Choosing Healthy Nursery Plants

Spring approaches, and with it will be the itch to get your finger nails dirty and plant stuff.  Landscaping adds beauty and value to the home, so it’s a good investment. You always want your investments to do well, so choosing a healthy plant is important.  Here are some guidelines:


Containerized plants: Get permission to dig into the soil a little and see if the root tips are white, pink, or tan in color, indicating good health.  Dark brown or black root tips may be dead, and a lot of them means that the tree will not transplant well. The roots should be growing downward and not circling around the pot, an indication the plant is pot bound.  The tree should stand upright on its own without the support of a stake. Generally, smaller plants in relation to the pot will survive better, as there are more roots in relation to the top.


Balled and Burlap: Size of the ball is important to assure that there are enough roots to support the plant.  For a standard tree, a ½ inch diameter tree needs a 12-inch ball, a 1” needs a 16-inch ball, and a 2” needs a 24 inch ball.  Avoid plants with the following problems: a sloppy wrapping job, soil and roots spilling out, roots growing through the wrapping, and loose or fractured soil inside the ball.  Again, smaller plants  have a better root to top ratio, and the trees will be much happier.


Bare-Root Stock: This is the way mail order companies ship trees.  As soon as you get them, open the package and inspect the roots carefully.  Use your fingernail to scratch the main stem.  If the color is green just beneath the surface, it’s okay.  If it’s discolored and dark, the root is dead.  Make sure the roots are not too dry. If needed, place the plants in a bucket of water 24 hours before planting.  Planting should be done as soon as possible after shipment, and must be planted before the first leaves begin to show.  The amount of top in relation to the roots should be balanced.


I’ve hammered on not getting a plant too large for the roots to support, so here’s some recommended height to stem diameter recommendations for standard trees: ½ inch diameter for 5-6 foot trees, 1” for 6-9 foot, 2” for trees 9-13 feet tall.


For more information on landscaping plants, contact your local nursery or Extension Agent.


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