Fall is the best time to plant or transplant trees. From mid-September until mid-November, more moderate daytime temperatures and longer, cooler nights allow trees' root systems to become well-established before the first frost signals the beginning of winter dormancy.
Many garden centers and local nurseries keep just a small supply of the most popular, well-known trees during the summer and wait until high temperatures abate in mid-September to bring in new stock.
Some local nurseries also grow their own stock (Belmont Nursery in Fresno is one example) and the nursery may not display all available tree species on site. You'll want to quiz staff to find out what trees have been ordered for fall delivery or what trees might be stored on a back lot.
Many gardeners don't realize that they also can special order trees from most local nurseries for fall delivery. Special orders are a great way to buy one special specimen tree or six of the same species to line the driveway.
Before you commit to a special order, there are a lot of questions that must be answered, beginning with location. How big is the space for the tree (at it's mature size)? How many hours of sun will the tree get each day? Will it get a few hours of cooler morning sun or will it get eight hours of brutal afternoon rays in summer? Will the tree be planted under or near power lines or within 12 feet of a structure? (That is not recommended). Will debris from your mature tree fall into your neighbor's pool or litter the front walk? Where will the shade cast by the tree fall?
Once you have a clear idea of space, size, sun and potential hazards or problems, you'll want to do some research.
The Fresno County Master Gardeners website provides shopping lists for both deciduous and evergreen trees that are suitable for our climate. The lists provide descriptions of size, water needs, sun and shade requirements as well as cautions of invasive roots, litter and allergens. No photos, though.
Monrovia Nurseries website, www.monrovia.com, is one of the most informative and helpful commercial nursery websites. Just enter your requirements (size, flowering/non-flowering, fall leaf color, drought-tolerant, etc.), plus the planting zones (zones eight and nine for the Valley, zone seven in the foothills) and the website composes a list with photos of the tree choices.
Good quality trees have a well-balanced branch scaffolding with numerous branches placed evenly on all sides of the trunk. They also still retain some secondary branches lower down on the trunk, which will be removed after two to three years. The trunk should be sturdy and taper down evenly to the root flare. Check out your new tree's structure and strength when it arrives and reorder if necessary. Good nurseries will help you get the best tree.