Trees and Shrubs- How to Choose the Right Tree or Shrub

When choosing trees and shrubs for your landscape, you should know what characteristics to look for. You will find two checklists to go by when choosing your tree or shrub. One list is of characteristics that your plant should have, and the second is a checklist of characteristics that your tree or shrub should NOT have.

"Choosing Trees and Shrubs"

Learn how to choose healthy trees and shrubs

*Tip- Remember to beware of bargain plants, as a bargain is not always a bargain. October and November are months that many trees are purchased and some nurseries will have a limited selection to choose from. Most nurseries can order particular plants for you with some advance notice. As time passes, you will be able to identify local plant sellers that are reliable and ones that you can trust.

Remember that you get what you pay for, so make wise choices by knowing what to look for when examining a tree or shrub. Keep in mind the type of growing conditions that you will have in your yard or garden. Shady areas will require Shade tolerant trees and shrubs, while open, sunny areas will need a tree that requires full sun.

Characteristics that a healthy tree should have:

  • Sound and sturdy rather than tall and leggy, which may signal weakness.
  • Make sure that any wraps are not hiding the physical condition of the lower stem. (Look beneath trunk or stem wraps that protect trees during transport.
  • Single trunks well-developed and straight, tapering to a slight flare at the base.
  • Multi-stemmed plants full and attractive from all angles.
  • Evenly spaced limbs along and around the trunk.
  • Strong branch unions with truck. (Limbs that seem squeezed to the trunk because of the narrow angle they form with it are weakly attached; tight multiple trunks are also weak. Vertical cracks may form below the union of trunk and limb, leading to breaks after storms.
  • Clean, healthy, well-shaped leaves.
  • Enlarged buds with substance.
  • A big rootball with sufficient roots for healthy development.
  • Moist, fibrous (not woody) roots.

Characteristics that a tree or shrub should NOT show

  • Injured limbs
  • Dead branches or brown, dried-up buds.
  • Trunks harmed by mowing or incorrect pruning.
  • Bark splits.
  • Spindly appearance.
  • Insect infestation on leaves, bark, or soil. (Look for evidence like cocoons and galls.)
  • Wilting leaves and stems
  • Curled leaves, discolored margins, or foliage marked black, brown, or yellow.
  • Two leaders
  • Weak, narrow branch crotches. (Often branches formed at a narrow angle to the trunk develop included bark at the top of the crotch, detaching part of the limb from the tree and making it susceptible to weather damage.)
  • Dry or damaged rootballs.
  • Potbound with circling or girdled roots.



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