Ask An Arborist

Ask an Arborist: How do I Choose a Nursery Tree?

By Arbor Day Foundation | July 21, 2017

Good tree care starts with a healthy tree. When shopping for trees at a nursery, there are numerous types of trees to choose from. Before buying a tree, there are three factors to consider: tree function, form and size, and site conditions. These factors will help you choose a tree that is appropriate for its planting location.

Tree Function

When choosing a tree, think about what purpose you would like the tree to serve. Are you adding a tree for beauty? Privacy? Windbreak? Shade? The type of tree you choose will be dependent on how you want it to function. If you’re planting to add beauty, a flowering tree is a great option. Evergreens work best when planting a windbreak or privacy fence and offer year-round color. A large deciduous tree will give shade, keeping your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Form and Size

Selecting the right form and size of tree to complement the desired function can significantly reduce maintenance costs and increase the tree’s value in the landscape. It’s important to consider the size of the tree at the time of planting and its size at maturity. You want to plant the right tree in the right place to avoid damage to the tree and surrounding structures in the long-run. Planting a tree that is too large for its setting will do more harm than good.

Site Conditions  

Several variables will impact the health of the tree once it’s planted. Consider the following factors the tree will be exposed to before planting, these conditions will impact the health of the tree.

  • soil conditions
  • exposure (sun and wind)
  • drainage
  • space constraints
  • hardiness zone
  • human activity
  • insect and disease susceptibility
  • power lines

Inspecting your tree before taking it home will help ensure the tree is off to a good start. Tree care begins even before planting. Remember these considerations on your next nursery trip and watch the video below to learn more.


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  • Reply Kelly Strock July 23, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I am looking for information ? My parents have 33 after a of wooded area. Heavy with trees. One small place will smoke after a rain. And for a while. You would think it’s a fire. But it’s just smoke. Is there any types of trees that will produce smoke ?

  • Reply Mary Allen July 24, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Hey, Kelly. It sounds like what you are seeing is a pollen cloud (probably from pines!). Sometimes pollen can be so thick that it looks like a mist, or smoke.

  • Reply Donna Kinnison July 31, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I have seen many Cedar trees do this. Driving thru the country in the southern West Texas area and Central Tx, Cedar trees pop and put off a cloud of smoke. When I first saw this I thought there was a fire on a hill. I then learned it was the Cedar trees popping and releasing pollen

  • Reply Donna Kinnison July 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I am trying to find out what a tree is. It is in San Diego Ca, the bark stripes, it has a large green leaf, put out yellow flowers, then a fruit. Right now the fruit is a small green local shape. We do not know what type of tree this is, does anyone?

  • Reply Donna Kinnison July 31, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I meant a small green oval shape

  • Reply Joanne Raynow August 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I have a corner area in the front of my house with an aluminum siding garage wall on one side and the house porch on the other. This seems to make it’s own climate – it is so hot on summer afternoons I can hardly touch the metal storm door. I had a tree that died there. Then I planted a magnolia that grew so fast and high I had to have it removed as it would only continue to get even bigger.
    I am in zone 5. What can I plant that won’t get very big, is not messy, and can take the heat. We have a moderate amount of rain in the summer. I have thought of a dogwood, but afraid it is too hot. Any suggestions? Jo

  • Reply Joanne Raynow August 11, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    The first tree was a service berry.

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