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Tree Buying Tips For Spring

Trees provide many benefits, they create the oxygen we breathe, reduce air and water pollution, reduce storm water runoff, provide shade, reduce energy costs, reduce the urban heat island effect, and act as wind breaks, sound barriers, and visual screens. They improve our quality of life in enormous ways.

Trees are among the longest-living organisms on earth, but in urban and suburban areas the average lifespan of a tree is only a fraction of its natural potential. Even in rural areas and forest settings, the early years of a tree’s life present unique challenges that require extra care. Choosing the right tree for the right site and following proper planting and care guidance will give your trees the healthy start they need to grow strong and live long.

What to Consider Before Purchasing Your Trees

Before you buy a tree, there are many things to consider to help make sure you select the right tree for the right place so that your tree(s) will live a long and healthy life. A tree lives for many years and it should be thought of like an investment.

There are two major things to consider: what you want the tree to do, and where it is going to be planted.

The Function of the Tree

What purpose do you want the tree to serve? Do you want it to provide shade, a visual screen, act as a windbreak, provide food and habitat for wildlife, prevent soil erosion, improve aesthetics, or compliment existing landscaping? Are you planting to lower your cooling bills in the summer? Or do you want the trees to serve as a stream buffer?

The Planting Site

Where is this tree being planted, and what is the site like? The physical aspects of the site will play an important role in how the tree grows and what it is exposed to over time. Make sure you consider:

  • Soil: Take the time to determine what kind of soil the site has. You can find out more about your soil by contacting your local Cornell Cooperative Extension for soil testing kits.
    • Is it usually wet or dry?
    • Is it sandy, loamy, clay, rocky, or a combination?
    • Is the soil acidic?
  • Sunlight:
    • How much light does the location receive throughout the day?
    • Is it partly shaded by other trees or buildings?
  • Wind and weather:
    • Is this site exposed to strong winds or harsh weather?
  • Overhead or underground utilities:
    • Are these near your planting spot?
  • Site size: Trees need lots of space to grow. The majority of a tree’s roots (80%) are within the top 18 inches of soil and extend past the tree’s canopy width.
    • How close is the sidewalk, buildings, and other structures?
    • In sites with little space for roots to grow (such as along a street), consider using structural soil, a mix of stone and soil that provides room for tree root growth, aeration, drainage, and access to nutrients.
    • Trenches also allow for more root growth than individual tree pits.
  • Road salt: Some trees cannot tolerate high salt conditions.
    • Is the planting site near a roadway that is salted in winter?

Once the site conditions are determined, a tree species, or cultivar, can be chosen to fit those needs and restrictions. The more comprehensive your site assessment, the more likely your tree choice will thrive in its new location.

The best time to plant your tree is late winter/early spring prior to buds opening, or late fall after the tree goes dormant but before the ground freezes. Planting at the right time of year will help your new tree establish itself well by giving it time to grow strong roots before the stresses of winter or summer. For more information visit, or Cornell Cooperative Extension.  (

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