Shop carefully if you’re branching out, selecting trees

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

The weather has taken its toll on Michigan’s landscapes the past couple of years, so lots of folks will be shopping for replacement trees this spring. If you’re among the crowd, now is the time to start looking.

Trees are key elements in the garden and should not be relegated to an impulse buy at a big box store. Trees impart a feeling of permanence and stability in the landscape. They help to form the structure that is often referred to as the bones of a garden. In winter, when the land is covered with snow, trees often take center stage, their branches forming a dark tracery that stands out from the bland white of winter to delight the eye.

Sun, soil and exposure are all important elements to consider when choosing a tree. Size, height, width and canopy density are also important considerations. And don’t forget hardiness.

Care is another issue to consider. At this stage of my life, dealing with pruning needs, possible pests or diseases, clean up or soil amending to compensate for lack of needed elements is not how I want to be spending my time, so disease resistance and easy care is also at the top of my checklist.

Then there is the “wow” factor. For me flowers, foliage color and texture or interesting bark are a big part of the mix. And the good news is there are hundreds of great trees to choose from.

The article “Knock-your-socks-off Trees: The best choices should have great blooms, colorful foliage or interesting texture” by Richie Steffen in the February issue of Fine Gardening magazine (, features six selections worth considering. It also gives you an idea of what’s available. Fine Gardening is now available on tablets.

“Tree & Shrub Gardening for Michigan” by Tim Wood and Alison Beck (Lone Pine, $18.95) published in 2003 is still a good place to begin resourcing what trees are well suited for Michigan.

Independent garden centers and nurseries, especially those providing landscaping services, might be the next stop. Once you have your checklist and maybe a list of possibilities, the tree and shrub buyer or department manager can help refine your search.

Unlike big box stores, independent nurseries have the ability to special order trees and plants, so don’t be put off if you don’t find what you are looking for.

Depending on the weather, April and May are the busiest times of the year for garden centers, so the best time to go tree shopping is early in the season.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at