Updated Dec 2, 2022
Do you need to add a focal point to your small garden or outdoor patio area? If so, container gardening is your perfect solution.
Container gardening is a fantastic way for people to adorn their homes with plants, even if space is limited, the soil is poor, or the climate is unpredictable. Best yet, you don’t have to stick to just flowers and foliage for container planting; many tree species can grow and thrive in containers with the proper care.
Growing trees in pots is an excellent way to spruce up your outdoor space. These plants are portable and easy to repot, making them a great solution for on-the-move homeowners, too.
If you’re seeking a whole new way to grow trees in and around your home, this article is for you. We’ll discuss 10 types of trees that grow well in containers, along with the care and ideal conditions they need to produce potted perfection.
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are diverse deciduous trees in countless hybrid varieties. They have dark gray trunks that fork off into multiple sections, producing lovely bright green or red leaves. During the fall, Japanese maple leaves change to yellow, orange, and deep red, making them a wonderful choice for an autumn garden.
Japanese maples require partial shade and cool, moist potting soil to flourish. Their roots don’t tolerate freezing temperatures, so they’ll need winter protection when grown in containers. During especially cold or dry seasons, support your Japanese maple by insulating its container or relocating it to a sheltered location.
Consider adding a Japanese maple bonsai to your garden for a stunning focal point. Bonsai is a Japanese art form that involves cultivating trees as miniature specimens. Bonsai gardening takes extra effort for pruning, watering, and fertilizing, but it’s an excellent hobby to try.
This video guide from Bonsai Empire explains how to care for a Japanese maple in your home garden:
Fiddle leaf figs (Ficus lyrata) are small tropical trees with large, broad leaves. They’re especially popular as houseplants for their chic appearance and eye-catching greenery.
Fiddle leaf fig trees grow best in containers with rich, well-draining soil. For the best results, place your plant in an area with indirect sunlight, away from the sun’s brightest afternoon rays. Water the plant deeply, allowing moisture to drip from the drainage holes. Then, wait until the soil has dried an inch deep before watering again.
Check the pot regularly to ensure the tree isn’t outgrowing it. Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle suggests looking for roots growing out of the drainage holes or gently lifting the plant to see if the roots have become crowded. If you find either of these signs of outgrowth, consider repotting your fiddle leaf fig into a larger container. You’ll likely need to repot your tree every couple of years.
Fruit trees are rewarding specimens for container gardening. Apple trees (Malus pumila) are a popular choice that produce lovely foliage and delicious fruit. They prefer large pots, plenty of water, and a rich, loam soil mix. Place them in full sunlight during the growing season and watch them sprout numerous leaves and juicy apples.
Before starting a home orchard, note that fruit trees require dwarfing rootstocks to grow successfully in containers. A rootstock is a rhizomatous root material onto which a scion – the flowering part of the tree – is grafted. Without a rootstock with dwarfing capabilities, the trees will become too vigorous and outgrow their pots.
Scientific jargon aside, the main thing to know is that you’ll need a specific apple tree variety for successful container growing. We suggest contacting a local garden center to find specimens suited for containers.
Olive trees (Olea europaea) are a wonderful choice for container gardens in warm areas. Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean region, so they thrive best in similar climates with hot summers and mild winters. Your olive tree will sprout gray-green leaves and white fragrant flowers in the right conditions. During the summer, the flowers will produce olives that ripen to a dark purplish color.
Set your potted olive tree up for success by keeping it in a container with drainage holes and ample aeration around the base. Ensure the best drainage by filling the bottom portion of the pot with gravel. Your potted tree will need more water than a planted one, so remember to provide plenty – especially during dry seasons. Lastly, keep the tree in a relatively large container but prune the roots yearly to prevent crowding. With enough room to “breathe,” your olive plant can live nearly a decade in its container.
Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) are a slow-growing Mediterranean species prized for their aromatic leaves. While bay foliage is used worldwide for culinary purposes, it’s also a great ornamental container plant. You’ll love a bay tree’s leathery, dark green foliage decorating your landscape.
Bay trees grow well as houseplants when kept near bright natural lighting. The plant needs frequent watering yet good drainage, so choose a pot with many holes in its base. The University of Florida Extension suggests feeding your bay tree a slow-release fertilizer during the growing season to sustain growth. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers if you plan to use the leaves for cooking; too much of the chemical can produce flavorless foliage.
When grown in the garden, bay trees make beautiful topiary plants. Once your tree has reached its mature size, consider pruning it into an ornamental shape for the ultimate garden focal point.
Star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) are small trees native to the Japanese island of Honshu. Most magnolia trees are too big for container planting and will outgrow their pots as they mature. Luckily for gardeners with small spaces, the star magnolia is a compact cultivar perfect for potting.
Star magnolias generally grow into shrub-like plants with multiple stems and dense foliage. Many gardeners prune the bottom half of potted specimens to reveal the trunk, giving the plant a traditional tree-like form that looks great in containers.
These flowering trees need full sun and a rich potting mix to flourish. A slightly alkaline loam or clay mixture will do if you aren’t using traditional potting soil for your magnolia. With the right care and growing conditions, your starry magnolia tree will burst into bloom in the early spring, producing white, star-shaped flowers.
Citrus trees are excellent container plants for various home gardens. Perhaps the easiest citrus plant to grow is the lemon tree (Citrus limon), an herbaceous perennial that produces the popular yellow garnish. Choosing a dwarf variety is your best bet for growing your lemon tree as a manageable houseplant or potted ornamental. We suggest starting with a dwarf Meyer lemon tree, a low-maintenance variety perfect for beginners.
Meyer lemons need a large pot with a rich, well-draining soil mix. Adding fertilizer during the growing season can encourage better fruit yield. The PennState Extension suggests moving your lemon tree containers indoors for the winter, as these plants are only hardy to about 20°F. Place the plant by a window to ensure it gets as much bright sunlight as possible.
In this video guide, John Anga from Anga’s Farm and Nursery provides tips for growing and maintaining citrus trees:
Dwarf conifers are lovely container trees that grace your garden with year-round beauty. The dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo) is a great choice for small gardens because of its compact growth habit and attractiveness to pollinators. The tree grows best in climates with cool summers and is cold-tolerant down to USDA hardiness zone 2.
Regardless of the species, your conifer tree will need well-draining soil and bright, consistent sunlight. Water the plant regularly and deeply, ensuring the soil never dries completely.
The New York Botanical Garden suggests planting your tree in a sturdy wood or terracotta pot. A stable container lessens the risk of the dwarf conifer toppling over when it reaches a mature size of about 6 feet tall. As the plant grows, improve its stability and health by selecting a container 4 to 6 inches wider than the root ball. If you live in an especially windy area, fill the bottom of the tree’s container with heavy stones to keep it anchored to the ground.
Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are deciduous trees popular in the Southern United States. They produce bold, billowy blooms in pink, red, and purple hues that bring visual appeal to any garden space. Luckily for beginner gardeners, these popular trees are low-maintenance options for container gardening. Simply give your crepe myrtle the right conditions and care, and it will sprout lovely flowers all summer.
The easiest way to grow a crepe myrtle in a pot is to purchase a mature tree from a nursery or garden center. Fill a container with a well-draining potting mix, placing heavy rocks or brick pieces at the bottom for added stability. We recommended planting your crepe myrtle in a container 6 to 8 inches wider than the tree’s root ball to allow room for root growth. This guide from Wilson Bros Gardens provides more helpful tips for crepe myrtle container planting.
Grow a banana tree (Musaceae) in a container to bring a slice of paradise into your small garden space. Banana trees have expansive root systems, so you’ll need a large planter at least 18 to 24 inches wide and just as deep. Like other container trees, a dwarf variety banana tree will yield the best results.
If you live in a tropical-like climate, your banana tree will be relatively low-maintenance. While the tree is young, shade its leaves from the blinding afternoon sun to prevent scorching. After the plant reaches maturity, it will do well in full sunlight, heat, and high humidity. Banana trees need consistent moisture during the growing season from spring to summer. Water the tree regularly, ensuring it has a rich, well-draining soil mix containing organic matter and sand.
We hope this article inspires you to start your very own container garden full of beautiful potted trees. Numerous species are available for potting, each with unique qualities and functions. Cooks can select herbaceous plants like the bay tree for homegrown ingredients. Fruit lovers can grow juicy apples right in their own backyards. With a container-grown tree in your home landscape, you’ll have a portable focal point for all to enjoy.
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