability to survive in the extreme temperatures of a particular geographic region. Make sure that you are buying a tree that is suited to the climate in which you are planting the tree.


It is important to consider both overhead and underground utilities when selecting a site to plant a tree.

Overhead lines: Planting a tall-growing tree under overhead lines can be extremely dangerous, not to mention a hassle to maintain. People climbing in the trees could come into contact with unseen utility lines which could lead to severe injury or possibly death. In addition, the tree will need to be regularly pruned away from the lines, which has the potential to result in an unnatural appearance. Moreover, pruning too often can reduce the lifespan of the tree. The easiest thing to do is to avoid planting a tree under an overhead utility line, or select a species with an appropriate growth habit.

Underground lines: The root system of trees tends to be much larger than the branches that spread above ground. Considering that many utilities are run underground, it is important to know what is being run underneath your property. Most of the time, a tree’s roots do not suffer from co-existing with the underground lines. Even then, underground lines can pose a serious hazard during planting. Digging into the lines can cause serious personal injury and/or can disrupt service.

Pest Problems

Almost every tree is affected by insects and disease organisms; however, the degree to which they are affected varies geographically. In most cases, indigenous trees will have greater resistance to local pest problems. Consulting with an expert (an arborist) about local pest problems and plant resistance could be extremely beneficial, especially if you desire to plant a non-native species.

Tree Quality

The decision to buy a tree, especially a high-quality tree, is a great investment and will provide you with many benefits. On the other hand, a low-quality tree will result in many costly problems even if you take great care in planting and maintenance. Here are some things to look for when determining the quality of the tree.

Container grown trees have roots and soil contained within a container. When inspecting the roots make sure that they do not twist or circle in the container. Circling roots must be caught and corrected early – prior to planting. In some cases, you should simply not buy a tree if it has excessive circling or “girdling” roots. They are a danger because, if left unchecked, they can eventually girdle the base of the tree and contribute to tree death by choking the tree. If there are only a few of these roots, they can be cut away using a sharp tool.

Tree Roots

The conditions of the root system of a young tree is essential to it’s future growth. It is important to know what to look for when inspecting the roots of a tree.

Bare root trees have no soil; this method of transport is usually only seen on small trees. When inspecting bare roots, the roots should not be crushed or torn and the ends of the roots should be clean cut. However, if only a few roots are damaged, you can re-cut them to remove the injured portions, but make sure to use sharp tools, make straight cuts, and do not paint the ends. Also note that if any cuts are made, they should be made immediately before planting and watering.

Balled and burlapped (often called B&B) trees have roots that are in soil and are held in place by burlap or some other fabric. Sometimes the root ball is in a wire basket. Before unwrapping the root ball, there are a number of things to inspect:

The basal trunk flare, the spreading trunk base that connects with the roots, should be above soil level when planting. If it is not, you can gently expose it when planting the tree, but be careful not to harm the bark.

The root ball should be flat on top.

The diameter of the root ball should be at least 10 to 12 times the diameter of the trunk as measured 6 inches above the trunk flare.

Also, avoid trees with many crushed or torn roots.

Only remove the basket and burlap once you have the tree placed in the hole. It is better to cut these materials away from the root ball in situ, rather than remove them and attempt to move the tree around with the root ball exposed.

Once you have the root ball exposed, use the same guidelines as you would when examining bare roots.

Container grown trees have roots and soil contained within a container of some sort. When inspecting the roots make sure that they do not twist or circle in the container. Circling roots must be caught and corrected early – prior to planting. They are a danger because, if left unchecked, they can eventually girdle the base of the tree and contribute to tree death by choking the tree. If there are only a few of these roots, they can be cut away using a sharp tool.

If there are many roots circling the pot, you have purchased a “root-bound” tree. In this case, you should either return the tree to the nursery, or consult with an arborist as to how to properly handle the tree. Once again, make sure that the basal flare is above the soil level when you plant. Remember that soil will settle after planting, and err on the side of planting too high, rather than too low.


Many trees are wrapped in order to protect the trunk during transport. However, beneath the wrapping could be serious injuries, such as trunk wounds, incorrect pruning cuts, and insect injuries. Therefore, always check the trunk of the tree before making a purchase to ensure that it is in good health. These early injuries could set up your tree for serious problems in the future, which will mean that you will have to spend more money to keep it healthy.

Tree Form

Here are some things to consider when inspecting the form of a tree.

Branch distribution: Branches should be evenly spaced along the trunk and should be firmly attached to the trunk. Having too many branches at the same position on the trunk increases the likelihood of weak attachments which leads to cracking. Cracking occurs when the branches grow too large and run out of room.

Squeezed branches: Squeezed branches are an early indication of problems to come. When there is a branch squeezed close to the trunk, which leads to weak branch unions and ultimately dead spots and cracking. This will leave your tree especially vulnerable during mild to moderate storms, which can lead to future cracking.

Multiple trunks: Multiple trunks can be very attractive, but can also lead to problems. If the young tree has two or more stems too close together, they will not have room to grow in diameter as the tree matures. This could lead to cracking of the trunk. So, make sure that if you want multiple trunks that you select a tree who’s trunks are adequately separated at the ground line.

Vertical trunk cracking: As you can see, cracking is a serious concern. Therefore, make sure that there are no signs of cracking already present in the tree you are purchasing. Even small cracks could become serious problems in the future.

Do not get discouraged. If your tree has only a few minor problems, corrective pruning may help. Remove broken or torn branches at the time of planting. Start corrective pruning one year after planting and space the pruning over several years.