How to Find Success Planting Trees on Your Projects

Posted on: October 5, 2014

There are few things Landscape Architects (LAs) can do for a project that make more of an impact than planting quality trees. With that said, many times the way the planting turns out is very different than what was envisioned. So here are a few steps that can be taken and some general tree info that will help make your vision a reality and give your clients great end projects.

“Tree planting is always a utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn’t necessarily expect to witness.”
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Plant material is sold by size. When you specify a 4” Quercus rubra (Red Oak) what are you going to get? Will you get a well large tree spadepruned, single leader, healthy tree with the correct size root ball? Will the tree have received all the proper care leading up to the harvest? Will your trees be loaded carefully and correctly tarped and watered prior to shipping? These are all questions that should be considered. Although ANSI (The American Standards for Nursery Stock) covers root ball sizes and other basic information, the business of tree growing is one of the few industries without an accepted quality standard. When you go to the grocery store, you know that your meat has been inspected, and there is labeling and ingredient information that is standard and accepted.  Diamonds are graded by size, color, cut and clarity (my wife gave me an extensive education on this many years ago). But when a 4” caliper tree is specified on a drawing, it can result in trees of many different levels of quality and care, with the only similarity being the trunk diameter measured 6” from the ground. Do you want to leave the appearance of your project to this game of chance?

I suggest you establish a good relationship with a nursery. Nurseries want to have a better, more open line of communication with LAs. We, as nurserymen, want to know what trees you want us to grow. We want to know how high you prefer trees be elevated and all the other requirements and “wish list” items you may have. The relationship between nurseries and LAs View of Farmshould be a partnership with the common goal of getting the right trees, on the right project in the right location. We want to be used as a resource. We can discuss the best time of year to transplant a particular tree or, if you are interested in specifying a new tree, we can offer our opinion on that variety’s strengths and weaknesses. Also if the tree is not available, we will suggest a viable substitution for you to consider prior to the drawing and bid process.

When the project allows, consider specifying where the trees must be sourced prior to the bid documents going out. This way you know exactly where the trees for the project will come from and what quality you can expect. Rich Schubach, Branch Manager and Partner at Ruppert Landscape said “We always prefer when the tree source is specified in the bidding document and landscape plans. We expect to price and bid quality trees and plant material for our projects. Often, our competition is pricing a much lower quality plant. Once the job goes in, it is too late to realize why there was a difference in the pricing of the landscape installation.” Trees at Ruppert

Much of the information above can also apply to a landscape contractor. They are a valuable resource for LAs and are happy to discuss project details during the design phase. By working out challenges and obstacles prior to final bid documents, it will ensure the job is built the way you envisioned it. Use the knowledge and experience of a quality contractor and, when possible, help make sure your project is awarded to a contractor whom you trust will deliver a superior end-product.

I urge you to cultivate these relationships. Pick a beautiful day, pull yourself from behind the drawing table and visit a quality tree nursery. You may be pleasantly surprised how receptive the nurserymen will be to your wants and needs and how willing he/she will be to have an ongoing dialogue and relationship with you. In the end, everybody–including your customers—benefit from this partnership between Landscape Architect, Grower and Contractor.


Written by Kelly Lewis