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Selecting Trees and Shrubs

By John Pohly, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

Coloradans can plant trees and shrubs throughout the growing season.

Until fall, however, plan to purchase these plants locally. The mail-order houses that many gardeners patronize during spring won't ship stock during the hot summer months. They'll resume again once the weather cools in the fall.

In the meanwhile, you can have confidence in reputable nurseries and garden centers. Most select plants that are hardy in Colorado's climate. In addition, full-time garden centers and nurseries usually will buy stock from a supplier with a climate similar to ours, so the plant doesn't need to go through a long and sometimes difficult acclimatization.

Most local nurseries carry stock that grows in soil or a potting mix. This means the plant can be transplanted at any time of year except the hottest days of summer. And, you can look at the plant and select one that is healthy and insect-free.

Here are some pointers to help you select that special tree or shrub:

  • Look for a plant with the desired branch structure. If the branches are primarily on one side of the trunk, it will be difficult to prune to gain the symmetry most of us want. If the branches are clustered at the top of the tree, in most cases, the plant won't produce more branches below.

  • Some nurseries will wrap the trunks to keep damage from occurring to the tender bark on the young trees. Other nurseries wrap the trunk to hide damage. Before you buy, unwrap the trunk to look for damage. If you fail to do this before you leave the nursery, it's your word against the seller's if you discover damage when you get the plant home.

  • When buying container-grown or balled-and-burlapped stock, grab the trunk and give it a gentle push back and forth. If the root system is well-established in the soil, the container or soil ball will move with the trunk. If the root system is damaged, the trunk will move and the soil mass will stay stationary.

  • Check for insects that might be feeding on leaves or diseased areas of the plant. Aphids often feed on the under side of leaves. Look for holes in the leaves that could be caused by chewing insects.

  • Diseases show up on branches or on the trunk as discolored areas. These usually are darker than the surrounding bark and often will be slightly sunk in. Don't buy a diseased plant. Chances are great you won't be able to cure the problem, and you'll be paying the same for a diseased plant as for a healthy one.

  • If purchasing the plant is part of a day-long shopping trip, make the nursery your last stop. The plant can't tolerate much time in a hot trunk or car. If you carry the plant in the back of a truck, cover foliage that might be whipped around in the wind.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010