Arbor Advice: How to Select Quality Trees from Nursery StockApril 25, 2017
Ah, spring! Most of us have found ourselves at a nursery or garden center as the weather gets warm. If you have a yard, you’ve probably thought about planting a tree. Early spring and early autumn are great times to plant, because soil and air temperatures are cooler and put less stress on the tree. Follow these guidelines to determine quality when you select a tree from nursery stock.
Arbor Advice is written by the International Society of Arboriculture for The Home Front
Nursery stock classifications
Nursery trees are classified based on how they are produced, harvested, and sold. Most of the trees you will find in a nursery are balled and burlapped (B&B) or container grown.
- B&B tree: grown in the ground, and then removed for replanting, with the roots and soil wrapped in burlap or a similar fabric.
- Container-grown tree: grown and marketed in a container—usually a plastic pot.
Good, strong form starts with branches evenly spaced along the trunk with firm, sturdy attachments to the trunk.
- Branches that are very upright (with narrow angles of attachment) can cause problems later on as they grow into the trunk.
- Branches that press against the trunk or each other can become compressed, crack, or die back with increased growth.
- Several branches growing at the same position on the trunk increase the likelihood of weak attachments, compression, or cracks over time.
If you are buying a tree with multiple trunks, look for trunks that are well separated at the ground line. Trunks that may be slightly separated when they are small will squeeze together as the tree grows and the trunks expand in diameter.
Thoroughly inspect the trunk before buying a tree—it should be free of wounds from handling or incorrect pruning cuts that have been made at the nursery. If the tree is wrapped, remove the wrap and inspect the trunk.
A correct pruning cut removes the branch just outside of the swollen collar at the base of the branches. Cuts that remove or injure the collar can lead to problems. Cuts that leave a stub prevent the tree from recovering from the cut.
A quality root system is needed to support healthy growth. On a B&B tree, you should be able to see the trunk flare (the area where the trunk widens and connects with roots) at the top of the root ball. Avoid buying plants with badly damaged or compressed root balls. The top of the root ball should be flat—rounding can be an indication of root loss. The diameter of the root ball should be at least 10 to 12 times the diameter of the trunk, measured 6 inches above the trunk flare.
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