Picking the right plants for your property is only the first step of having and maintaining a healthy, beautiful landscape for decades. The next step is choosing strong, healthy plants from your local nursery or garden center.
When choosing trees, you should first look at the main trunk. Make sure there are no wounds to the bark, or tracks in the bark (which could be a sign of boring insect activities.). If there are nicks in the bark or areas of bark missing, these trees should be rejected for your landscape. Next check to see that the trunk is as straight as possible and that there is only one dominant leader. Any tree with a co-dominant leader that is 2/3 (two-thirds) the size of the main leader should also be rejected (unless it is located in the top 10% of the tree.).
Next, you should look at the branching structure of the tree. The tree canopy should be symmetrical, with no large holes and typical to the species and cultivar. The live crown ratio should be at least 60% (this is the distance from the bottom of the canopy to the tree top/tree height). The branches should be less than 2/3 (two-thirds) the trunk diameter and more or less radially distributed around the trunk.
Finally, look at the root ball. You should be able to see the root flare as it emerges from the root ball. If you cant see this, then try to clear away some of the soil. If the root flare becomes visible immediately, then the tree is fine, if not it should be rejected. There should be no roots that are larger than 1/10 (one tenth) the diameter of the trunk circling more than 1/3 (one third) around the top half of the root ball. Roots that are larger can be cut as long as they are not more than 1/3 (one third) the diameter of the trunk. Trees and shrubs should be rooted firmly in the root ball and should not move in the soil when the tree is rocked back and forth or lifted. Trees that are larger than 1.5 inches in caliper should not require staking.
These grading guidelines were developed by the University of Florida in combination with the Florida tree growers in order to raise the quality of the trees that are grown and sold in the state of Florida. If these types of guidelines were adopted here in New York, we would see a much better selection of plants in our local nurseries and garden centers.
I will cover the proper planting techniques next month and what should be included in order to properly prepare the plants and the sites.
If you have any questions that I can help you with, I hope you will get in touch with myself or my office at 631-691-2381 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want further information on tree grading guidelines, then you should click on the link below.