When electronics are purchased, the sales person always recommends purchasing an extended warranty, just in case something goes wrong.
When purchasing trees, the choice is not usually there. Plants that are full price usually come with a guarantee for the season or a year. Plants that have a deep discount are not usually guaranteed.
New plants, even if they are not hardy to the climate, last a growing season if they are given basic care. Cold winters are hard on plants and there are always a number that do not break dormancy in the spring.
Always read the small print of the guarantee. It will tell you how long the plant is guaranteed and if there are costs associated with the plant’s replacement. There is rarely a cost to replace container stock as it can be taken home by the customer. Caliper trees are different as they require specialized equipment to move them and companies try to recoup the cost of delivery and planting.
As with electronics, how many times are the guarantees used? As a horticulturist I only worry about a guarantee if the plant itself gives me a reason to doubt its survival or is marginally hardy for the area.
For the best chance of survival, purchase trees and shrubs with a rootball that is in proportion to the actual size of the plant. The roots must be able to gather enough nutrients to support the top growth. If there are too few roots, chances of the total plant still being alive in a year are minimal. If the plant is a shrub that is hardy to the area, a couple of branches can be pruned off and the plant should grow back from the roots.
Major dieback in a tree is another matter. The plant might have some greenery and might be alive but it will likely be misshapen and not pleasing to the eye; never regaining its original shape.
Fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. They can be placed in the ground until the ground freezes but it is impossible to know until spring or summer if the plant will survive.
A healthy plant will produce leaves that are characteristic in size and shape to the variety of tree planted. Expect to see new growth. Smaller than average leaves and little or no new growth into the summer months are signs of the tree struggling. Extra fertilizer and water might help the tree but it is best to contact the place of purchase.
Most establishments will say that they have done their part as the tree lived a season or a year. Talking to a manager and explaining that the tree is alive and not healthy can get the length of the guarantee increased to avoid unhappy customers.
If the tree branches out well the next season, all is well. If the tree is still alive but there is major dieback, then it can be replaced.
Plant guarantees are in place to replace product when needed. They are not in place to replace product that has been neglected. Consumers must do their part to insure that the plant thrives; plant properly, water and fertilize.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.