Selecting a High Quality Tree



Tree Planting For Success

For more information about how to make your next planting a success, download the entire guide on tree placement, selection, proper planting and establishment care including the information on this Web page, Click here.

or Avoiding the Top Ten Mistakes  of Tree Planting.


Here are some helpful tips for purchasing trees:

  1. Buy from reputable nurseries licensed to do business in Nebraska. Be careful buying from large box-retailers and other outlets that only offer plants seasonally. The seed source and quality of such trees can be questionable.
  2. Inspect trees thoroughly before purchasing. Reject any plants with significant branch or trunk damage, poor branch structure and/or compromised root systems.
  3. Although trunk and branch structure can vary by species, most nursery shade trees should have these things in common: a straight trunk with a central, dominant leader; good trunk caliper and taper so that the tree can stand without staking; branching properly distributed along the central leader and not clustered at a few points; retention of low, lateral branches (see diagram); and a balanced form. Allowances should be made for fruit trees, small ornamentals like redbud, multi-stem types, and certain species that typically lack a main central leader such as coffeetree, yellowwood, zelkova, certain elms, etc.
  4. An often overlooked, but vitally important part of any nursery tree is its root system. Ideally, nursery trees should have fibrous, well-branched, laterally spreading roots that possess many fine feeder roots. Regardless of the production or digging methods used (next section for types of nursery production methods), the root system should be inspected for common problems such as stem girdling roots, excessively pot-bound roots, downward growing main roots, stubbed-off and undercut roots, etc.

An often overlooked, but vitally important part of any nursery tree is its root system.  Ideally, nursery trees should have fibrous, well-branched, laterally spreading roots that possess many fine feeder roots.  Regardless of the production or digging methods used, the root system should be inspected for common problems such as stem girdling roots, excessively pot-bound roots, downward growing main roots, stubbed-off and undercut roots, etc. To read more about the different types of nursery production methods, click on a selection listed above: bareroot, conventional containers, root production containers and bags, ball-and-burlap (B&B) and spade-dug.

NOTE: For any container growing system, timing is very important.
Plants should not languish in the container for any length of time and should to be bumped up frequently, with proper root pruning, to prevent major root deformities.

Bare-root trees have root systems that are completely visible and known at planting time. Such root systems should be fibrous, well-branched, laterally-spreading and possessing fine feeder roots. Bare-root trees typically cost less than most other growing methods and are easy to handle and transplant. A disadvantage is that some species, including most oaks, can have a difficult time breaking dormancy if not “sweated” before planting.

Container-grown (plastic containers). Trees grown in smooth-sided plastic containers are now the most common production method used for retail sales. Unfortunately they often have root systems that are “pot-bound” and circling in the container, and often with hooked and downward plunging main roots. Such root systems can be very difficult to plant properly. Pot-bound trees planted without efforts to cut deformed roots or to spread out circling roots often end up with stem-girdling roots and missing anchor roots, making them more likely to fail in storm events later in life. NFS discourages the use of any such trees with severely compromised root systems. Recent research is showing that the shearing of circling roots and matted roots at the container’s edge might help in salvaging some pot-bound trees at planting time. However, this shearing of roots limits the planting window to early spring and fall.  Some trees are now being grown in plastic containers designed to prevent root circling. These containers, generally known as “root-production containers” have slits or openings that force air-pruning of roots and graduated or layered sides which help reduce the amount of root diving within the container. Although some of these systems look promising, greater evaluation needs to be done before recommendations can be made.

Fabric Containers (grow bags): The growing of trees in fabric containers, commonly known as “grow bags”, is a growing trend in the nursery industry. Grow bags are designed to allow some root penetration into or through the bag and the consequent “trapping” or “pinching” of the roots at that point, greatly reducing their circling or girdling within the bag. Potential benefits of fabric containers are a fibrous, non-circling root system and a longer season of transplant. NFS is working with Nebraska nurseries and growers to expand the availability of trees grown in fabric containers. We are also awaiting research and trial results being conducted in other states that will compare some of the more prominent fabric container systems.

Balled and burlapped (B&B) trees are hand or spade dug with a soil ball typically wrapped in burlap and supported by a wire basket.  The advantages are longer transplanting season and the benefit of root-soil contact at planting time. The primary disadvantage is that much of the root system, including most of the fine feeder roots, is left behind at digging time. Other disadvantages includes a heavy soil ball and often a root system buried deep within the ball, which leads to  trees being planted too deep in the landscape. NFS recommends a minimum ball size of 18” diameter for each 1” trunk caliper measured at 4” above soil line.

Spade-dug trees are moved directly with a tree spade from the growing field or the landscape to their new location. The benefits of tree spading include the ability to move larger trees, no need to directly handle the root system, and no need to hand dig or auger the planting hole. The primary disadvantage is that much of the root system, including many of the fine feeder roots are left behind, so timing and size of tree spade are critical. Typically, the larger the spade, the better. NFS recommends a minimum spade width of 24” for up to a 1” caliper trunk, with 12” additional spade width for each ½” increase in trunk caliper (i.e. 48” spade for 2” caliper trunk). Timing of digging should be late winter or early spring before bud break and then again in the fall after leaf drop.

Protect the trunk. Even a small wound on a young tree can cause permanent damage.

  • Moving your tree is easiest if the branches are tied. 
  • Do not lift by the trunk if the roots are packaged with soil in a container or burlap. Instead, lift the root ball. 
  • If your tree has leaves and will be sticking out the back of a vehicle, the crown should be wrapped with a sheet, tarp, or burlap.

A participating ReTree business is a business that offers tree-related products or services. These businesses have pledged to promote ReTree Nebraska and promote tree diversity. Find "Good Trees for the Good Life" nursery hang tags on ReTree's preferred and under-utilized trees species at these participating ReTree nurseries. Contact participating nurseries for availability of "Good Trees for the Good Life."

View ReTree-Participating Nurseries in a larger map

Become a ReTree participating business

Accent Nursery 27110 Rainwood
Valley, NE
(402) 359-9069  
Arbor Hills Trees & Landscaping 20185 George B Lake Pwky
Omaha, NE
(402) 895-3635  
Campbell's Nursery and Garden Centers 2342 S. 40th
Lincoln, NE
(402) 483-7891  
Campbell's Nursery and Garden Centers 5625 Pine Lake Road
Lincoln, NE
(402) 423-1133  
Common Scents Greenhouse and Nursery 71399 US Highway 83
McCook, NE
(308) 345-1541  
Dee-Sign Garden Center & Landscaping 8530 Blondo St.
Omaha, NE
(402) 392-1444  
Earl May Nursery & Garden Center 5555 S. 48th St.
Lincoln, NE
(402) 423-5354  
Earl May Nursery & Garden Center 100 Wedgewood Dr.
Lincoln, NE
(402) 489-7168  
Earl May Nursery & Garden Center 320 W. 4th
Kearney, NE
(308) 237-2107  
Faller Landscape and Nursery 1502 Rd M
York, NE
(402) 362-2714  
Finke Gardens and Nursery 500 N 66th Street
Lincoln, NE
(402) 466-1995  
Great Plains Nursery 3074 County Road I
Weston, NE
(402) 540-4801  
HH Wild Plums Nursery 523 Pine Street
Clarkson, NE
(402) 892-3055  
Harmony Nursery Daylily Farm 705 Road 22
Bradshaw, NE
(402) 732-6655  
Heritage Nursery 21330 Elkhorn Drive
Elkhorn, NE
(402) 289- 1616  
Kaspar Tree Farms, Inc. 2151 County Road 11
Mead, NE
(402) 624-2131  
Kennedy Landscape Services LLC 925 Fourth St
Gothenburg, NE
(308) 537-7810  
Kinghorn Gardens 6464 Center St, Suite 120
Omaha, NE
(402) 457-6492 Please call for availability or for an appointment
Moore's Landscaping & Nursery 11999 Cryer Avenue
Omaha, NE
(402) 333-7515  
Mulhall's Landscaping, Nursery and Garden Center 120th and Maple Street
Omaha, NE
(402) 496-0700  
Natural Escapes Inc 708 Maple Street
Cozad, NE
(308) 325-0653  
Nebraska Nursery and Color Gardens 4240 S Coddington Avenue
Lincoln, NE
(402) 489-6543  
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Inc.  
Lincoln, NE
(402) 472-7855 Please call for availability or for an appointment
Oak Prairie Nursery 900 NW 140th St.
Lincoln, NE For wholesale business, see Plains Tree Farm.
Papio Valley Nursery, Inc.  
Papillion, NE Wholesale only for nursery dealers or growers.
Plains Tree Farm  
Davenport, NE Wholesale only for nursery dealers or growers. For retail business, see Oak Prairie Nursery.
Robert's Nursery 6056 156th Street
Omaha, NE
(402) 551-3654  
Siffring Landscaping & Garden Center, LLC. 7629 E. HWY 30
Fremont, NE
(402) 721-2450  
Spring Fever Outdoor Living Center 11757 S. Hwy 6, Suite 5
Gretna, NE
(402) 332-0242  
Steinbrink Landscaping 2010 30th Avenue
Kearney, NE
(308) 234-6670  
Stoltenberg Nursery 36th and Platteview Road
Bellevue, NE
(402) 630-7333  
TLC Garden Center and Nursery 3109 Avenue B
Scottsbluff, NE
(308) 632-5900  
Trees, Shrubs & More, Inc. 3803 Cornhusker Road
Bellevue, NE
(402) 291-9374