When buying trees, the roots, trunk, and branches should be in good proportion so the tree looks balanced. Select a well-shaped tree with good leaf color. Do not buy a tree if there are signs of recent heavy pruning. Have questions? Ask the experts at Stockton garden and tree experts.


A well-formed root system is symmetrically branched, with the main root growing down and out to provide trunk support. Container-grown and balled-and-burlapped trees should have fibrous roots that are developed enough that the rootball retains its shape and holds together when removed from the container or when the ball is moved. The main roots should be free of sharp bends near the trunk and roots that wrap around the trunk (circling roots).

A healthy tree trunk flares at the soil line. The absence of a flare may indicate roots that wrap around the trunk. Brush away the soil from the top of the rootball, or stick your finger in the top 2 to 3 inches near the trunk. If there are circling roots, you will be able to see or feel them at the top of the rootball. A circling root is one that wraps all the way, or almost all the way, around the trunk.

Circling roots can be hazardous to a tree. Over a few years, circling roots may girdle the trunk of the tree, slowing its growth and causing a weak spot that might break in a storm.


Select a tree with a straight, tapered trunk that can stand by itself. Be careful when inspecting the tree trunk. Some types of trees naturally have multiple or crooked trunks. The trunk should bend evenly in the wind, like a fishing pole.

Look for a tree with branches all the way to the ground, and that isn’t staked, or is tied to its stake loosely. Trees that are loosely staked and contain branches that extend to the ground will grow into a better tree than a tightly-staked tree.

Untie the tree from its stake, and bend the top to one side. A strong tree will bend evenly along the trunk and return to within 20 to 30 degrees of vertical.

Inspect the bark for damage. The bark should be free of injury from staking or improper handling. Avoid buying sunburned trees. A sunburned tree will have split, flattened, or dull-colored bark. Sunburned trunks are extremely slow to heal and are subject to borer infestation.

How to chose a healthy plant:

  1. Quality of Nursery: Take a good look at the plant department. Look to see that the majority of the plants seem healthy and well cared for.
  2. Foliage: Evaluate the condition of your specific plant. The leaves should be green, shiny and lush. Do not buy plants that are wilting or yellowing. Wilting or yellowing can indicate underwatering and/or stress. Spotted leaves indicate fungal damage. Most plants should have several stems, not just one.
  3. Shape: Consider the shape of the plant. A healthy plant is usually compact and full, with multiple stems. If a plant is unusually tall, it might have been straining for light and has grown thin and spindly.
  4. Insects & Disease: Inspect both sides of the leaves and potting soild for signs of insects or disease. Signs of insects and disease are: blackened areas, holes, spots, mushy areas, stickiness and distortions.
  5. Root System: If the plant is in a pot and the roots are growing out of the bottom, the plant may be stressed. If there aren’t many roots and the plant lifts out very easily, it was probably recently repotted.
  6. Stem Damage: Make sure stems have not cracks or scars.
  7. Weeds: Weeds in the pot compete with the plant for nutrients.
  8. Root Ball: The root of a balled-and-burlapped tree or shrub, should feel solid. If the root ball appears broken, the roots have probably dried out.
  9. Buds & Flowers: Plants in bud will transplant and thrive better than plants that have already flowered.