Before installing a new landscape, be sure you are choosing healthy trees and shrubs. Whenever possible, select the nursery stock yourself — your reputation and increased chances of a healthy landscape are the payoff. Here are a few items to look for:

  1. Choose a crown that is free of wounds and pest damage. If needed, peel back any trunk wrapping to inspect for cuts or damage.
  2. Branches should be well spaced up the trunk, as well as around the trunk. Some pruning may be needed, but those needing severe pruning should be left at the nursery.
  3. Trees should have a straight trunk with proper flare and taper at the base. If the trunk enters the rootball straight down, the base of the trunk may be covered with soil — dig down a bit to locate where the trunk meets the roots. Nursery specifications indicate how deep the rootball must be for each caliber of tree; however, that measurement is taken from the top of the rootball, not from the top of the root. If you have to excavate more than an inch or two to find the top of the root system, leave that specimen in the nursery — you're not getting all the rootball you're paying for.
  4. Carefully try to move the trunk back and forth a bit to determine if the roots are well connected to the trunk.
  5. Look for girdling roots. If they are small enough to manage, you can cut them at planting. If too large, move on to another tree.
  6. Leaves should have good color, no pests and be of good size and number.
  7. Avoid weedy rootballs. Invasive weeds that are difficult to control at the nursery will also be difficult to control in your new landscape.
  8. Containerized plants should have a dense root system but not be root-bound.
  9. Move the soil around a bit to see if the anchor roots can be identified. Some containerized trees develop only one anchor root, which is not enough to hold the tree upright, even after staking for one or two or three seasons. Once you remove the stake, the tree will lean to one side.

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