Growing Trees & Shrubs in Containers

Just about any plant can be grown in a container, and that goes for trees and shrubs. Growing them in containers allows you to change the look of your entire landscape just by moving a few pots.

Plants Suited to Containers

Plant a small shrub, such as boxwood, Japanese holly or dwarf spruce in the center of a pot as a backdrop for flowering bulbs or annuals. Many dwarf evergreens, azaleas, or rhododendrons are perfectly happy being confined to a pot for years and will look nice all winter, long after the flowers are gone. A note of caution for northern climates: a hard freeze may burst a clay or pottery pot filled with wet soil. Pots will also freeze and thaw more quickly than a regular garden location.

Choosing the Container

Containers should suit the scale of your home, and they should be light enough to move easily. They should be made of material that will not rot, will hold soil, and allow for adequate drainage. The container should be about 1/3 the height or 1/4 the width of the plant. Plants grown in containers need to be protected from icy winds in winter and watered and fertilized more frequently during the hot summer.

Planting Container-Grown Trees

For best results, do not use common backyard soil in your container garden. Use soil specially formulated for containers. If you give your plants at least 10 inches of soil, you can fill the bottom half of the pot with drainage material.

  1. Thoroughly moisten the soil in the container.
  2. Remove the container the nursery used, cutting it away if necessary.
  3. Gently loosen the roots with your fingers or a fork to encourage them to grow into the surrounding soil. Remove the old soil from around the roots.
  4. Trim off any broken or damaged roots.
  5. Place soil in the bottom of the container as needed to align the top of the roots with the soil line (which should be a couple inches below the top of the pot). Place the tree in the soil-lined pot and fill in remaining area with soil.
  6. Water until the soil in the pot is thoroughly soaked.

For step-by-step direction on planting a tree, refer to our project for planting trees.

Container Care

Plants grown in containers require more plant food and more water than plants grown in the ground. The root systems of potted plants can’t go searching for more water or more food. Keep in mind that it is easier to care for a few big pots than it is to care for several small ones. Place two matching pots on either side of the front door for a formal look. Line the driveway or walk with pots. Wherever you decide to put your container gardens, keep them close to where you will be able to enjoy them and see them often. And, if you move, take them with you!