Never Buy a Tree Online if it Only Lists a Height

Last Updated on January 2, 2024


Learn From Our Mistake!

Both sold as 3-4 foot trees.

We recently bought trees from 2 popular online nurseries. Same tree variety, both listed as 3 to 4 feet tall. One was $54.95, the other was $45. One showed up in a 4 inch container, the other in a 2 gallon container. The tree in the 4 inch pot cost us $10 more.  That's a substantial difference in both the cost & the size of the containers.

Root Bound

To make it even more insulting, the tree was root-bound.  The tree was as advertised; it topped out at just over 42 inches. It only had 2 branches stretching out from the top with a few leaves on each branch.

The nursery had intentionally pruned branches. It helps the tree focus it's energy on growing taller, faster. It was a young tree but they had manipulated it to be taller so they could charge more.


Heights Include Container

The other thing a few nurseries will do is include the pot when listing a height.  They usually bury this disclosure in their terms of service.  A 1-gallon nursery container averages about 12 inches tall. So, that 3 to 4 foot tree you bought will only be 2 to 3 feet when you get it in the ground.

We comb through the legalese of our top rated nurseries every month. We disclose any fine print you should be aware of. View nursery review and ratings here.

I worked for one nursery that only listed the container size. It's a pretty common practice. That truly is the most important thing you need to know but calls asking for heights was the #1 issue. Hours a week spent by customer service folks trying to help potential customers. I finally convinced them to start listing a height range with the container size.

It's tough when dealing with a live plant. The height you will receive in early spring will obviously be taller by the end of spring.  I've seen evergreen trees & shrubs in the same size container, from the same crop, have pretty big differences in height.

plant height
No container sizes

So if you are ever tempted to buy a tree online and you only see a height listed... DON'T.  Learn from our expensive mistake. Instead, call or email the nursery and get them to tell you what size container the tree is in.  The same rule applies to any shrub you're interested in that only lists a height. Any reputable online nursery will supply that information.


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Doug Hall