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Selecting the Right Tree

Demystifying the Art of Tree Selection

It's defintely not as easy as it sounds, is it? Did you know that there is an estimate of 100,000 different tree species worldwide (which is estimated to be about 25% of all living plant species). Thankfully, only a fraction of those trees grow here and even fewer than that are right for what you want/need.

Selecting the right tree doesn't have to be a mystery. The right tree is a tree that is best suited for the area identified for growing and the expectations of the tree grower (that's you!). The right place is where the right tree can grow to its destined size and have minimal or no negative impacts on infrastructure.

Tree Species and Type Selection

When contemplating growing a new trees, it's important to Consider many factors about the site and your expectations and desires for your new trees. Being aware of and Considering these factors will allow arborists and nursery professionals to better assist you with specific tree selection when you're ready to purchase.

Tree Owner Expectations to Consider

Why are you planning to plant and grow a tree? Being aware of your motivations for growing a tree will provide valuable keys to narrowing options getting you closer to your right tree. Are you growing a tree:

  • For shade
  • For beauty
  • As a buffer or screen
  • For seasonal interest
  • For food production
  • To frame a view
  • To leave your legacy

Site Factors to Consider

  • Amount of air space available for the tree crown
  • Sun exposure
  • Presence of infrastructure above and below ground (i.e. buildings, fences, signs, lights, utilities, pavement, other trees)
  • Soil/rooting space available for the tree roots
  • Existing soil type


Our standard minimum recommended distance to plant from underground utilities is 5 feet (this includes gas, electric, water, sewer, and phone/cable). If water and/or sewer lines are old and have not been replaced or lined in the last 20 years or so, it is highly recommended to do so prior to planting-or seek another planting location.


Tree Stock Types


Tree stock type: container
The most common stock type found in most retail nurseries. Chances are, this will be the stock type you purchase.

  • Easy to transport at any time of the year
  • Good for smaller sized plants
  • Root growth is often negatively impacted in containers causing poor tree growth and sometimes failure if not corrected at the time of planting. Soak the root mass to remove as much soil as possible and see the roots, striaghten as many as you can-cutting those that circle vigorously.
  • Trees are often planted too deep in containers and you don't even know it. Be sure to remove all soil above the area on the trunk where it swells before transitioning to the big roots.


Tree stock type: bareroot
Uncommon in retail sales, though commonly used by landscape professionals and nurseries. Trees are grown in the ground then harvested during dormant season (winter) and sold.

  • Easy to transport
  • Lightweight (no soil!)
  • Roots are clearly visible at the time of purchase
  • Limited availability
  • Not all species are available bare-root
  • Must be planted or temporarily healed-in while storing

Balled and Burlap (B&B)

Tree stock type: balled and burlap
Common in retail sales, though often stored in containers at nurseries. These trees are field grown and dug, with soil, and wrapped in burlap for transport and sale.

  • Can be the best stock type for some tree species, especially evergreens and magnolias
  • Less occurence of container induced root problems
  • Are not easy to transport due to their weight
  • The root mass needs to be protected from wind, freezing temperatures and sun during storage

During the harvesting process, excess soil is piled around the trunk. Be sure to remove all the soil above the area on the trunk where it swells before trainsitioning to the big roots.
Additional Resources

Department of Natural Resources "Plan For Planting" (video)

SelecTree: A Tree Selection Guide-Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute

Arbor Day- What Tree Is That?


Oregon State University - Woody Plant Identification System