Buyer beware: Watch out for free tree and landscaping deals |

Buyer beware: Watch out for free tree and landscaping deals

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association and the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado are warning consumers to be wary of trees, shrubs, perennial plants and turf grass sod that is included for “free” with the cost of exorbitant planting and landscaping costs. CNGA, ALCC and CDA all work together to protect consumers.

“There is a consumer protection concern when plants are offered for ‘free’ with the purchase of the landscaping installation. More often than not, the quality of the plants included with these too-good-to-be-true landscaping offers is very poor and does not meet minimum industry or mandated standards in the Colorado Nursery Act,” said CDA’s Program Manager for the Nursery, Phytosanitary, Plant-Pest Quarantine, and Seed programs, Laura Pottorff. “Trees and other landscape plants are a significant investment made to add value to our property. Be wise and informed.”

While the CDA cannot regulate how the plant is planted, it can regulate quality of woody plant material, turfgrass sod, and perennials at the time of sale. CDA helps protect the consumer by ensuring that the product they see at the retail nursery or receive from the landscape contractor meets minimum standard for plant health and quality.

The Colorado Nursery Act requires that all people who sell nursery stock (trees, shrubs, turfgrass sod and other perennial plants) be registered to do so. If this plant material is offered for sale, it must meet strict standards for plant health and pest freedom that gives trees and other plants a “leg up” and increases likelihood of survival.

Consumers are encouraged to ask the nursery or landscape contractor if they are a member of their local industry association, such as CNGA or ALCC. Member companies often go above and beyond to make sure they meet industry best practices. Industry best practices make sure that trees have adequate root systems to survive and adjust to transplanting in Colorado’s challenging landscapes, adding long term value to a landscape.

Member companies follow best management practices that include endorsement of certain tree trunk diameter to root diameter ratios. For example, the best management practice for root balls is that for every caliper inch of trunk width measured at 6 inches above soil line for a deciduous tree (trees that loose leaves each autumn) there should be at least 10 inches of root ball to match. Similar standards exist for coniferous trees. CNGA and ALCC member companies will also strive to meet industry best planting standards as well. Best planting standards are researched by universities and other scientists in Colorado to ensure best success of trees and shrubs planted in our area.

By law:

Woody plants and perennials cannot be sold with insect or disease infestations.

Woody plants and perennials cannot be sold with roots that are girdling, indicating that the tree or shrub has been in the container too long or in the balled and burlapped state too long.

Turfgrass sod cannot be sold if it contains more than 3 weeds in a 6 x 6 foot (or 36 square foot) area.

Check with the CDA to make sure that the company or person you are purchasing your woody plants, turfgrass sod and perennials from is registered to sell nursery stock. By state law they have to be registered to sell nursery stock. The Nursery Act is a consumer protection law and all woody plants, sod and perennials sold within the state of Colorado and the people who sell them fall under the jurisdiction of this law and the CDA.

“If nursery stock is offered for ‘free,’ it may not meet state or industry minimum standards; consumers run the risk of paying for installation services and winding up with poor quality or soon to be dead trees and shrubs,” Pottorff said. “If possible, go to the nursery and pick out the tree or plants you want. When those plants are delivered to you and planted in your landscape watch them closely for the first few weeks and months to make sure they appear to be growing normally.”

The CDA routinely inspects plants at most of the nurseries in our state. The results of these inspections and any conditions under advisory or Stop Sale that were found during an inspection are available to the public. Contact us at (303) 869-9070 or visit

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