Advice about how to choose a tree
It's that time of the year again when trees are available at grocery stores and discount centers. There's nothing wrong with buying one of these trees, but choose carefully.
Have in mind what kind of tree you want. You don't want to plant a problem. Think about the water and soil needs of the tree, its susceptibility to weather damage and disease, and its wildlife value, as well as its mature size and its branching and rooting patterns.
Be ready to get your tree as soon as the store receives its tree shipment. Typically, trees at a store will not receive as good of ongoing care as a nursery or garden center tree will have. By buying the tree soon after it arrives, you can spare it some stress. You'll also have a better selection to choose from.
Be sure that the branch tips are still green and alive, not dry and brittle. Check the rootball -- has the soil dried out and shrunk away from the sides of the pot? If so, the fine hairs of the roots are probably damaged.
Trees with leaf buds will probably withstand transplanting better than trees that have leafed out. Always avoid trees that have leafed out already if local trees are still in bud stage -- the foliage might suffer frost damage if you get a sudden cold spell!
Look for a stocky, strong tree that has a single, straight central trunk . Branches should be well-distributed around all sides of the trunk, not clumped to one side. The tree should have wide angles where the branches join the trunk. Avoid trees that have branches attached at 30° angles or less because these weak branch crotches may split in bad weather.
The roots should not be coming out the bottom of the pot. If they are, that's a pretty good sign that the roots don't have enough room and are probably growing in circles inside the pot
Finally, be ready to plant the tree the same day that you buy it -- and know how to plant it correctly.
As always, the Extension Service is a great source of information -- call them and ask for advice about any detail of buying and planting a tree! Your electric company and telephone company have guidelines about the location of tall trees, as well.
Missouri State University recently issued a press release with advice about buying trees. It is brief, but has some good suggestions.