Picking Your Tree

When you visit a nursery or look through a catalog, you will find that you can buy a tree in a number of different forms.  The three types you most commonly find are bare root, container-grown, and balled & burlapped (also called B&B). 

Bare Root
Roots These types of trees are aftern very tiny (about one foot tall) and are most commonly used for large reforestation projects, usually on lands planted for harvesting trees for wood or paper pulp.  We do not recommend planting these small trees in your yard or garden.  In addition, MillionTreesNYC will not be counting these small trees toward the million tree goal.

Pot These trees can be in smaller pots (2-3 gallon in size) or in larger pots (up to 10 or 20 gallon in size).  MillionTreesNYC is counting the two gallon-sized trees toward the million tree goal, but these are best used in reforestation projects.  MillionTreesNYC does not recommend you use the small-sized pots for your yard or garden.

The larger trees grown in 10 or 20 gallon pots can work well in a garden setting.  They are small enough to transport and transplant with little shock, but large enough to make an impact. 

Ask the nursery staff to carefully remove the tree from its pot.  The roots should not be circling the trunk or pot.

Balled and Burlapped
Bag Balled and burlapped trees are grown in the ground, harvested with machinery called a tree spade, and placed in burlapped lined wire baskets.  These trees are then tied together with twine for transport to a retail nursery.  The soil and roots together is called a “root ball.”  B&B trees can also be on the smaller side (1” diameter trunk) or can also be very large (though rare, they can be harvested up to 6” in diameter) as long as the the tree was grown properly and the size of the rootball corresponds to the size of the trunk.   A homeowner can reasonably plant 1” diameter tree; a 2-2.5” diameter tree can weigh up to 300 pounds.  Visit The American Nursery and Landscape Association to see the standards set in the American Standard for Nursery Stock.

How to select a high quality tree? Here are some considerations for when you go to a nursery or tree retailer to buy your tree.

Reject trees that have:

  • double stems or multiple bunches of stems. Look for a straight, single stem.
  • severe pruning cuts. See "Pruning Guidelines."
  • dead bark, cankers, or signs of disease or insects on trunk or branches.
  • paint on wounds or pruning cuts.
  • tight, vertical branches where bark is squeezed between two branches or between trunk and branch.

Other suggestions:

  • Remove any protective covering so you can inspect the entire trunk.
  • If the tree is in a container, ask the nursery staff to remove the tree from its container so you can see how well the tree is rooted in the soil.  Reject the tree if the roots are either very loose in the soil or if there are a profusion of roots encircling the pot.  

After you pick the type of tree you are going to plant, you can begin to think about the tree species.

Source: State of New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, State Forester's Office, Division of Forests and Lands, and the US Forest Service: Planting Trees in Designed and Built Community Landscapes .