How to identify good grafts in nursery trees

I’m looking into buying pear trees for my yard and have had good luck looking up information about the traits of different varieties, how and when to plant, how to prune, etc, but one thing I haven’t been able to find much information on is how to select the best trees from the nursery. In particular, I’m curious about how to be able to identify trees with healthier graft unions. Does anyone have information or a good reference guide for determining which grafts are most likely to be robust and set the tree up for a long healthy life? Anything would help! Right now I look at a graft like this and I worry that maybe it’s a little too off-center, but honestly I have no idea what actually matters most here or what to look for.


Honestly I would be concerned of root systems. As long as the graft looks confident I would not worry

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@elivings1 knows. The first thing to do is tip it on it’s side and slide out the root mass/rooball. A smaller caliper tree with better roots will outperform any larger tree with twice the caliper every time.

I’m the guy lifting every single tree off pallets and out of their containers to select the best one of them all.

That’s the trick of buying good trees.

If you see a root-system all gathered up and so tightly full of roots that you can’t soil off of it, always pass on those. You should be looking for a plant that isn’t bound/root bound and height shouldn’t be a consideration. Don’t buy trees that have “thick” roots everywhere cause those are woody and what you want is fine less caliper roots containing lots of fibrous roots. Look at them all and anything that’s so solid when you put your shoe against it to see or your fingers and learn you can’t get your fingers into the root mass… those are the junk trees - no matter their size.

When you plant a tree with good roots (hasn’t been neglected for too long in container(s)) it establishes quickly and grows. The other ones with a tangled web of roots will take a very long time to figure theirselves out when you plant them. They’ll sit there and sit there and sit there until they grip into the earth.

Most of the time I simply lift trees out of containers but if they’re too heavy you gotta tip them on their side. And if you cannot even get the rootball of the container, it’s been in there a long time and is JUNK.

Most trees that are severely rootbound (unless you completely untangle them) and I mean remove all the soil basically and get the roots straight and cut off stuff (roots) heading into the middle of the mass and get everything straightened out, when you go to water… the water will never penetrate the mass and washes right over the sides of what you planted and the trees will usually die.

It’s all about the roots.

Welcome to the forum!



Thank you so much for the responses, this is great to know!

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Dax (@barkslip, aka b-slip!) nails it. I’ve seen apple trees here in a very well known nursery that had been in the same pot all winter after not selling the previous year. I suspect that they had been there the year before, too.

Many nurseries around here sell their trees as bare roots, then pot them up for retail at double the price. Try to buy them just before they’re potted.

The graft in your picture would not keep me from buying the tree; it’s characteristic of trees that have been budded. Fewer nurseries do whip or whip and tongue grafts which result in nice, straight unions. But there are millions of trees out there that are budded and they do just fine.

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