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Self-discipline needed for tree, shrub shopping

Tree and shrub survival begins at the nursery, while homeowners are still shopping, said Rick Snell, natural resources agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

"That's the point at which self-discipline becomes very important," Snell said. "Sure, you can look for what you like. But, you must never, never forget where you plan to plant that tree or shrub."

Nursery stock may be waiting in a plastic or peat pot, he said. It may be balled-and-burlapped, with its root ball held in place by a wire basket or cording. It may even appear to be planted, but probably will be burlapped and sitting in deep mulch.

"The kind of container doesn't matter, though--especially in comparison to how the plant's roots are doing," Snell said. "You need to do what you can to check that out. Poke around in pots. See if you can get a peek by peeling back little flaps of burlap. Take a couple of steps back to see whether the plant seems in proportion with its root ball or too tall and lanky to be healthy."

The longer ornamentals stay on display, the greater the odds that their roots will start tightly circling their root ball, he explained. Sometimes, cutting through those "nooses" in about three places at planting time will allow a woody plant to develop the outgrowing roots it needs for stability. Sometimes, however, the plant will already be too far on its way to being strangled.

"You also need to learn what you can by reading labels and talking to sales people," he said. "You'll always have better luck if you select something you know is adapted to your particular planting location. The surest plan for failure is to fall in love with a tree, buy it and then try to figure out where it could go."

Snell said the following are just some of the planting site characteristics that can help determine which tree and shrub choices will be survivors. A site may be:

--Sunny, partly sunny, mostly shady or always dim.

--Clay, loam or sandy soil.

--Mostly wet or dry.

--Only suitable for plants that won't exceed a certain height and/or width.

--Does (Will) or does (will) not include invasive root growth from other plants.

"After you identify the plants that can handle your site well, then you can worry about whether the plant flowers, provides good shade, sheds big leaves or drops seed pods in fall," Snell said.



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