Definitive Guide To Growing Trees In Pots | Plus Best Trees For Planters!

Growing plants in containers is an easy way to add color, texture and size to your outdoor garden. Trees offer a sense of calm, beauty and wilderness to every landscape. They can be used as part of the background or focal point of any garden design, either large or small.

Jay Scotts Montroy Planters // Reveal Design

Containers come in different varieties: concrete, plastic, resin or clay pots are all excellent choices. Each type brings to the table different benefits. Choosing the right container is going to be just as important as choosing the right

Choosing which trees to grow in containers is not as simple as it sounds. There are many factors to consider before deciding on the tree that’s right for you.

What are some benefits of planting trees in containers?

There are many different reasons why you may want to do container planting instead of ground planting.

First, with container planting, you can take your trees inside during the winter to shelter them from frost, or during the summer to protect them from really hot weather. You can even take them with you when you move to a new house!

Second, it’s also handy to have a container-grown tree for decorating patios and decks, creating more usable outdoor spaces, and adding color, order, and texture to your garden.

small tree in pot
Small tree in pot @ Sigmund on Unsplash

Can you grow large trees in containers?

Yes, not just small trees, you can grow larger trees in containers too. A potted tree must be watered and fertilized more frequently than those planted directly in the ground, but they will thrive for many years if given proper care.

You can check out how large planters and greenery have helped to create a more visually appealing pool area in one of our projects

The Gates South Beach – Geomantic Designs

The pool area is often the first thing that guests see when they arrive, and the client wanted it to make a good impression. They needed planters and greenery that would make the hotel's pool area more inviting and attractive whilst also being able to tolerate being in close proximity to chlorinated water.

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large tree planters on driveway
Large tree planters on driveway @ Taylor Made Planters

What types of trees grow well in containers?

There are hundreds of species that grow well in containers. Here is a list of

1. Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’)

A dwarf evergreen tree is known for its dense flurry foliage and conical growing shape. It grows to a height of 4-13 feet tall with a width of 3 feet. It is slow-growing and is commonly used as a Christmas tree in winter. This dwarf tree grows fine in a pot and prefers cold winters and mild summers.

Picea glauca 'Conica'
Picea glauca ‘Conica’ @ Meindert van der Haven / Getty Images

2. Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)

This is known for being one of the fastest growers among pine trees, which makes it perfect if your goal is to create a hedge or shade. It has bluish-green needles and grows at an average rate of 1 foot per year. The height of the loblolly pine is 25-30 feet and its width is 10-15 feet.

Pinus taeda
Pinus taeda @ LindasPhotography / Getty Images

3. Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)

This beautiful tree has purple foliage in spring and shows off brilliant pink blooms in early summer, followed by heart-shaped seed pods in fall. Native to North America, the Eastern redbud is frost resistant and grows well in zones around 6b.

Eastern Redbud
Eastern redbud @

4. Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo ‘Mughus’)

This is a slow-growing evergreen conifer with short green needles and covered with white dots, which give it an interesting appearance. It grows to a height of 5 feet and a width of 10 feet. This dwarf variety is slow-growing and takes about 10 years to reach a mature size.

Dwarf Mugo Pine
Dwarf mugo pine tree for sale @ The Tree Center

5. Blue Spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca’)

This evergreen conifer is well-known for its short dark green needles and silvery-blue color that makes it a gorgeous addition to any landscape. It grows up to 30 feet high with a width of 15 feet and is perfect for USDA zones 1 to 7.

Picea pungens 'Glauca'
Picea pungens ‘Glauca’ @ Internet

6. Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica)

Native to China, this evergreen shrub has green foliage throughout the year and pink flowers in late spring. It is tolerant of full sun, partial shade and can survive drought conditions. It grows 5-7 feet high with an equal spread and is absolutely stunning when used for decor and landscaping. The Indian Hawthorn prefers USDA regions of 8 to 11.

Indian Hawthorn
Rhaphiolepis indica @ TY Nursery

7. Dwarf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Depending on the cultivar, a dwarf Japanese maple can mature at about 6-8 feet. In general, the dwarf variety is one of the most spectacular trees with leaves of jaw-dropping red and profuse branching. They are great for adding the wow factor to your container garden.

Dwarf Japanese Maple
Red dwarf Japanese Maple @ Internet

8. Orange tree (Citrus sinensis)

For something more exotic, try an orange tree. There are many fruit trees you can grow outside, but nothing is juicier than an orange tree. As long as basic care requirements are met, such as water and light, they are relatively easy to care for. Though they aren’t frost resistant, you can always bring them inside during the winter.

citrus sinensis
Citrus sinensis in containers @ Internet

What small trees grow well in pots?

There are many trees that are small enough to grow in small gardens or even indoors. Most dwarf varieties of common outdoor trees are well suited to grow indoors. Some other popular favorites include:

  • Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata)
  • Yucca (Yucca elephantipes)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Calamondin Orange Tree (Citrus mitis)
  • Jade Plant (Crassula argentea)
  • Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
  • Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)
  • Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamin)

Palm trees are a fan favorite, and a personal favorite too. Check out why in our full guide on Indoor and outdoor palm tree landscaping.

Jade Plant
Jade plant in container @ lillisphotography / Getty Images Signature

What are the best-potted trees for privacy?

The best containerized trees for privacy are those that grow tall and have dense bushy foliage. They block the view of your home from neighbors and passersby, giving you a serene outdoor oasis to relax in. The most common are:

  • Leyland Cypress Tree.
  • Emerald Green Arborvitae.
  • Flowering Dogwood Tree.
  • Thuja Green Giant.
Emerald Green Arborvitae
Emerald Green Arborvitae @ This Old House

How tall can trees grow in containers?

There are many different types of container-grown trees, and just because you grow trees in pots doesn’t mean your tree won’t get very tall. In fact, a well-cared-for tree can grow naturally to reach its full height potential.

Though growing trees in a container can limit its growth. As the roots grow they will run out of space and become root-bound or ‘pot bound’. This will stunt the tree’s growth to a certain extent.

Another technique is root pruning. This is usually done to limit the mature size of your tree and produce smaller trees. For root pruning, gently pull the plant out of the soil and use a sharp knife to trim the roots and replace in the existing pot.

If you are after a tall tree, large pots are said to encourage up to 40% more growth! So, it’s important to choose a container that is able to accommodate both the growing tree and its tree roots.

root pruning
Root pruning @ v_zaitsev / Getty Images

Maintenance tips for growing trees in planters

What are some rules I need to follow when watering my potted trees?

The amount of water that your container-grown trees need will depend on many different factors, such as whether or not it’s in direct sunlight, wind conditions and temperature. As a general rule, though, you should water your plants thoroughly when the soil is completely dry.

watering a tree
Water line down the tree in the pot @ winyoo08 / Getty Images

How should I fertilize my potted plants?

Fertilizer is important for the growth of plants as tree roots absorb the missing nutrients from the existing soil. The easiest way to go about fertilizing containerized plants is by preparing a nutrient solution and pouring it over the soil mix.

Once you’ve selected a fertilizer (make sure you use an organic one!), you’ll need to apply it about once every two weeks for container-grown plants.

Warning: Young trees are quite vulnerable when it comes to fertilizing and chemicals, so make sure you do it at their peak growing cycle – usually in spring.

fertilizing potted rhododendron with granulated fertilizer
Fertilizing potted rhododendron with granulated fertilizer @ ronstik / Getty Images

What is the best type of fertilizer for container-grown trees?

Container-grown trees should be supplied with an annually added slowly released fertiliser.

It’s important to choose a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus, which stimulates root development. There are many different types of container-grown tree fertilizers available at your local garden center, but there are also organic alternatives available that are much safer for your plants, yourself, and your family.

How do you prepare fiberglass and plastic containers for planting trees?

1. The first thing you need to do is clean out the plastic pots and remove any stickers or labels. If there are any cracks, it’s time for a new planter since those will only get bigger as your tree grows.

2. Fill the bottom of the container with enough potting soil that it is three inches below where your tree will sit.

3. Remove your tree out of its current container, gently shaking off the loose soil. Make a hole in the center of the potting mix that’s about 2 inches deep. Place your tree into this hole and fill in around it with more dirt until the roots are completely covered.

4. Water deeply to help settle all of the soil. You don’t want loose dirt because the roots may grow up and out of the soil, then you’ll have to re-pot it.

5. Add a thin layer of mulch around the top of the planter to help retain water and prevent weeds from growing in your container garden.

Use the right soil for your container tree

The care for a container-grew tree is different from a tree planted in the land. They are more susceptible to drying out and need regular and thorough watering.

Regular soils may not drain well in containers and are prone to weeds, insects and diseases. Instead use a soil mix of compost, sand, and perlite. Refresh soil each spring by removing loose, dry top soil and replacing it with fresh compost-enriched soil.

gardening scoop and soil
Gardening scoop and soil @ Free-Photos / pixabay

Where do I put trees in pots if they are going to be outside?

The best place to plant container-grown trees is in a sunny location that gets around 6 hours of sun a day. Also consider if you want your tree as privacy barrier or for shade, or simply just for decoration.

How big should my planter 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.

If you are planting multiple trees in the same container, then they should have at least 4 feet of space between them.

Jay Scotts fiberglass containers in different sizes @ Jay Scotts

How long can a tree live in a container?

Trees can live in a container for as long as they are healthy and happy. If you follow the proper steps to ensure your tree’s health, it could stay in the same pot for 20 years or more.

Container-grown trees aren’t meant to be grown forever, though some types of trees may outlive their planters. This is why it’s a good idea to have a plan to re-pot your tree every few years. Making this switch will allow your container trees to grow taller and stronger, so you’ll get more out of them before it’s time to say goodbye.

Weather to watch out for

The heat from the pavement can rapidly cause the soil in containers on the road to get excessively warm, burning the roots and drying the soil. Windy conditions can also dry containers even in a protected area.

In colder areas, consider buying a tree that is frost-resistant, or bring your tree inside during harsh winters. Make sure your pot has good drainage holes. If there is excess water in the pot, it can freeze and cause damage to the tree’s root system.

What are the best containers for trees?

The best pots for trees are the ones that are strong and durable enough to be outside in the elements for years and still look great. Clay pots are heavy and more sturdy while lightweight plastic pots are not able to withstand windy conditions.

Our planters, however, do just the job. They are made of heavy-duty fiberglass resin that’s weatherproof, fade-resistant, and don’t rust because they are made of fiberglass!

Tree in fiberglass planter @ Jay Scotts

With these handy tips, buying guide, and planter cheatsheet, you’ll be ready to grow your very own miniature forest within no time. If commercial gardening is your thing, take a look at our large container guide to landscaping.

Or, if you are ready to get stuck into container gardening with trees, it’s time to check out our product range.

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