Chinese Pistachio

Pond Cypress

Golden Rain Tree

Scarlet Oak

Crape Myrtle


River Birch

Images © Erv Evans

Tree selection and planting tips from Cooperative Extension

As its Trees of Strength campaign takes root across North Carolina in memory of those who died Sept. 11 and in support of U.S. troops, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service offers this tree selection and planting advice: Selecting trees
You'll want to buy your tree as close as possible to the time when you'll plant it, — late fall and early spring are the best times to plant. Start with a healthy, vigorous tree from a reputable nursery or garden center. Look for these characteristics:
  • Leaves should be of normal size, shape and color.
  • The tree's shape should be uniform, free of thin spots or broken limbs. Its foliage should be compact and full, evenly distributed over the top two-thirds of the tree.
  • The bottom one-third of the trunk should be clear of branches, and there should be no upright, sharp-angled branches.
  • If the tree is in a container, no large roots should be growing from the drainage holes.
  • When you slide the root ball out of the container, the root ball should stay together, yet be somewhat pliable. It shouldn't be hard or have many roots circling the ball. Circled roots can choke or kill the plant as it grows.
  • There should be small white roots along the outside of the root ball. Don't buy the plant if it has black roots, because they could be damaged.
Erv Evans, North Carolina's Extension Master Gardenersm Program coordinator, recommends buying small trees - 4 to 6 feet tall - because they are easier to handle and more economical, plus they adjust to the shock of being transplanted faster than larger plants.

Make sure that the tree you choose is suitable for the spot where you plan to plant. Consider the size of the space, the amount of sunlight, the soil conditions and the drainage.

Planting trees

Once you've selected your tree, transplant it as soon as possible. If you have to wait, keep the plant in an area protected from cold, heat and wind. Keep it upright, and make sure the root ball doesn't dry out.

To give your tree the best start possible, you'll need to do more than just dig a hole and set the tree in it. "The current trend is to plant trees in large beds. This gives the roots a larger area to grow before they encounter native soil that could be compacted and poorly aerated," Evans says. "If your soil is particularly compacted, you'll need to till to eliminate the hard pan."

In the planting bed, incorporate about three inches of pine bark mulch, compost or other aged organic matter into the top 12 inches of soil. The planting hole within the bed should be three times as wide as the root ball, with the sides sloping toward the bottom.

If your plant came in a container, plant it exactly as deep as it was planted in the container. Your hole shouldn't be any deeper than the root ball. If you dig too deep, be sure to firm the bottom of the hole to reduce the chance of settling. Use the sides of a shovel to make the sides of the hole rough and irregular.

Water the tree thoroughly before transplanting. Turn the plant upside down and give the top edge of the container a sharp rap. Catch the root ball in your hands as it slips from the container. Always pick the plant up by the root ball - never by the trunk.

If the plants have become overgrown in the container and the root mass is growing in a tight, compact circle, loosen the roots and spread them by hand. You can cut the outer roots with a sharp knife by making vertical cuts about 2 inches into the root ball on two to four sides.

Use the soil that you removed from your planting bed to refill the hole. When the hole is one-third full, firm the soil around the root ball, but don't use too much force. Loosen and break up any clods of soil. Make sure the tree is still standing straight. Keep the root ball level with the soil surface, and don't cover it with additional soil.

Water the plant thoroughly. Apply a three-inch layer of mulch over the bed, but avoid piling the mulch against the trunk.

More about tree planting and selection

For more information about tree planting, call Extension Teletip, a toll-free telephone information service, at 1-800-662-7301. You can choose from the following messages:

2590 Estimating the value of trees and shrubs

2635 Pine bark beetles
5111 Fertilizing trees and shrubs
5112 Mulching trees and shrubs
5114 Planting balled and burlaped plants
5113 Planting container-grown trees and shrubs
5117 Purchasing trees and shrubs
5120 Watering trees and shrubs
2598 Caring for a cut Christmas tree
5140 Crapemyrtle planting
5141 Crapemyrtle problems
5142 Dogwood planting
5143 Dogwood problems
5144 Pruning a mature tree
2581 Why leaves change colors
5120 Watering trees and shrubs
5145 Pruning a young tree

You also can get information - including information about the best types of trees for your region - from your county Cooperative Extension center. Call Teletip and follow the instructions to hear a listing of county Extension center phone numbers. Or you can look the number up in the county government listings of your phone book or on the Web at

Cooperative Extension also offers an extensive Web site on landscape plants. From the home page - - select the "Plant Fact Sheets" link; then select "Current Plant Fact Sheets".

Compiled by: Erv Evans
Web Design by: Mark Dearmon

Trees of Strength is a registered service mark of NC State University.