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Trees in Containers – Perfect for the Smaller Garden. Part 2

October 30, 2017

Written by Dave G.

When we started talking about growing trees in pots and planters, there was so much to say about choosing a container, soil, planting and pruning, that we never got around to looking at the kinds of trees that are suitable for this. So now we are going to do that – take a look at the kinds of trees that grow well in pots and planters, and that can be sustained for many years, growing more and more attractive as they mature.

Although many gardeners grow evergreens and bushes in containers, and create beautiful planters with balls of boxwood, or pyramids of yew or cedar, that is not the kind of trees we are thinking about here. Instead, we are looking at how to have plants that actually look like trees, with a trunk and branches, growing in a pot. Not so small that they would be seen as bonsai, but of a substantial size, making an attractive feature in the garden. This is especially useful for smaller gardens, and even more so if you have a courtyard or a terrace, where it is impossible to plant a tree, and where most trees would grow too large for the space. There is one other great thing about trees in pots. If you move to a new house, you can take your tree with you – a completely portable garden.

What Trees Not to Grow in a Pot

Let’s start by thinking about what we don’t want, which will then leave us pretty wide open to choosing what we do. Here are so,e undesirable features in trees that would make them bad candidates for growing in pots or containers.

Suitable Trees for Growing in Pots and Planters

Let’s now take a look at some trees that are top choices for pot and container growing.

Whatever trees you choose, prune early to develop an attractive, scar-free trunk, and do some summer trimming to build a mature, rounded crown. Your tree in a pot or planter will be a joy all year, and it takes a whole lot less work than you imagined.

Comments 6 comments

  1. April 4, 2020 by Cathy Harms

    Which boxwoods would do well in Zone 5 in a planter??

    1. April 5, 2020 by Dave G

      That’s a bit tricky, because ideally you need to add 2 zones to grow a plant above ground all winter. So you would theoretically need something hardy for zone 3. However Korean boxwood of one form or another – depending on your goal (round or cone?) should work – so any of our plants labelled for zone 4. If you can bury the whole planter in the garden, or slide out the soil and bush, and plant it in a temporary hole, that would be best of all. Then you could grow a zone 5 boxwood.

  2. May 19, 2020 by Mark C

    You need to protect your potted plants in the winter. I store my crimson queen japanese maple in the garage before the first frost and pull it out again after the last frost in the spring. It needs pruning along with trimming the roots every several years.

    1. May 20, 2020 by Dave G

      You do – there is a blog on this elsewhere on the site. You need to allow at least one ‘extra’ zone hardiness, and preferably 2, if you are leaving pots outdoors all winter. So a zone 5 plant should only be in a pot in zone 7, or maybe zone 6. You are right about storing deciduous trees in a cool place, but if it isn’t below 40 for an extended time then the dormancy requirement may not be met, and the trees won’t come back, or perform badly. Thanks for bringing this up. Likewise the root trimming trick for keeping trees in pots for extended periods. It also what bonsai growers do.

  3. June 14, 2020 by Jojo

    Hello there and thank you for all of this amazing, informative education. What type of pine trees can be grown in a pot. I potted two 3 gallon dwarf Albe spruce and they look great so far. I my friends storefront needs some curb appeal. She said she wanted potted pine trees as well, for yearly interest. She bought huge containers and the 3 gallon dwarf spruces look too tiny. Is there a slightly bigger option of tree you suggest in this style? Slow growing, that is container appropriate?
    Also, a part shade option
    Thank you 🐝

    1. June 14, 2020 by Dave G

      All pines will grow in pots – look at the 400 year old bonsai trees that have lived in a tiny pot their whole life, although of course they are root pruned every few years (which can be done with any potted tree, during their dormant season). Obviously for what you want you want something more compact – if you look at our selection of ‘Dwarf Evergreens’ you will see several in different sizes. You might want to consider those grafted onto a trunk, which immediately gives them more height, and if it doesn’t have to be a pine, then you can grow just about anything, allowing for winter hardiness, depending where you are.