17 Best Trees to Grow in Pots with Ease

Published On: Jan 15, 2024

For those who love plants but don't have extensive outdoor space, growing trees in pots can be a satisfying gardening solution. Container trees bring many of the same pleasures as growing them in the ground - lovely foliage, flowers, interesting bark, and fall colour - without taking over the yard. The key is choosing the right trees that can thrive with restricted root room.

When selecting trees for pots, it’s important to consider mature size, growth rate, sunlight needs, and other factors to ensure they will work well in a container environment. Small, slow-growing varieties are best suited for pot culture, so they don’t quickly become root-bound. There are many great options among both evergreen and deciduous trees that fit the bill.

Read on for a list of 17 of the best trees you can successfully grow in pots to add visual interest and greenery to patios, decks, and other garden spaces. With the right planting methods and care, these container trees will flourish for years to come.

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple - Trees for Pots

The Japanese maple boasts a graceful form and striking fall foliage. Choose dwarf cultivars like ‘Shaina’ or ‘Tamukeyama’ that grow only 6-8 feet tall. Japanese maples come in green or red-leaved varieties with delicate leaf shapes that flutter attractively with the slightest breeze.

Shelter the tree from strong wind, which can damage the shallow roots and branches. Situate in part shade for best growth and colour. Amend soil with organic matter to retain moisture.

Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle - Trees for Containers

For spectacular summer blooms, the crape myrtle excels. The tree explodes with huge panicles of flowers in shades of white, pink, red or purple from mid-summer into fall. It also features attractive peeling bark and makes an excellent patio focal point.

Select miniature crape myrtle cultivars under 5 feet tall for container growing like ‘Acoma’, ‘Choctaw’, or ‘Delta Jazz’. Grow in full sun and provide supplemental water in hot weather.

Eastern Redbud

Eastern Redbud - Small Trees For Containers

The eastern redbud is prized for its prolific light pink spring flowers that emerge right on the branches and trunk. The compact, weeping variety 'Ruby Falls' has rose-purple blooms and is perfect for pots, growing to just 6 feet tall and wide. The lush heart-shaped leaves turn buttery yellow in fall. Situate in part shade or afternoon shade in hot climates. Use well-drained soil amended with compost.

Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia - Trees For Pots

Another profuse spring bloomer for containers is the star magnolia. It flowers early before the leaves emerge, with tulip-like white and pink blossoms decorating its picturesque branches. Mature size is 15-20 feet but can be kept smaller with pruning. Try growing the cultivar 'Royal Star' in patio pots. Star magnolias thrive in part shade and moist, acidic soil. Shelter from strong wind.

Amur Maple

Amur Maple - Small Trees For Pots

The Amur maple packs a lot of visual punch into a compact package. Its leaves emerge with a reddish tint in spring, then turn brilliant shades of red and orange in fall. Mature height is just 15-20 feet, making it well-suited for large patio containers. Amur maple can handle full sun but does best with some afternoon shade. Provide consistent water and protect from severe wind, which can scorch leaves and damage branches. Prune in late winter to maintain desired size and shape.

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood - Potted Fruit Trees

The flowering dogwood should be better known for its container adaptability beyond its native woodland habitat. This elegant small tree flowers in early spring before leafing out, with white or pink bracts surrounding the tiny clustered blooms. The red fall foliage is an added bonus.

Seek out dwarf dogwood cultivars like 'Cherokee Princess,' 'Jean's Appalachian Snow', or 'Scarlet Fire,' which reach just 6-8 feet at maturity. Dogwoods grow best in part shade with consistent moisture. Use an acidic potting mix and provide afternoon shade in hot southern climates.

Saucer Magnolia

Saucer Magnolia - Trees For Pots

Give the saucer magnolia a try in patio pots for its early, abundant flowers. Blooming occurs in late winter or early spring before leaves emerge, with cup-shaped white or pinkish blooms lighting up bare branches.
Compact cultivars such as 'Jane,' 'Butterflies', and 'Peach Delight' grow only 8-10 feet tall at maturity, which is ideal for container culture. Situate in full sun to part shade. Saucer magnolias require moist, acidic, organically enriched soil.

Strawberry Tree

Strawberry Tree- Trees For Containers

If unique foliage and fruit appeal to you, look no further than the strawberry tree. This versatile evergreen thrives in containers in zones 7-10, staying under 15 feet tall. The crinkly, oval leaves emerge reddish, then mature to green and provide great texture. Showy red fruits ornament the branches in fall. Strawberry trees relish part shade and need acidic, well-draining soil. Allow room for the shallow, spreading roots when potting.

Willow Leaf Pear

Willow Leaf Pear- Potted Fruit Trees

The tidy, narrow growth habit of willow leaf pear suits it well to accenting entries or other small garden areas in pots. This shapely small tree displays white spring flowers, glossy green summer leaves, and purple-red fall foliage. Mature height is just 15-25 feet. Select a cultivar like 'Capital' that is suited to container growing. Site in full sun for best flowering and fall colour. Well-drained soil is essential to prevent root rot.

Japanese Stewartia

Japanese Stewartia - Indoor Tree Pot

Finally, for billowing white blooms reminiscent of gardenia flowers, consider growing Japanese Stewartia. This exceptional small garden tree flowers in summer when little else is in bloom, its camellia-like blossoms brightening patio pots. Peak height is 20-30 feet but can be contained further by annual pruning. The exfoliating patchwork bark also adds winter interest. Stewertias demand well-drained acidic soil and afternoon shade, especially in southern zones. Shelter from wind is also advised.

Paperbark Maple

Paperbark Maple- Small Trees For Containers

The paperbark maple is prized in its native China and Korea for its handsome exfoliating bark, which peels away in cinnamon-red strips to reveal a fresh layer of light tan underneath. Fortunately, this beautiful feature can be enjoyed on a small scale, too, as compact cultivars of paperbark maple make outstanding container specimens topping out at just 15-20 feet tall.

Select a pruning-responsive variety like 'Red Fox' or 'Pacific Sunset' and situate your potted paperbark maple in full sun to promote the best fall colour in its foliage, which shifts from emerald green in summer to vibrant reddish-orange. The shallow roots require a wide container or occasional root pruning to thrive.

Hedge Maple

Hedge Maple- Trees For Pots

Also known as field maple, the hedge maple is a sturdy, adaptable small tree suitable for containers. It displays pretty reddish flowers in spring, leaves out in deep green through summer, and takes on lovely fall hues in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Responsive to pruning, the hedge maple can be maintained long-term at whatever size your patio allows, even down to classic bonsai proportions.

Miniature cultivars like 'Queen Elizabeth' have gracefully cut leaves and naturally compact growth, reaching just 4-6 feet tall when mature. Hedge maples grow well in full sun to partial shade and demand sharp drainage in pot culture'water thoroughly but don't allow roots to sit in moisture.

Seven Son Flower

Seven Son Flower- Trees For Containers

A surprising stunner of a spring bloomer for patio pots is the seven-son flower tree, also known by its botanical name, Heptacodium miconioides. This little Chinese native is cloaked in abundant, fragrant white flower clusters in late summer, followed by reddish-purple fall foliage and peelaway bark that provides winter interest.

The seven-son stays naturally compact, maturing at just 12-15 feet, making it an ideal container specimen. Site your potted seven-son tree in full sun to partial shade where its graceful arching form can shine. It requires moist but well-draining soil and shelter from strong wind.

Flowering Almond

Flowering Almond- Trees For Pots

Few flowering trees can match the flowering almond for early-season blossoms, beginning to bloom even in late winter while still leafless. Abundant pink or white flowers adorn its branches from February through April, with pretty foliage following after the petal show.

Compact varieties of flowering almonds like 'Pink Princess' and 'Sherry Lane Snow' fit beautifully in patio containers, topping out around 5-8 feet tall. They relish full sun exposure. In pots, take care not to overwater, as excess moisture is the primary sensitivity for these superb spring bloomers.

Fig Tree

Fig Tree- Small Trees For Pots

Beloved for its sweet fruit, ornamental qualities, and Mediterranean flair, the fig tree also adapts readily to containers. In fact, limiting root space with pruning and a pot is beneficial in keeping an aggressive fig contained to a compact size.

Dwarf cultivars like 'Little Miss Figgy' and μPetite Negri' are naturally small, maxing out around 5-8 feet tall at maturity. You'll need a fairly large pot and extremely sharp drainage to grow figs successfully over the long term. Site in full sun for best fruit production and prune roots and branches annually to regulate size.

Cherries/Plums

Cherries- Trees For Containers

For containers, fruit trees may seem counterintuitive, but dwarf and semidwarf cherry and plum trees are well adapted to pot culture.

Varieties grafted onto 'Gisela' rootstock generally remain under 8 feet tall with pruning. Their modest size and natural beauty make fruiting cherry/plum patio trees excellent candidates for accenting entries and other garden spots with spring blossoms and summer fruit. Aim for varieties rated for your growing zone. Provide at least a 25-gallon pot, fertile soil, full sun exposure, and annual root and branch pruning to maintain size and productivity.

Trident Maple

Trident Maple- Trees For Pots

Finally, the trident maple deserves respect as a rugged container specimen tree. Native to eastern Asia, it takes on exceptional fall colour in various combinations of scarlet, orange, and gold. Normal cultivars reach about 20 feet tall, but compact, densely-leafed varieties like 'Red Dragon' are better suited for patio pots, topping out around 12 feet with annual pruning.

The trident maple thrives in full sun or partial shade. Prune roots yearly to control size. Water when the top inch of soil dries and fertilises in early spring. Situate commercially grafted bonsai forms in outdoor sunlight and limit water to encourage intricate small-scale branching.

Final Thoughts

Growing small trees in containers is an extremely rewarding way to enjoy their beauty, even if you don’t have a large garden. The 17 varieties highlighted here are all excellent choices that can thrive with the right pot, soil, watering, and general care.

Focus on dwarf and compact trees that work well in restricted spaces when making selections. Match the tree’s sunlight and soil needs to the environment you can provide. With smart planting techniques and attentive maintenance, container trees can live long, healthy lives, enhancing your outdoor living area with their vibrant colours, distinctive forms, and lush greenery.

The possibilities are nearly endless, so choose one or more of these best-potted trees to grow and start enjoying their charm on your patio or deck. They offer an easy way to infuse any outdoor space with natural beauty.

Looking to bring more greenery into your outdoor living space with potted trees that thrive? The experts at Interior Company can help you cultivate gorgeous container gardens.

*Images used are for illustration purposes only. Interior Company does not hold any copyright to the images unless mentioned explicitly.

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    What are some good small trees for container gardening?

    Some top options are Japanese maples, dwarf crape myrtles, miniature fruit trees, certain dwarf spruce varieties, and compact redbud trees.

    What trees can be kept in pots permanently?

    Certain slow-growing, small-scale trees like Fukien tea trees, Japanese holly, star jasmine, and miniature olive trees can live their entire lifespans in containers. 

    How often should I water a potted tree?

    Potted trees need more frequent watering than in-ground trees, especially in summer heat. Check soil moisture daily and water container trees whenever the top inches become dry.

    What is the best potting soil for patio trees?

    Use a specialised container gardening mix made for trees and shrubs. These are lightweight, fast-draining, and contain nutrients vital for healthy containerised plants.  

    Should I fertilise my potted trees?

    Yes, container trees need regular feeding since they can’t access nutrients in open ground. Use a balanced liquid fertiliser every 2-4 weeks during the growing season. Slow-release granular fertiliser also works well.  

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