Home Outdoors Garden
Luke MillerUpdated: Jun. 02, 2022
Trees are a wonderful way to add vertical interest to the landscape. This can also be done on a smaller scale with dwarf cultivars in pots.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
Rei Kastrati / EyeEm/Getty Images
Why Grow Trees in Pots
Growing trees in pots may seem like a slap in the face to nature. After all, trees are supposed to grow big and dominate the landscape, right? Not so fast. Plenty of dwarf tree specimens are well suited to growing in pots. They don’t take up a lot of space, and they offer renters — as well as homeowners — the chance to have a tree in their landscape, albeit a portable one. Potted trees can warm up an entryway or add ambience to a porch, patio or deck. They also make nice gifts for special occasions, such as births and anniversaries.
It’s easy to grow a tree in a container as long as you follow a few simple steps.
- Select a dwarf variety (they’re better suited to containers and won’t require as much pruning) or a treeform shrub, which is pruned into a single-trunk.
- Use a large container. It aids tree growth, allowing for a bigger root mass that better withstands erratic watering.
- Fill the container with a potting mix containing moisture-retentive crystals to capture more irrigation water.
- Water regularly. A pot-grown tree needs more frequent watering than one planted in the ground.
- Winter protection is needed in cold climates. Store dormant deciduous trees in an attached garage, keeping the rootball slightly moist. Return it outdoors in spring. Evergreens still need light in winter, so unless the garage has a window, it’s best to “heel in” a potted evergreen. This means temporarily burying the tree’s roots in the ground for the winter and mulching heavily. Return the tree to its pot in spring.
Malisa Nicolau/Getty Images
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
With an attractive conical shape and compact size, dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) has developed quite a following. You’ll even see it offered in late fall as a miniature Christmas tree. Dwarf Alberta spruce grow only two to three inches a year, topping out at about eight feet. Cultivars of this dwarf conifer are available with green or blue-gray needles. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 to 8.
Adél Békefi/Getty Images
This tropical native is a beloved houseplant. Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) can grow up to 60 feet tall outdoors in tropical climates, yet they are well suited to container growing. Homeowners can easily grow six-foot-tall ficus by limiting the pot size and doing occasional pruning. Ficus like bright, indirect light and actually perk up if they vacation outdoors in the protected high shade of a tall tree. Bear in mind they often drop leaves if their lighting situation changes, but quickly recover.
Dwarf Blue Spruce
It’s tough and hardy like its parent, but Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ has a much more modest size — three to five feet tall compared to 50 feet or more for the larger. It’s also slow growing, putting on only a few inches a year, so it’s suitable for containers as well as small entryway gardens. While some ‘Globosa’ are sold as rounded shrubs, there is a topiary version that looks particularly stunning in a pot. This variety has blue-gray foliage that looks nice against a base of neon-pink petunias. It is hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8.
Johner Images/Getty Images
Breeders have made sure that anyone, no matter how small their yard, can enjoy a tree like the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). While some cultivars reach 25 feet over many years, others grow just two or three feet tall. These trees feature attractive mounded, vaselike or cascading shapes. There’s also a variety of foliage selections, including green, variegated and burgundy — in a choice of palm-shaped or highly dissected leaves. Most Japanese maples are hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8 but some accept zone 5. Where winter temperatures are a concern, shelter from cold wind helps. Also, potted trees can be taken inside in winter.
Kevin Schafer/Getty Images
Full Moon Maple
Full Moon maple (Acer shirasawanum) is a Japanese native grown for its attractive palm-shaped leaves and beautiful fall color. The slow-growing species can eventually reach 15 to 20 feet tall, but cultivars such as ‘Autumn Moon’ are smaller and better suited to container growing. ‘Autumn Moon’ slowly reaches eight to 12 feet. The tree features colorful chartreuse foliage with orange and salmon undertones that eventually turn hues of gold or red in fall. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7.
Miniature Apple Tree
Imagine your own mini orchard! And you don’t need a farm if you’re growing potted apple trees (Malus spp.). Many apple varieties are available in dwarf form, some even as columnar trees that take up very little space. You’ll need two for cross-pollination, or a crabapple tree nearby. And while you may start with a five-gallon specimen, you will need to upsize the container every few years until you get to about a 15-gallon size. Miniature apple trees are hardy in USDA zones 4 or 5 to 7 or 8, depending on cultivar.
This Southern staple can be grown in the North when it’s pot-grown and can be taken to shelter in winter. Normally hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) grows 25 to 30 feet in the Southern landscape. Smaller varieties are just three or four feet tall and can be raised in large containers. That’s great news, because it means everyone can enjoy a bright summer flower show. Flowers include a choice of red, pink, white, lavender and fuchsia blooms, depending on cultivar.
annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images
This broadleaf evergreen has a slender, conical form and highly aromatic foliage. That, along with its slow growth rate and drought tolerance, makes it a fine potted tree. Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) can also be clipped into formal or topiary shapes, which is why you’ll often see matching specimens adorning either side of a formal doorway. It is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11.
Bonsai Blue Jacaranda
Anyone who’s ever been enchanted by the large jacaranda trees lining California boulevards will never forget the sight. These large, showy deep-purple blooms are also available on dwarf plants, such as Bonsai Blue (Jacaranda mimosifolia ‘Sakai01’). While a landscape jacaranda tree can reach 50 feet, Bonsai Blue is just 10 to 12 feet tall. Although it grows fast, you can keep it shorter because the attractive fernlike foliage takes pruning in stride. It’s also drought tolerant — a definite plus when it comes to container plants. Bonsai Blue jacaranda is hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11.
Originally Published: July 29, 2021
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.
Although growing a tree in a container will restrict its size, you are best to avoid fast-growing, large or vigorous trees, as they will eventually start to look leggy as they struggle in too small a root space. Exceptions are vigorous trees that do not mind hard pruning, pollarding or coppicing.How big should a pot be for a tree? ›
For trees, you'll need a planter box that's at least twice the width and depth of the root ball. As the trees grow taller, so does their tree root ball. In order to accommodate some growth, calculate that you'll need to move them to a larger container every 2-3 years in a pot that's 4 inches larger.What small tree grows well in a pot? ›
Evergreen conifers, such as pine, juniper, fir and cypress trees, make good container plants, offering year-round interest and structure on patios, terraces and balconies. All conifer require well-draining soil in a container, and most thrive in a spot with full sun.Do trees get lonely in pots? ›
Plants will definitely experience something like being “lonely” in pots because they miss out on underground connections. The majority of plants form symbioses with fungi underground, via their roots. Physical connections between the roots of different plants are …What evergreen trees can grow in pots? ›
- Boxwood Shrub.
- Yew Tree.
- Juniper Tree.
- Pine Tree.
- Italian Cypress Tree.
- Cotoneaster Shrub.
- Dwarf Conifer Trees.
- Arborvitae Trees.
At planting time, you should count on planting 400 trees per person in an eight-hour day if you and your helpers are not experienced. If you hire experienced planters you will find they can usually plant 1,000 trees per day or more.Do trees in pots need more water? ›
Caring for a container-grown tree is different from a tree growing in the landscape. They are more prone to drying out, therefore, container-grown trees need regular and thorough watering.How often should you water potted trees? ›
Thoroughly soak the root ball and surrounding soil immediately after planting. Do it again tomorrow, and again in 2 days. 2) Then, water thoroughly every 4-5 days for the next 2-3 weeks. 3) Then you can change to a thorough watering once every 7-10 days, as needed, soil type and weather pending.How long can an olive tree live in a pot? ›
Olive trees can survive a number of years in a pot, although they will ultimately need to be planted in the ground to survive. As long as you have a sufficiently large pot, the tree can live up to eight or nine years in it. Keep the pot in full sun.What makes trees grow fast? ›
Fertilizer. You've heard it before and you'll hear it again, fertilizer will help plants and trees grow. It will help them grow faster, taller, fuller, and healthier. Fertilizer helps incorporate essential nutrients into the soil to support growth and photosynthesis.
There is general agreement that: Pines are at the bottom of the list in terms of oxygen release because they have a low Leaf Area Index. Oak and aspen are intermediate in terms of oxygen release. Douglas-fir, spruce, true fir, beech, and maple are toward the top of the list for oxygen release.Can plants hear you talk? ›
Do Plants React to Human Voices? Here's the good news: plants do respond to the sound of your voice. In a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society, research demonstrated that plants did respond to human voices.Can trees hear you? ›
They're listening. That's the overarching conclusion from multiple research studies: While plants don't have ears, they can “hear” sounds in their local environment. More importantly, they can react.Can plants see you? ›
Plants detect visible and invisible electromagnetic waves. Unlike plants, we can only detect visible electromagnetic waves. Although plants can see a much larger spectrum than we do, they don't see it in images.How many trees does it take to support 1 human? ›
It is proposed that one large tree can provide a day's supply of oxygen for up to four people. Trees also store carbon dioxide in their fibers helping to clean the air and reduce the negative effects that this CO2 could have had on our environment.How many trees is enough for one? ›
A human breathes about 9.5 tonnes of air in a year, but oxygen only makes up about 23 per cent of that air, by mass, and we only extract a little over a third of the oxygen from each breath. That works out to a total of about 740kg of oxygen per year. Which is, very roughly, seven or eight trees' worth.Does planting one tree make a difference? ›
One tree can sequester (or take in) more than one ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime. Planting trees and avoiding deforestation are key measures in reducing the human impact on global climate change.Can trees survive in pots over winter? ›
Container-grown trees, shrubs, and perennials can also be over-wintered by placing them in a moderately cold location (temperatures from 20 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the winter months such as an unheated structure. The cold temperatures will keep the plants dormant until spring.Should I water trees every day? ›
Water newly planted trees once a day for the first couple of weeks after planting, and once a week after that during the growing season. Remember to check the soil to ensure you are not over watering. Once the roots begin to extend beyond the root ball, you can water on a normal schedule.Can I use potting soil to plant a tree? ›
Do not use fertilizer, potting soil, or chemicals on your newly planted trees. Such products will kill your young trees. Watering: Keeping your trees watered is important during their first year. Keep the soil and mulch moist but not soggy.
The best time to water plants is in the morning or evening.
Morning watering is actually preferable to evening watering as the plant has time to dry before the sun goes down. At night, water tends to rest in the soil, around the roots, and on the foliage, which encourages rot, fungal growth, and insects.
You should not allow your potted tree to dry out. Once you get your tree home, don't bring it directly indoors. Instead, place it in a garage or shed to acclimate it to the warmer air. Keep your tree in a watertight container and water it just enough with cold water to keep the roots moist and cool.How do you keep soil moist in pots? ›
You can improve the water retention properties of your soil by adding vermiculite, sphagnum (peat) moss, and/or coconut coir. When you make the soil retain more moisture, you'll also need to improve the drainage to prevent any watering issues. You can improve the drainage by adding perlite, Leca, and sand to your soil.Do olive trees need a lot of water? ›
Olive trees are very drought resistant; however, they still require water to survive. When establishing an olive tree, keep the soil moist, yet not saturated. Water an establishing olive tree once weekly for the first year or anytime the top 2” of soil becomes dry.Do olive trees need full sun? ›
Despite their Mediterranean origins, olive trees are tougher than you might think but it's wise to position your tree in the sunniest site possible, and select a well-drained, sheltered site. Olives planted close to a warm wall where they can bask in the sunshine will be the happiest.Why is my potted olive tree dying? ›
A dying olive tree is usually because of overwatering and slow draining soils. Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean where they grow in full sun, with infrequent rainfall and gritty soils. If the soil is too damp the leaves turn yellow or brown and drop off with a dying appearance.What are the top 10 most beautiful trees? ›
- Rhododendron (Ericaceae) ...
- Silk Cotton Trees (Ceiba pentandra) ...
- Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) ...
- Strangler Fig (Ficus) ...
- Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) ...
- Tibetan Cherry Tree (Prunus serrula) ...
- Wisteria (Fabaceae leguminosae) ...
- Yucca (Asparagaceae)
What is the easiest flowering tree to grow? Tulip trees are one of the easiest flowering trees to grow. Once you know a few things about how to grow a tree, it is relatively straightforward. Tulip trees thrive in acidic soil, prefer to be grown in full sun and are fairly resistant to pests and disease.What trees can I plant close to my house? ›
These include willow trees, poplars, cottonwoods, aspens, silver maples, Norway maples, and American elm trees, among others. Smaller trees with shallow roots, however, pose little risk to your home. Japanese maple trees, for instance, are safe to plant relatively close to your house.Which tree grows best with full sun? ›
Hours of Operations.
Like any other plant, trees need sun, water and nutrients for survival. There are three main parts to a tree: the roots, the trunk and the crown (branches and leaves), and each plays a part in helping the tree use the sun, water and nutrients.Which tree gives fruit faster? ›
The citrus tree or nimboo or lemon is very popular in Indian gardens. This fruit is rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and other nutrients, which can boost heart health and immunity. Varieties such as Eureka and Meyer grow faster and bear fruit earlier.Can you water a tree too much? ›
Soil saturated with water can suffocate and drown a tree since the oxygen-rich air pockets are flooded. Root rot, fungus or too much water can kill a tree's roots and slowly starve the rest of the tree. Some signs that a tree is getting too much water include: Wilting or yellowing leaves.Will planting a tree in a pot keep it small? ›
A tree in a container has limited space for its roots to grow. Because the roots' growth is limited to the container's diameter, the smaller the pot, the less room the roots have to grow, limiting the tree's size.How often should you water trees in pots? ›
Watering Trees in Containers
Trees in containers can dry out quickly, so they need to be watered frequently during the growing season, usually 2-3 times a week or even daily in hot weather.
First, they need to be large enough to allow sufficient root development relative to the top growth and to anchor the tree when the wind blows. Even the smallest trees (except perhaps the smallest dwarf conifers) should have pots of at least 20 inches across.