Before You Buy A Tree

 In FAQ

Think buying a tree is pretty simple?  Know what you like, pick one out, have someone plant it and voila!  Well, it can be that simple – if you are prepared. 

Do your homework before shopping for a tree, and you will find things go much smoother.  Don’t do your homework, and you run the risk of “surprises” at installation time that could hold up your installation, prevent the tree from going where you want it, add costs, headaches and delays for the homeowner, the seller, and the installers.

The following information can and will make a big difference at the beginning of your tree purchasing experience, and help eliminate issues when it is time for planting.

Know where your utility lines are.

Knowing where your underground utility lines are prior to tree purchasing and planting can make a huge difference.  Often, homeowners will want to replace a tree in their yard, only to find that the original tree was planted very close, or even on top of a gas or utility line.  When the crew comes out to install the new tree, they discover the homeowner wants the new tree in the same spot, over the line.  This is a problem.  Trees will grow.  Their roots will grow and spread.  You do not want them interfering with a utility line, as damage or other problems can and will occur. 

Having your underground utilities located prior to purchasing a tree will help you determine the best place for the tree to SAFELY be planted.  It will also save time and money and aggravation if you purchase a tree only to find later that it cannot go where you want it to.

Where are you going to plant your tree(s)? 

When trying to determine where to plant your tree(s), take into account the mature size of the particular species and the surrounding area.  Pay attention to the proximity to fences, utility lines, buildings or other structures and ensure there is adequate space for the tree(s) to grow.

Most installation crews will not plant anything over top of a utility line, even if there was a tree there previously.  No one wants to be responsible for damaging or cutting through a gas pipeline or other utility line, so please do not ask us to.  We will say NO.

How will you get your tree into your yard?

Getting a tree into a residential yard can prove difficult, depending on your area, and age of your house.  The newer areas in and around Calgary tend to build the homes closer and closer together, which can really hamper access to backyards.  If you have a fenced in yard, and you want trees planted in your backyard, access will be a big factor in the size of tree you can get.  For example, if the only access to your backyard is through your side gate, which is typically between 3 and 4 feet wide, you may not be able to get a large, caliper (basketed) tree through that gate.  The weight of the tree will also be a factor, if it has to be dollied in using man power – not machine.

Homeowners with narrow access would do better getting a potted tree (15 gallon, 20 gallon).  These will be younger versions of caliper trees that are more manageable for small spaces.  Keep in mind that the tree will continue to grow, so just because it is a smaller tree, doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

Please keep in mind that things like window wells, concrete or stone steps, curbing, air conditioner units, etc. do impede access to a yard.  When measuring for width, these things must be taken into account, as they may be damaged, or cause damage to trees and equipment trying to squeeze by.

What is your drainage like?

If you have never done any digging in your yard, you may not be aware of what is underneath your grass.  It’s not just dirt.  The first few inches of soil under the grass will typically be loam (soil).  Below that, you may find hard packed clay (SE Calgary is built on a LOT of clay), or a lot of rocks/boulders (West Calgary).  Whatever is below the grass will affect your drainage. 

If you are unsure how the water is draining around your yard, I would suggest you dig a hole 6”-1ft deep, fill it with water and let it sit.  If the hole is still filled with water after several hours, or overnight, you have POOR drainage.  If the hole empties of water quite quickly, you have GOOD drainage.  Poor drainage does not mean you can’t plant a tree there.  It simply means you need to make a better informed choice in the species of tree you plant.  Holes can also be amended with gravel, to assist with drainage around the tree’s rootball.  Adding an inch or two of gravel to the bottom of the hole, than planting the tree on top of that gravel will allow water to move more freely from around the tree roots, so they are not sitting in a pool.  Trees will drown if left to sit in standing water either above or below the ground.  This is especially important when considering a spruce tree, for instance, that will fail quickly if left in water.  If your area is really wet, you might want to consider something like a willow, which will tolerate wet conditions much better.

How are you going to water your tree(s)?

Ensuring your trees get enough water is a very important thing to consider.  In our little part of the world, we can’t always rely on Mother Nature to keep the great outdoors watered regularly.  So, how are you going to deal with this?  A couple ways this can be done are installing dripline irrigation, or hauling out a hose and let the water slowly trickle out.  Regardless of your method, newly planted trees MUST be kept adequately watered.  Above ground sprinklers work great for the grass and small perennial planting areas, but just get the tree leaves wet.

Replacing an existing tree?

A couple things to think about if you are planning on replacing an existing tree.  Is the tree dead?  If so, why did it die -not enough water?  Too much water? Was it too close to a building?  Are the tree roots causing cracks in foundations, or other stone, concrete or rock work?  These kinds of things should be considered when deciding what type of tree to purchase, and if there is a better location than where the original tree was planted.

If you are sure the new tree will do well in the original location, you will need to prep the site prior to planting.  If the tree was in the ground for a long time, you will need to have the stump ground out.  Any large roots coming out of that stump will need to be dug up and removed.  Depending on how large the root system is, you may need to offset the new tree, as there will be too much debris below ground to allow for a proper hole to be dug.

Determining Tree Variety and Size

If you don’t have a “favorite” tree, or if you know very little about trees, the purchasing of one or more can be a little bit daunting.  Determining a couple of factors before going to a tree nursery or garden centre will aide salespeople in steering you towards a species that would work best for what you want it to do, where you want it to go, and to ensure the best chance at a long life in our wacky climate.

What purpose do you want the tree to have:

    • Ornamental / specimen tree – a nice looking, stand-alone tree
    • Spring blossoms followed by fruit (apple, pear, plum, crabapple, etc)
    • Shade
    • Windbreak
    • Privacy screening

What are your soil conditions like?  Is it rocky, or good clean soil, or hard packed clay?  Does the water drain away or does it pool?

If you want a fruit tree, do you want the fruit?  Some fruiting trees require a pollinator (another fruiting tree in the near yard or adjacent yard) in order to establish fruit. 

What is your access like?  Is there a narrow opening (4’ gate)?  Is the tree going in an open front yard – not fenced in?  Do you have wide open access now, but a fence will be going up soon?  Is the yard sloped?  Are there stairs, steps, to get to the planting location?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make a much better, more informed tree purchase, and help to ensure a long, happy life for your trees.

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