High-quality nursery stock begins with a reputable nursery. Check references or call your local county Extension office for recommendations.
In deciduous trees, look for dark-green, untattered leaves that are well-distributed throughout the crown. For evergreen trees, look for dark-green, firmly attached needles that are also well-distributed. Remember, a slight tug on a branch should not remove a handful of needles. In both deciduous and evergreen trees, the stem should be straight with the branches well-distributed along the trunk. A single central leader is desirable for most shade and evergreen trees. Also, there should not be any large wounds or cracks on the trunk or branches.
Finally, the root ball should be firmly attached to the base of the tree. Lateral roots should be evident just below the surface of the root ball. Roots should be white, moist, and not matted, kinked, or circling on the surface of the root ball.