Updated: April 18, 2022

Key points

  • Always choose top quality plant material.
  • When a plant does not grow at the expected rate, poor plant material may be responsible.
  • Plants that are weak or damaged when planted may never overcome initial problems and will fail to thrive.
damaged container plant

How to choose and handle trees and shrubs

  • Inspect the roots, trunk, and structure of the plant before you purchase it.
  • If the plant is growing in a container, pull it out and inspect the roots. They should be white or light tan, succulent, and should not circle more than halfway around the container. Plants that are pot-bound with circling roots may later develop girdling roots. Roots that are dark brown or black may have been damaged, dried out, or rotted, and may not have the ability to generate sufficient new roots when planted.
  • Avoid trees with cankers, injuries, or cracks in the trunk. When inspecting the trunk, be sure the natural trunk flare is visible at soil level. No flare indicates the tree is planted too deeply in the root ball or container. Balled and burlapped plants should not be loose in the root ball.
  • Branch spacing is important to the structure of a tree. Check the spacing of any tree branches over 6', as these will be permanent branches. Permanent branches should be approximately 12" apart. Spacing of lower branches is not critical because they are usually removed as the plant grows.
  • Overall vigor of the plant can be determined by observing the amount of annual growth, as well as the size and appearance of the leaves. Choosing top quality plant material ensures your plant will have the best possible chance to thrive in your landscape.
  • When you handle plant material, pick the plant up by the root ball, not the trunk. Handling the plant by the trunk can tear roots, causing the root ball to become loose.

Rev. 2019