How to Select a Tree

Selecting and planting trees are not tasks shrouded in mystery and magic. No chant or sacrificial offerings will be needed to ensure the survival of your newly planted tree. However, the novice tree planter or even an experienced one should heed these prudent suggestions.

Nurseries sell trees in three forms: bare root, balled-and-burlapped (aka “B and B”), and containerized. Bare root trees lack soil or growing media on their roots. Therefore, it is imperative to keep the roots moist by soaking them in water or covering roots with wet peat moss. Store bare root trees in a cool place until planting time. Balled-and-burlapped trees, on the other hand, retain their native soil. Despite losing 93 percent or more of their root system during the digging process, “B and B” trees generally have a higher survival rate than transplanted bare root stock. Containerized plants are currently very popular, but they frequently suffer from poor root structure. During the transplanting process, these deformities must be gently straightened or cut.

When choosing the right tree for your home, remember the 5 S’s: Specific, Site, Space, Structure, and Standards. Specific refers to the purpose of your new tree, i.e. shade, privacy, color, etc. Likewise, site refers to the matching of the biological requirements to the physical conditions of the area. Thirdly, space describes the need for adequate room above (vertically and horizontally) and below ground for future growth. Structure applies to the specimen’s physical attributes including trunk thickness and branch distribution. Finally, standards refers to the proper height and root ball proportions as defined in the American Standards for Nursery Stock. Above all, examine carefully before you buy, and buy for quality.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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