How To Choose Healthy Tree Saplings For Your Landscape

Posted on: 25 April 2017

Tree nurseries are a great resource when it comes to landscaping your home. They typically provide trees suitable for your area and offer a wide selection of trees from fruiting trees to ornamental species meant to enhance the beauty of your landscape. Knowing how to choose the right tree from a nursery is important to your success when purchasing and planting new trees in your landscape. Follow these guidelines for choosing vigorous, healthy trees from your local nursery.

Determine the type of tree you need.

That means considering the size of the tree at maturity and the growing conditions the tree needs. To do this, you will need to assess the light exposure, soil type, and available space in the area you intend to plant the tree. While some trees will grow in low-light conditions or in the shade of buildings and other yard structures, others need direct sunlight for most of the day to thrive. Likewise, some trees, like willows, will grow in wet soil; while others, like Japanese lilac, river birch, crabapple and spruce trees, thrive in dry soil. If you haven't researched types of trees and narrowed down possible choices prior to visiting the nursery, talk to the attendant or read the plant labels carefully to determine the lighting and growing needs of the tree. Pay special attention to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone for the tree,as this determines whether the tree can survive the winter in your location. Match the plant hardiness zone of the tree to your plant hardiness zone for best results.

Choose a healthy sapling.

It's easy to be fooled into thinking that all the saplings in the nursery are healthy choices for your yard, but this isn't always the case. Examining them closely to ensure you choose a healthy sapling is important. Here's what to look for:

Healthy Roots:  For bare root saplings, look for roots that are moist and fibrous. The roots of deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves in the winter, like oak, apple, lilac and birch) should be approximately equal in length to the height of sapling. Evergreen saplings have considerably shorter root systems. When purchasing saplings with balled and burlapped roots, check that the root ball is firm and that it is the appropriate size for the sapling. Small or squishy root balls may indicate a weak or diseased root system. Avoid potted saplings with large roots above the surface of the soil, tightly coiled roots in the bottom of the pot, or root tips extending through the drainage holes. This indicates that the sapling has outgrown its pot, which may inhibit healthy growth. Healthy tree roots are white or tan with no discolored spot and feel firm to the touch. Avoid discolored or soft roots.

Healthy Bark: The bark on your sapling may range in color from bright green to shades of brown, depending on the type of tree. It should look healthy with no signs of breaks or marring and be free of any discoloration. It should also be free of any signs of insect pests or damage. The bark may be smooth or slightly textured, depending on the tree and the age of the sapling.

Trunk: The trunk of the tree should taper with the largest diameter at the bottom and gradually decrease in size toward the top of the sapling. Avoid trunks that do not have a gradual taper or do not appear sturdy and strong. A weak trunk will develop into a weak tree.

Branches: Look for branches that are smaller in diameter than the trunk and are well-distributed along the trunk of the tree. Your new sapling should have low branches, as these help the trunk to develop strength. Low branches are not permanent, but are helpful for the growing sapling. Look for wide-angle crotches in the branches and check that they branches taper to the canopy type or shape of the mature tree.

Choosing healthy, vigorous saplings makes enhancing your landscape with trees and shrubs easier and improves the odds of healthy tree growth.

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