How to Buy a Tree

Buying trees can be easy if you know a few key things to look for;
  • First, try to buy locally, as the tree nursery or tree farm will more than likely stock tree species that will thrive in your area. The trees would also be suited to your hardiness zone, ensuring they will survive the winter in your area.
  • Have an idea of which tree or type of tree you want. There are many species of trees, divided by genus. So if you cant find exactly what you are looking for, be prepared to substitute for a slightly different species of tree. Some trees even have subspecies, giving different variations of the same tree.
  • Planting Location. Make sure the area is large enough to accommodate the tree. Generally we use the 10 year rule, using the trees mature size information we calculate how big the tree will be in ten years and plant accordingly. It is especially important to plant a tree far enough away from buildings, so that its roots won't undermine the foundations.
  • Decide how large a tree you want to buy. The same tree may be bought as a seedling, or as a young tree in a small pot, or as a little older in a large pot, or as a nearly mature tree as ball and burlap (B&B). The size of tree you may buy depends on how much you want to spend, basically the larger the tree, the more it will cost you. Also, decide how soon you would like the tree to reach a mature size. It may be that you need instant size to block or screen off part of your landscape, therefore larger trees would need to be bought.
  • Trees can be bought in 3 different ways, container (potted), bare rooted, or ball and burlap (B&B).
  • Container / potted trees have been raised from seed, cutting or graft and have been transplanted into larger pots as the tree grows. These trees can be planted any time of year, as long as there is no frost in the ground.
  • Bare rooted trees have been grown in a nursery then dug up and shipped without soil, but with damp material such as peat moss to prevent the roots from drying out. Bare rooted trees must be planted during the winter months while the tree is dormant. After buying bare root trees, do not delay planting more than a few days.
  • Ball and burlap (B&B) trees are also nursery cultivated. The soil is left intact around the roots, which are then wrapped in burlap. After buying, keep the root ball moist and do not remove the wrapping until ready to plant. Plant ball and burlap (B&B) trees in spring, summer and autumn.
  • What kind of store to buy trees from. Tree nurseries or tree farms are the best. Avoid buying trees from the large box stores, as often they have been left sitting around some part of the store, and being tended by those who don't really know how to look after plants. Typical symptoms are, the soil in pots is dry, over watering, rootbound trees, broken branches from the trees being moved too often. Retail tree nurseries sell trees to the general public and some sell wholesale to landscape contractors and other nurseries which is a good sign! The tree nursery staff is more qualified and knowledgeable about their trees, and will help you select appropriate trees for your landscape.
  • Purchasing Trees. You must inspect the tree before purchase! If it does not look vibrant, well watered, healthy or somewhat symmetrical then there is a problem with it! Look at the trees root systems or rootball. Bare-root trees should be damp when purchased, and its roots should be kept damp until planted. Potted or container trees should not have many roots coming out of the pot as that would mean the tree is rootbound. Ball and burlap (B&B) trees should have a solid rootball entirely covered with burlap which is not loose or coming off. Some small roots may be visible, which is normal.
  • Transportation, delivery or shipping of trees. See if the tree farm will deliver if you are buying a large tree. If you are taking the trees, make sure that you lye them down on their side so they don't topple or fall over. This also reduces wind damage to the tree while driving. Depending on how many trees you get and how large they are, a trailer is the best way to move them. A trailer with removable solid sides and a mesh tarp cover is what we recommend. Do not use a solid tarp, as the wind will tear it apart! The mesh tarp will allow some wind to pass though the top of the trailer, and it won't flap around and tear apart like a solid one will. If these trailer options are not available to you, then we suggest that the trees be wrapped at the tree store. Many tree vendors have a tree wrapping service or station as this is a common need for their retail customers. Wrapping trees prevents the leaves being ripped off or torn to shreds while transporting them.
  • When planting trees, keep their rootball reasonably intact, see our section on Planting Trees, How To. Some tree nurseries offer tree planting services. Hiring a landscaper to plant the tree may be another option.

Directory of Local and National Tree Farms, Tree Nurseries and Garden Centers