Purchase plants from a reputable nursery or garden center. While many other retail outlets sell plants in the spring, some do not have facilities or personnel trained to properly care for plants. Select healthy, vigorous plants with leaves of normal size, shape, and color. Plants should be uniformly shaped -- free from thin spots or broken limbs. Compact, full foliage is more important than height. Examine the trunk for cankers and split bark especially after a severe winter.
Small trees (less than 2-inch diameter trunks) do not have to look like a miniature of a mature tree. Only the bottom one-third of the trunk should be clear of branches. Foliage should be evenly distributed in the upper two-thirds of the tree. Examine the angle of the branches and avoid trees with upright, sharp-angled branches.
The root system is just as important, if not more important, than the top of the plant. Check the bottom of the container for roots growing out of drainage holes. While small roots can be cut off, large roots cut in order to remove the plant from the container can adversely reduce growth. Slide the root ball out of the container to determine if the plant has become pot-bound. The root ball should stay together but be somewhat pliable. If the root ball is very hard or many roots are circling the root ball it would be best to purchase a different plant. A mass of circling roots can act as a physical barrier to root growth into the soil after transplanting. The circled roots can also choke and kill the plant as it grows. Examine the root system for small white roots along the exterior of the root ball. Do not buy plant with black roots. These roots were probably damaged by heat, freezing temperatures, excessive fertilizer, or under or over watering.
Small plants are easier to transplant, more economical, and adjust to transplant shock quicker than large plants. Large plants are more expensive, require more careful watering after transplanting, and often grow slowly for years before becoming established. This is especially true when planted on poorly drained sites where the root ball of large plants could be submerged in water.
Wind exposure during transport
home can desiccate and damage foliage. Plants placed in the back of
a truck should be covered. Ideally, plants should be transplanted soon
after they are purchased. If there is a delay, keep the plants in a
protected area and check for moisture frequently --- the root ball can
dry out quickly. Excessively hot or cold temperatures can kill roots;
avoid placing plants on paved surfaces that absorb and radiate large
amounts of heat. The root are more sensitive than the foliage to temperature
extremes. Root injury can be expected if temperatures drop below 23°F
unless soil or mulch are used to insulate the outside of the root ball
or container. If the root ball or container is left in direct sun the
temperature can become too high and kill roots. Most containers are
made from dark-colored materials that absorbs heat; the temperature
inside the root ball can be higher than the air temperature. Locate
plants in the shade if possible. Trees should not be layed on their
side for extended periods of time unless the trunk is wrapped or covered
to prevent sunscald.
Prepared by: Erv Evans, Consumer Horticulturist, NC State University
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