Should I NOT be buying "older" trees?

whiteRhino(8b)March 12, 2013

I've seen many times advice posted against buying trees, citrus in particular, from the big box stores. But where I'm located they seem to be the only place that stock larger, older trees. Our nurseries all charge an arm and a leg for what appear to be of the exact same origin (tags and all), and only carry tiny one or three gallon specimens. (Ok, in fairness they also have huge 15-30 gallon trees that they want $250-500 for, plus $70 delivery). I can literally buy what APPEARS to be a larger, older tree from Lowes for $18 than I can in the same container at the nursery for $40...

Assuming the trees I buy aren't terribly mangled or pruned, is there some other reason that I shouldn't be shopping at Lowes or Home Depot? I should add that I'm installing various trees as part of a landscape facelift with an eye to sell the house in 2 to 3 years, which is why I'm springing for older, larger specimens. An "orchard" full of 24" trees wouldn't be much of a selling point. Of course I'd also like to enjoy as much fruit as possible in the interim.

Thanks for any advice.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

Typically the big box stores dont have the knowledge or the "want" to take care of the stock they have. Its all about get it in and get it out. So because of this the plants are usually stressed tremendously and sometimes dont do well.

another reason i would say is the sometimes the big box stores get things mixed up and you can end up with something you didnt want. Same can be true at a local nursery too.

Support of the local nursery would be another reason. Usually they depend on your business to survive but that comes with a cost because they usually cant compete with prices as you have noticed.

Personally in this economy it comes down to value for my money. That doesnt mean I wont support the smaller nurseries because I truly do. However if I can get the same thing at lowes for half the cost, Im sorry Lowes gets my business


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 9:48AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Good reasons, Mike.

To go along with what Mike said about the care of trees at the big box stores - larger trees could have much worse roots, having been kept in containers for longer. This can pose significant challenges (as far as root-work is concerned) and a long, slow recovery.

Smaller trees also tend to tolerate transition easier, and generally overtake larger transplants in the landscape within a couple years. I find it much easier to work with 2-foot material than 5-foot material.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think the same way you do, I've never had any problems with any of the plants I've purchased from Lowes (besides the gardenias but well... they are gardenias lol). Plus they have the one year guarantee which is great.

I still support our local nursery in January when they have all their roses ready. I just can't find better, healthier roses anywhere.

Anyway, I think it depends on each store because at my local lowes they always have such a nice and clean place with tons of healthy plants.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 10:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I bought a Hamlin Orange tree from Home Depot because they were the only place that had any. I kept going back to the nurseries for a few months last winter in case they got some in, but they never did and were quite indifferent about my enquiries. (And Hamlins are one of very few true oranges that are hardy enough for north Florida, so you'd think they'd stock some.)

The gardening manager at Home Depot said, "No we don't have any now, but we have had other people asking, so I will put in an order for some to come in next week". And he did. I got better service at Home Depot than at the nurseries!!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)


In regards to your experience. That was smart on the Home Depot guy but probably and easy decision. The smaller nursery may only have had you asking and didnt want to risk the capitol to buy a plant and hope it gets sold. Home Depot is big enough that they might be willing to risk a plant or two because of the discounts they get from the wholesaler so their loss is smaller making it easier for their in store managers to answer the demand.

Did you try asking the nursery if you could pre-pay or put down a deposit? Sometimes if their risk is none you could get what you want and help them out.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

What greenman said is spot on. My experience with plants from big box stores is that they are almost invariably root bound. This means that it will take a lot of work to properly prepare the plant for planting. If the root problems are not corrected, they will likely lead to the premature death of the tree.

I usually get my container citrus from major wholesale producers. Even from very very good producers, container production yeilds trees with pretty abysmal root problems as you get into the larger container sizes like #15s. The #5s are pretty easy to fix since the problems are fairly close to the surface. The #15s on the other hand generally have a bottom mass of roots from the #5 in the center of the root ball and at least a couple of j roots and girdling roots deep in there that need to be cut out. And these are generally fairly high quality plants that aren't allowed to get root bound. It's just the nature of container production. Almost every container tree I have ever purchased, thousands, has had the root flare too deep and major structural problems. The larger the container, the worse the root problems.

Those prices for #15s are insane.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

that said, I buy big trees all the time for clients. I just charge a lot more fortheextra work.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
krismast(6 S.E. PA)

I don't think it's fair to say that ALL plants from big box stores are doomed. In fact, I have found many healthy plants from Home Depot and the like. It also depends on the store. The woman who runs our Home Depots garden center is very knowledgeable and knows what she is doing. And it's definitely not fair to say that ALL plants from your local small nursery will be healthy either. I've seen some pretty poor quality plants at high quality prices!

I think the most important thing is, no matter where you buy it, you should have some idea of what a healthy plant should look like. I am guilty of pulling plants out of their pots in order to check the root system. But you wouldn't buy a car without looking under the hood would you? :) As long as you buy a healthy plant I don't think it matters where it comes from!


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 4:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

I agree completely Kris.

I have pulled plants also. If anyone give you crap for doing so they can keep their plants. I especially do this with plumeria now. I bought some once that had 1 teeny tiny root and eventually died. Of course I didnt check prior.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 5:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My general strategy with these citrus from the big box stores has been to find the oldest trees (judging by the thickness of the scion, that's a proper benchmark right?) in a particular size range, then the healthiest looking specimen among those, with an eye to take home and repot/root prune. Sounds like I'm on the right track?

And as an aside to that, why is it that certain trees in the same size containers seem to be significantly older than others (double the trunk thickness, for example), and yet sold at the same price? Two trees right next to each other, both in say 3 gallon pots, often look two seasons removed from each other...why would you NOT get the older tree?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Okay, here is the sad reality... big box stores compete on price; so if I am a tree grower... and I am a tree grower, and you want to pay the lowest price, you cannot expect to get my best trees. In my case, where all my trees are genetically identical, if you want the lowest price, you are going to get the smallest trees, for whatever reason. I have seen photos here of "2-3 year old trees" that are smaller than my 2-3 month trees! I don't buy anything from big box stores that is not a fungible product; i.e. something like grains of wheat, where every product is indistinguishable from another; sadly that does not apply to living plants.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Mike- No,I didn't ask the nurseries (3 of them) if they could order any trees for me. I did ask them if they thought they might be getting any in soon, and they just said "no". They didn't seem very enthusiastic about getting my business.
In the future, though, I will try asking. I would rather help local businesses when it's reasonable to do so.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 11:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Steve, Z (6Bground,5B roof) Cincy,OH

Two trees In same size container, I would take the one that has a limb structure closest to how a tree should grow . Since citrus is so finicky I would lift the tree out of its pot to see if it is root bound. the smaller younger tree is less likely to be root bound. I bought a sweet cherry with no label on it from home depot for 70 % off. It was very large, 7 gals and not root-bound. It is very much larger after 1 summer. It was a good buy. As for citrus, consider your self lucky to even have access to citrus trees. It would cost me $125 to buy and have a $20 5 gallon tree shipped to me. I have started mine from seed. I may have to wait 5 years but my tree will be very strong when it starts fruiting. you might consider a seed started tree. I also called a breeder of citrus and he told me the root stock and the store he was shipping his stock to. I got his name from a Google search. See what a Meiwa kumquat looks like after 1 year from seed out of a fruit

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 3:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"To go along with what Mike said about the care of trees at the big box stores - larger trees could have much worse roots, having been kept in containers for longer. This can pose significant challenges (as far as root-work is concerned) and a long, slow recovery."

Its been my experience that the BigBox stores move trees at a much faster rate than smaller nurseries. I've lost two citrus trees in my time keeping them, and both were expensive trees from a botique nursery. They were really badly rootbound when I got them. The two end-of-season clearance trees ($7) from Home Depot have done fantastic.

Most of the nurseries I see have trees that have been sitting for years in the same nursery pots they got shipped in. They just don't move them fast enough.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 12:04PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Potted Myers lemon not growing
I have a potted Myers lemon tree which seems to be...
Fertilising in Gritty mix
Hello everyone, OK, this may be a really basic question,...
Cuban Shaddock, a dwarfing rootstock? I doubt it
It is difficult to find information about this rootstock...
axier - Z10, Basque Country (Spain)
Phoenix Orange Tree Watering Schedule/Setup
All, I just moved into a house with an orange tree...
Andrew McCabe
New Oro Blanco
We hit 99 degrees today and my newly planted Oro blanco...
evdesert 9B Indio, CA
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™