Trees and Shrubs: Selection

Gardens & Landscapes March 11, 2014|Print
Image:Cornus alternifolia fp.jpgSelecting trees and shrubs to become mature, healthy, woody plants begins with finding plants suited for their site. Factors such as climate, soil, light, and residential conditions all influence a plant's ability to grow and/or tolerate its environment. Selecting the right plant for the right site and conditions is essential if you want your plant purchases to pay off for years to come.

 

Trees and Shrubs | Selection | Planting | Maintenance | Problems

 

Links to external web pages are followed by the source's name in parentheses.

Right Plant, Right Place

Pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a small tree that does best in cool, moist soils and is hardy in Zones 3-7. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette)

Selecting trees and shrubs to become mature, healthy, woody plants begins with finding plants suited for their site. Factors such as climate, soil, light, and residential conditions all influence a plant's ability to grow and/or tolerate its environment. Selecting the right plant for the right site and conditions is essential if you want your plant purchases to pay off for years to come.

Climate

USDA map using differnt colors to show the different plant hardiness zones
USDA hardiness zone map.

Climate has a large role to play in a plant's ability to survive and thrive. A woody plant that is unable to overwinter or survive the heat of summer, year after year, limits its usefulness to us in the landscape.

Hardiness Zones

Hardiness zones are useful for selecting plants based on their ability to overwinter at a particular average minimum temperature. The National Arboretum is quick to point out that stress factors, new plant management systems, and artificial environments often affect a plant's survivability, too.

Find your hardiness zone at:

Heat Zones

Heat zones show the average number of days each year that a given region experiences "heat days," or temperatures over 86 degrees F. Learn more about heat stress and how it affects plants by reading:

  • The AHS Plant Heat Zone Map (American Horticultural Society). Notice that factors other than heat can apply stress to plants and skew the heat zone rating. The AHS Plant Heat-Zone ratings assume that adequate water is supplied to the roots of the plant at all times.

Find the heat zone for your local ZIP code at:

Site Conditions

Plant growth is largely influenced by its growing or site conditions. Matching a plant's cultural requirements to the site conditions helps to ensure that plant will grow successfully.

  • Landscape Plants (University of Florida Extension) has general and thorough information that applies to tree and shrub selection and contains much useful information for selecting plants.

See:

  1. Aboveground characteristics
  2. Belowground characteristics

Use the following evaluation form to pick the right tree for the right site:

Selection Search Engines and Guides

Dwarf Korean lilac shrub covered with purple blooms
Meyer lilac or dwarf Korean lilac shrub is a spring blooming shrub, hardy in Zones 3-7. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette)

 

Tree and Shrub Selectors for Hardiness Zones 2-9

The following plant selectors are searchable databases with information and pictures to find woody plants well suited to your area:

  • Tree Selector (Urban Programs Resource Network, University of Illinois Extension) is a useful tool for selecting trees. Type in your hardiness zone and other criteria to find suitable trees.
  • Shrub Selector (Urban Programs Resource Network, University of Illinois Extension) is a useful tool for selecting shrubs. Type in your hardiness zone and other criteria to find suitable shrubs.

 

 

Large fan like leaves of the Bismarckia palm surrounded by brilliant red flowering plants
Bismarckia palm is hardy in Zone 10 or greater. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette)

 

 

Trees and Shrubs Selectors for Hardiness Zones 8-11

Find trees hardy to Zones 8-11 with the University of Florida's Tree Selector searchable database. Use the "Shrub Selector" lists to find shrubs hardy to Zones 8-11.

  • Florida Trees (University of Florida Extension) has a useful tree selector for those in Zones 8-11. Choose "Tree Selector" in the left menu bar to access this tool.

 

Buying Trees and Shrubs

shrubs in containers for sale at a nusery
Nursery stock sold in containers. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette)

Once you've come up with a list of suitable plants for your site, select high-quality plants so you can enjoy the beauty and longevity that healthy plants bring. Purchasing a sickly tree or shrub in hopes of saving it often leads to disappointment. So, how do you know what a high-quality plant looks like?

Review:

When you get to the nursery or garden center, woody plants are sold in different ways.

Review:

  • Ways to Buy Trees and Shrubs, which describes the different ways trees and shrubs are sold or packaged: bare-root, container, b & b, and tree-spade. The packaging affects planting and care for these plants at planting time, so it's important to select the best method of packaging trees and shrubs for your situation.

After carefully selecting trees and shrubs and deciding which plants to buy and how you are going to by them, you'll be ready for planting.


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