Ideal for making the most of small gardens or adding height to an otherwise one-dimensional space, a tree in a container can look positively ravishing if done right!
Perhaps you’re eyeing up an Olive Tree, but don’t quite have the space to grow one in a border, or maybe you’re lusting after a Japanese Maple for its eye-catching colours – either way, read on for handy tips and advice for your first container tree!
Which trees can grow in pots?
If you’re wondering which trees can grow in pots, you’ll be delighted to know that there are many! But, before we begin reeling off species, let’s talk about what to look for, and the vocabulary involved in choosing a tree for container planting.
Whether you’re walking round a garden centre or shopping on the internet, keep an eye out for the words ‘dwarfing’ or ‘dwarf’. A dwarf tree is one that has been intentionally grown to thrive in a compact environment, often on a rootstock that keeps it compact. Such dwarfs enjoy utilising limited space and often won’t need pruning to maintain their size. These types of trees are the perfect candidates for container life.
If you’re struggling to find ‘dwarf’ trees in your vicinity, you can also look out for the phrases ‘compact habit’ and ‘slow growing’, as trees with this description may also be suited to a container. Compact means they could last a lifetime in a pot, slow-growing might mean 10-15 years, either way you’ll enjoy them in their prime!
Earlier this month, I reached out on Twitter to find out which trees you preferred for container planting:
Which TREES would you recommend for pots ? pic.twitter.com/QslFryByPh
— Michael Perry Mr Plant Geek® (@mr_plantgeek) February 11, 2020
The response was fantastic! Here are some of your top choices.
Acer (Japanese Maple)
A container favourite, the colourful Acer tree is superbly slow-growing and makes a great focal point in any garden. And I mean ‘any’! This is a beautiful tree which adores moist soil and a little bit of shade. However, it can get a little upset if forced to endure windy conditions – its foliage is delicate, which is all part of its loveliness!
Prunus mume (Japanese Apricot)
Want that spring blossom look but don’t have the room for a full-on Cherry Tree? Try Prunus mume instead. This deciduous tree begins flowering in mid-to-late winter, and its impressive blooms are the reason why it’s the subject of many works of art! Beni-chidori is a popular variety which suits container life well. In terms of pruning, you can either leave your tree to its own devices, or prune it for the first couple of years of its life to manipulate its habit.
Olive Trees are incredibly popular for container planting. They’re hugely adaptable and they’re also drought tolerant, which makes them ideal for planting in a pot. They prefer well-draining soil and are best suited to a position where they receive at least six hours of sunlight per day. Unless your garden is very sheltered or you live in a warm, dry climate, you will probably need to bring your olive tree inside during the winter, as they don’t like the cold. To grow fruit on your olive tree, keep up with regular watering in summer and feed every month with a balanced liquid fertiliser such as Phostrogen.
Hint: lots of fruit trees grow really well in pots, included the beloved apple tree! If you love the idea of growing apples in your garden, The Middle-Sized Garden blog has a great post about how to achieve this in a relatively small space.
Love the conifer look? Believe it or not, you can grow one in a container! Thuja occidentalis ‘Totem Smaragd’ is regularly grown as an ornamental tree, and it looks just great in pots. It’s evergreen, which means that you’ll get fantastic colour in your pots all year round. Grow in full sun in moist but well-drained soil for a thriving Thuja.
How to care for trees in containers
- Use a good soil-based compost, such as John Innes. This will make your tree happier than a multi-purpose compost might.
- Also, remember that container trees can dry out quicker than trees that are planted in the ground. Therefore, regular watering is essential to maintain health. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to water more or less frequently (more for a smaller pot, less for a larger one).
- Each spring, give your container tree a new lease of life by adding a fresh layer of compost. Remove around two inches of soil, before replacing with fresh compost, so that your tree can get a boost of nutrients.
- Regularly prune dead, damaged or diseased branches to keep the tree healthy, then you can starting pruning for shape and size.
What’s your favourite container tree? Let me know in the comments below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.