In this mega tree nursery review, I have full reviews for:
- Arbor Day Foundation
- Evergreen Plant Nursery
- Japanese Maples and Evergreens
- Albrecht’s Nursery
- Paint Creek Nursery
- Weston’s Antique Apples
- Burnt Ridge Nursery
So, we ordered a lot of trees this spring…
One of the things high on our to-do list was to plant a privacy border/wind break on the side of our property that borders the road. But not just any privacy border… we wanted it to be beautiful, with lots of diversity, and filled with plenty of native shrubs and fruit-bearing trees for the local wildlife and native bees.
We wanted it to be evergreen year round with pops of deciduous color throughout the spring and summer. And since it is in an area highly visible to us, we wanted it to be delightful to look at and filled with lots of interesting specimens. The goal was to have controlled randomness, not just a couple staggered rows of trees.
Aaaand, this privacy border is half underneath the power line, so we were limited in what we could safely plant without risk of the electric company hacking it down. A lot to think about!
I can’t even tell you how many hours we spent on this project, but between the two of us, it’s definitely in the triple digits.
We researched a lot of plant and tree nurseries, and tried to pick as many local ones as we could. Due to the variety we were hoping for, plus the height restrictions, we also ordered from several online retailers. We did a LOT of tree research. A LOT.
Because we ordered from seven different nurseries all around the same time (mostly for the border project but also for the orchard), I couldn’t help but compare and review them. It’s an opportunity I had to take advantage of! Here goes:
Arbor Day Foundation
Arbor Day Foundation: this is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public about conservation and celebrate trees. Their website is fairly easy to navigate and simple with the ability to search by zip code/zone… which I always find handy.
You’ll notice when looking at tree prices that they give a “member” and “non-member” price. For a very small fee (at the time of posting this, either $5 or $10) you get a huge reduction in cost- which is definitely worth it.
Plus, with the $10/6-month membership, not only do you get to pay a reduced price for trees, but you also get to pick 10 free trees for signing up (we chose 10 free Eastern Redbud trees, a $90 value). We also received two free Forsythias for having an order over $25, free shipping for having an order over $50, and a free Red Maple tree, apparently just for the heck of it! I liked getting all these extras- especially free shipping because trees are expensive to ship!
If you aren’t interested in your 10 free trees for signing up as a new member, they try to get you to become a member at checkout by offering you a $5 membership but with no free trees. This hidden offer wasn’t available until I was checking out.
Check out was fast and simple. Arbor Day Foundation has a pre-set delivery schedule based on your hardiness zone. The only downside to this is that the window of “when they might send them” is two months long… so no telling when your trees might show up, and because they are bare-root, they need to get in the ground ASAP, which might be inconvenient.
By the way, for an organization dedicated to saving trees, they have sent us an awful lot of (very unnecessary) paper through the mail since becoming “members.” They also (apparently) sold our address to others, because we’ve been getting more junk mail from natural and conservation-type organizations since we joined- guess that’s how they’re paying for all of the “free” stuff. Kind of makes me mad, and a little disappointed.
Tree Delivery & Quality
For our Zone 4 area, the estimated ship date range was April 16 through June 17. The first week in May is when our free trees arrived, which I had read would come separately from our main order. We received ten Eastern Redbuds… the roots were wrapped in a plastic bag and were plenty moist. I was stunned to see that these little tiny 12″ twigs were sent in a plastic bag with no support, no cardboard box or anything rigid to protect them. Hmm… but they all made it safely!
Our main order finally arrived at the beginning of June, which in my opinion is getting a little late to plant brand new bare-root trees without having to coddle them through the hotter summer months. These trees were shipped in a long cardboard box and were reinforced with a couple of bamboo stakes inside. They were packaged nicely, labeled, bundled together and wrapped in plastic bags with the roots in a mixture of moist newspaper and some gel-bead things.
The trees were of medium quality- they all appeared healthy, but there was quite a bit of variation in size within some of the types of trees, and several already had leaves (which isn’t ideal, especially as bare-root trees).
Would we order from Arbor Day Foundation again? Meh… probably not.
Evergreen Plant Nursery
Evergreen Plant Nursery: I really, really liked this place. The website is more homemade looking, but also very easy to navigate and clear. I appreciated that they seem to know their stuff, writing nice descriptions of each plant plus the general plant facts (zone, height, etc) for each variety.
We were wanting to get a lot of juniper trees and in several different varieties, and this nursery by far had the best prices and selection, and even had many hard to find and rare varieties of junipers. They didn’t have the lowest price we saw on common things like Douglas Fir or Blue Spruce, but for what we were looking for their prices were great!
They were extremely accommodating to whatever date you wanted your plants shipped, which we were thankful for. Being in the north, we wanted to order our plants while they were still in stock, but not have them arrive here until the ground thawed. All we had to do was leave a note with our preferred ship date and they would take care of the rest.
They have a whole page of coupon codes!
The shipping rates were some of the highest we paid. Somehow (don’t ask me how… it’s probably my deal-seeking craziness coming out) I figured out that if we split our order and placed two separate ones, we paid a lot less for shipping. Still a lot, but less than if we placed just one big order.
Tree Delivery & Quality
We set our two separate orders to arrive a week apart. The first order was actually shipped out the week before we specified (not sure why… I think they screwed that up). Luckily it worked out and we found time to get them in the ground right away. The second order arrived exactly when we asked. The packaging of the trees was immaculate! I could tell they were packed with love and care- they were not bare root, but each came with a plug of dirt in a plastic bag.
Of all the places we ordered from, these were some of the best-looking trees- just absolutely perfect, healthy, gorgeous little trees. Taking them out of their plastic bags was like unwrapping little presents! Karl couldn’t stop exclaiming about about the quality of the trees and packaging… if fact, it’s been three months and he’s still talking about them.
Would we order from Evergreen Plant Nursery again? Yes! We already have plans to.
Japanese Maples & Evergreens
Japanese Maples & Evergreens: this was a bit of a wildcard… I read mixed reviews, but determined that most of the negative ones were because the people ordering obviously didn’t know what size trees to expect and were displeased when they received their tiny itty bitty seedling.
FYI: they also sell through Amazon –> Here!
The trees here were all fairly expensive ($15-30 for a small tree), but they were also extremely rare, odd, interesting, and hard to find. Taking all of that into consideration I think they are fairly priced. I found this place while looking for a “Fat Albert” Spruce, a short Blue Spruce perfect for planting near the power lines.
The ordering here was a little weird: no creating an account or anything, just add what you want to your cart, and check out. You are then taken to the paypal site and everything is finished through there… so make sure your paypal address is correct. Paypal is the only way to pay here (unless you buy through Amazon).
Shipping prices were reasonable. We were hoping to buy and lock-in our trees now and have them delivered later, when planting weather was more ideal for our zone (like all the other places we ordered from). After placing the order, Karl promptly emailed them to ask if this was an option. We received no response, and got notification the following day that our trees were being shipped out. So… I guess that isn’t an option then.
Tree Delivery & Quality
Our trees arrived safely, packed in two priority mail boxes taped together. I felt that the way they were packed had potential to destroy the trees inside if the postal service had really thrown them around, but am happy that ours made it safely. I also thought it was tacky that the paper strips you rip off to expose the glue that seals the shipping boxes were thrown in the bottom of the box. Not a great first impression. Definitely not packaged with the care and attention to detail we saw elsewhere.
Each tree was potted in a plastic container that was wrapped in plastic wrap. Each tree had a bamboo stick in its pot to help stabilize the tree, keep it upright and prevent bending. The soil was moist and all trees appeared reasonably healthy. Among other things, we ordered three of the same variety, and one of those was a little yellower than the other two, but still looked generally okay.
Would we order from Japanese Maples and Evergreens again? Probably, only because they have extremely rare and unique tree varieties that you would have a hard time finding anywhere else.
Albrecht’s Nursery in Chippewa Falls, WI: this is a fairly local nursery to us, and they had a handful of rare and antique apple varieties we were looking for. We planned to order these varieties online from a different nursery, but were happy to support a local business and get trees that had already proven they could withstand our cold winters. We also appreciated Albrecht’s organic and permaculture-minded practices.
Even though this nursery is local to us (they don’t ship), it is not unreasonable to drive across the state of Wisconsin, or from Minnesota, Iowa, or Michigan to pick up these older, larger-sized trees. Many other places sell rare and antique apple trees as grafts or small one-year-old trees, so we liked that Albrecht’s were already established AND very reasonably priced.
We placed our order in early March to lock-in the trees we wanted. We placed our order over the phone with the owner, he gave us a total, we sent a check in the mail, and then received an invoice back through the mail. The nursery opened for the season in April and we drove the 45-minutes to pick up our tree-babies.
Albrecht’s also carries a phenomenal selection of organic soil and fertilizer, plus holistic orcharding supplies like tangle foot and neem oil. They have just about everything you need for organic orchard practices!
Tree Pick-Up & Quality
The owner, Don, was outstanding: passionate about trees and happy to answer all of our questions, share some of his favorite resources and even geek-out with us on things like ramial chipped wood and historic apple varieties. He also gave us a demonstration of his grafting technique and some pruning lessons! His personal attention and customer service was top-notch. We not only purchased trees, but we felt that we gained a mentor and fellow rare apple tree-loving friend.
The apple trees were standing up in organized piles, bare-rooted (but covered with mulch to keep them moist). Don went through the trees, picking out the ones that were already marked with our name. He moistened the roots and wrapped them up in a plastic bag.
The trees were still dormant, but they appeared healthy. Some were taller and had more branches than others (depending on variety), a couple were just whips, but all were at least 5-feet from root to tip, and the tallest was over 8-feet.
Albrecht’s Nursery is exactly the kind of business we want to support! Bringing knowledge of permaculture practices and these rare varieties of trees to our community is something we LOVE to see. If you are in Western Wisconsin, the Twin Cities, or even a half-days drive, I highly recommend Albrecht’s Nursery!
Would we order from Albrecht’s Nursery again? Definitely, yes!
Paint Creek Nursery
Paint Creek Nursery: another local gem! I love shopping locally, especially for things like trees. My problem is that I always want the most unique and rare plants, which most local nurseries don’t have.
We did order a handful of “normal” trees, and found this nursery to be the most affordable, by far! They ship all over, so it is not limited to only local people (and shipping charges seem reasonable, from what I can tell). Their customer service was great when we called to ask a question and also when we placed our order.
Their pdf price list wouldn’t fully load on our mobile devices, so if you have the same problem make sure and view it on a computer.
This nursery also seems to sell out fairy quickly, so order early. Their trees are in the ground, so they start digging and packing them as soon as the ground thaws here, around April. They couldn’t tell us a date that our order would be ready for pick-up, because it depended on the ground conditions and weather here, which I understood.
They mentioned over the phone that they would notify us when our order was packed, and that they were happy to store it in their cold storage until we were ready to pick it up. This worked out well, and we appreciated their flexibility.
Tree Pick-Up & Quality
We got a call in the middle of April that our trees were ready, and told them when we would be coming by to pick them up. We arrived and were greeted by one of the owners (the same person we had talked to on the phone). She quickly grabbed our order sheet and sent her workers off to gather all of our trees. In less than 10 minutes they had everything bagged and ready for us.
Even though the trees were mostly still dormant, they appeared very healthy looking. This is another local, family-run business that we are happy to support.
Would we order from Paint Creek Nursery again? Yes, definitely!
Weston’s Antique Apples
Weston’s Antique Apples: if you are in the colder north and looking for rare or antique apple varieties, this is a place you’ll want to consider. Many of the orchards that house the rarest and coolest apple varieties are on the East or West coasts- which is fine, but being in a colder climate, I really appreciate trees that have already shown they can grow and thrive here in Wisconsin.
Not to mention, these were some of the more affordable prices we found for small, grafted trees. As “bench grafts,” these were grafted this spring, which means the rootstock and apple variety (scion) wood that were trying to be joined have not had time to scab and heal yet. They would need some extra special TLC!
Weston’s customer service isn’t great. That being said, the patriarch of the orchard is elderly and last I heard wasn’t in great health. The rest of his family helps keep things running in their spare time, so I am a little sympathetic to their lack of correspondence, and I appreciate them selling their scion wood in order to promote and save rare apple varieties.
I printed out the order form on their website, filled it out and sent it in with a check for the total plus the (very reasonable) shipping fee. We didn’t hear anything from them after sending in the order form. There was no expected shipping date listed on the website, but since they appear to hold a grafting class at the end of April, we figured to expect our trees to arrive around that time.
Orders are due by the end of March! There are two places on their website that list the apple tree varieties they have: Varieties and Ripening Dates. Make sure and reference both lists when choosing your varieties, as each list includes a few that the other does not.
I’m no expert, but as for grafting, it appears they used a whip and tongue technique, wrapped the grafted area with masking tape and then dipped the whole top of the tree, including the taped graft in wax. How do I know this? Keep reading…
If you’re at all local, consider visiting this orchard in fall so that you can taste some of these rare apples! They also hold a grafting class every spring where they will teach you how to graft apple trees and send you home with one (it does cost money).
Tree Delivery & Quality
The trees arrived the first week in May, shipped in a paper tube (actually, our order was so big it was shipped in two separate tubes). Upon gently pulling the tree bundles from the tubes, we noticed the roots were moist, and a couple of the grafts appeared to be broken. Yep, two of the grafts had completely separated from the rootstock in transit and were dangling there, barely hanging on. We started to panic.
As we went through the grafts, checking each one for stability and noting the name of the varieties on the little tags, disappointment and confusion set in as we started to see apple tree names we didn’t recognize. We ordered eleven different varieties of apple trees, all painstakingly researched and chosen with intent and purpose. We received eight of the ones we chose and three that we did not. They had both our phone number and email address and could have easily contacted us if they didn’t have the scions we requested; I really wish they would have. And no, their order form did not say anything about substitutions.
But in that moment we had to put our frustration aside and focus on the two broken grafts we had to save. Luckily, just a week prior, we spent the morning with our neighbor, who gave us a lesson in apple tree grafting and offered the use of his grafting supplies any time we wanted.
We grabbed our little broken trees (whose cut-ends were obviously dried out) and zipped over to the neighbor’s shed. We performed emergency surgery, making new graft cuts and rejoining the rootstock to the scion wood. We were happy to see that the new cuts we made looked green, moist and still alive! I have no idea if they will survive, given their rough start at life and our (extremely) novice grafting skills.
It pains me to give Weston’s a negative review. I so appreciate that they even offer pieces of their trees, but on the other hand they are a business and we are paying customers. We didn’t contact them about the mistakes (I shouldn’t call them mistakes, they knowingly sent varieties we didn’t order, and I can tell because they at least tried to send ones that were similar in character) because what would it do? They apparently didn’t have three of the varieties we requested… and certainly we were’t going to mail them back the wrong ones. They are still rare apples, and we are hoping that we will end up loving the varieties they sent and will be pleasantly surprised one day.
There are no guarantees listed on Weston’s website, which we knew going into this. I understand they are bench grafts, and this is nature, so not all of them might make it. I did expect all the grafts to make it here in one piece though, so they could at least have a fighting chance… if the two broken ones don’t show any signs of life soon, I might reach out to Weston’s.
Would we order bench grafts from Weston’s again? Probably not, but partially because we will be grafting our own apple trees from now on (to save money and increase the available varieties). If I were to order again, I would write in big letters on the form, “no substitutions, please.” I would still buy apples from Weston’s in the fall, and I would even consider taking their grafting class if we were closer.
Burnt Ridge Nursery
Burnt Ridge Nursery: we ordered from this nursery because of their rare fruit and nut offerings. In fact, they specialize in “rare edibles,” which if you haven’t picked up on, we’re into planting. They happen to have a lot of things we were interested in and seemed to have mostly good reviews.
Their website is a little cumbersome. It also seems that once they are sold out of an item, they remove the listing from their website entirely… which was too bad, because on a couple occasions I wanted to go back and look at the details of some of the varieties we chose.
Like many other nurseries, Burnt Ridge has pre-set ship dates based on your zip code… so they send them when it is safe to plant in your area. We knew our plants had shipped because we got the tracking info by email from UPS.
Order early, and order fast! We ordered in early March (I think I tend to forget that everyone else in the US pretty much has spring before us, so even though it felt like we were “ordering early,” it wasn’t early if you take into account the southern states springtime) and in the few days I spent finalizing my order and making sure we were getting everything we wanted, several things disappeared from the website because they were sold out. Boo. You might consider ordering in the fall or winter for spring delivery!
Tree Delivery & Quality
Our trees arrived 5 days after they left the nursery (the longest transit time of anything we ordered) in a tall box with a bamboo stick in it to prevent the box from bending.. which didn’t work too well, because the box appeared to have been bent. Luckily, all the trees were fine. The trees were all bundled together and each one was labeled. The roots were shrouded in damp newspaper and wrapped with thick plastic; they were cool and moist.
When dealing with rare tree varieties, expect them to be small. We ordered two actual fruit trees, which were about 5-6 foot tall whips. The chestnut trees were 12″ tiny sticks, the Rosa Rugosa bushes were teeny tiny, and the raspberries were thick-stalked and decent size. Overall, it was quite a variety of sizes… some things I expected to be bigger, and some were bigger than expected.
Everything arrived dormant with the exception of a couple of the pea shrubs, which were fighting to wake up from their winter slumber.
Would we order from Burnt Ridge Nursery again? Yes, we were overall pleased!
I hope this information helps you if you’re planning to order trees! I was not compensated in any way for these reviews. We paid for these trees with our own money, and none of these businesses knew beforehand that I would be writing about them.
Please comment with your own experiences with any of these tree nurseries! The more input, the greater this resource for everyone- thanks!
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