Planting Trees in Pots: Basic Knowledge For Gardeners

If you have a very small yard or even no yard at all, you can still plant and grow trees. Planting trees in pots, or containers is a popular way to adorn entryways and to provide focal points in small yards, and on decks and patios.

I have found that growing trees in containers takes some effort and is challenging at times, but the rewards are well worth it. When you succeed in planting trees in pots, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of trees from buds to autumn foliage. You can even grow trees in pots to produce a little tasty fruit.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Growing Trees in Pots

Growing trees in pots give those with little space the chance to enjoy the beauty of trees and watch the cycle of life from season to season. Trees in containers can dress up a patio and compliment flowering plants.

As with all plants, different varieties of trees tolerate the elements of the outdoors in different ways. Some container-friendly trees are not hardy enough to withstand heavy wind or salt stay. You must take care to select trees for planting in containers that can withstand extreme weather.

planting trees in pots
Growing Trees in Pots

Trees in colder climates will have to be moved to a protected area in the winter unless you live in a mild climate. The roots of the tree are the most cold-sensitive part of the tree. Trees growing in the ground get extra protection from all the soil. The soil of trees in containers will freeze much faster, causing the roots to freeze. Consequently, the roots will not be able to absorb water and the tree will die.

The roots of trees in containers grow near the edges making them more vulnerable to freezing temperatures. You may need to wrap the container with a material like hessian or bubble wrap and secure it with twine.

planting trees in pots
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Growing Trees in Pots

You will need to pay special attention to the watering of trees planted in containers. I have found that they dry out much more quickly than trees planted in the ground. The soil must be kept moist constantly without being too wet. Trees in containers may have overhanging foliage that keeps the compost from getting some of the moisture from rainfall.

If you don’t use a large enough container, in the beginning, you will need to repot your tree every year or so into a larger pot. Repot the tree until it stops growing.

Considerations for Planting Trees in Pots

1. Choosing containers

Choose containers for your trees that compliment the style of your garden, patio, or deck. Make sure it is large enough to house the tree’s root ball. Rather than planting a small tree in a very large container, plan on re-potting the tree in stages. Finish with a final container size of about 18 inches (45 cm).

Plant vs Pots size

A terracotta pot is heavy and can provide extra stability to your tree making it less likely to blow over in the case of strong wind. They are also frost-proof. But because these types of posts are very porous, the soil will dry out faster. They are also more difficult to move around.

If you anticipate having to move your tree around, lighter-weight plastic may be a better choice. Plastic is also good for retaining moisture. Stone, metal, or wooden pots may also be a good choice based on the style of your patio or garden.

2. Compost

I have found that trees thrive in a loam-based compost that is fairly heavy and provides good stability. It is a good idea to add some rocks or shards of old broken terracotta pots to keep the soil from washing out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container.


You can give your trees a boost by replenishing the top layer of compost each spring. Scrape away about 2 inches (5 cm)of the topsoil and replace it with fresh compost.

Your container tree will totally rely on you for both water and nutrients. Feed the tree once a month with a water-based fertilizer. Another option is to use a slow-release fertilizer once every three months. In hot weather, you will need to water even drought tolerant trees at least once a day, and maybe twice.

Trees that Should or Should Not Be Planted in Containers

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. Some examples are Eucalyptus, Eastern redbuds, and some willow varieties.

The best trees to grow in containers, especially if you are a beginner, are small, slow-growing trees with compact root systems. Stay away from varieties that drop a lot of leaves, seeds, or messy fruits during the growing season. Otherwise, you may get frustrated with a messy deck or patio.

Trees that Should or Should Not Be Planted in Containers
Trees that Should or Should Not Be Planted in Containers

The easiest types of trees to grow in containers are dwarf fruit trees and other dwarf varieties. Conifers such as evergreens need less food and nutrients than broad-leaf trees, and they adapt better to restricted root space. Bamboo trees grow fast and are great as privacy screens for balconies. Smaller varieties of palm trees also do great in containers.

If you have always wanted to grow fruit trees, there are several cultivars available that are quite suitable for growing in containers. If you would like to add some autumn color to your small yard or patio, the Japanese maple produces beautiful foliage.

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Olive, pomegranate, and citrus trees are good choices for growing in containers. They can be moved easily to a frost free place in winter and will produce fruit in milder regions.

In general, choosing a suitable tree to grow in your container is going to depend on its overall size, location, and growing requirements. If the size of a particular tree is on the small side at maturity, it is naturally going to be a better candidate for growing in a container. If you want your container tree to stay in a permanent location consider size, year-round appearance, and maintenance requirements.

Growing trees in containers can be a very rewarding experience. It is well worth gaining the knowledge required and putting forth the extra effort needed to make growing container trees successful.

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