Purchasing the Tree The right tree. A tree is a lifetime investment, so don't buy strictly on price. And put some thought into where you buy. Staff members at a quality nursery or garden center know trees, sell the best varieties and offer information and assistance you won't get at most mass-market outlets. They will know what soil and sun conditions each species requires and how tall it will grow, and can describe its flowers and leaves in each season for any tree they sell. The trees they have on hand should be robust and in good health; also make sure they're labeled with their common and botanical names and price. Most nurseries also provide valuable services. Many guarantee the health of a tree for a year. Delivery is usually available for an extra charge, and some nurseries will even plant the tree for you. Figure labor at about 50 percent of the cost of the tree. Your options. Trees are sold two ways at this time of year: Balled-and-burlapped (often abbreviated as B&B by nurseries) and, most commonly, in containers. A balled-and-burlapped tree is dug from a nursery field with a ball of soil around the roots, and the ball is wrapped in burlap and tied. A tree in a container might have been grown in that container or transplanted from a nursery field into the pot when close to sellable size. Although prices are comparable, a tree in a container with a soilless growing medium (usually sand and bark) weighs less and is easier to handle than a balled-and- burlapped tree, which typically weigh 100 lbs. per cubic foot of root ball. Regardless of how the tree was grown, keep in mind that bigger is not always better. Research shows that a smaller tree suffers less transplant stress and grows more quickly after transplanting than a larger one. What's more, a smaller tree costs less and is easier to maneuver. But it takes time for a small tree to catch up to a larger one. It comes down to the immediate gratification of a large tree versus the cost, vigor and convenience of a small tree. Make sure it's healthy. Select a tree with evenly spaced branches extending in all directions. The leaves should be even-colored and free of insects and disease. Reject any tree with broken branches, wounds circling the trunk or sap oozing from it. The root ball should feel moist. Even one or two missed waterings at the nursery can set back or even kill a tree. Check the root system on plants in containers. Circling or kinked roots on the root ball surface indicate serious problems; circling roots can literally strangle the tree in later years. Ideally, a tree should be able to stand on its own without being tightly staked. Ask a nursery staff member to untie a staked tree; if the tree bends at a sharp angle away from the stake, don't buy it.
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