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10 of our favourite small trees for containers and pots
Last Updated on January 21, 2020 by John
If you are looking to plant small trees in your garden but you can only do so in containers or pots, rest assured there are many small trees for pots that are perfectly suited to your needs.
When picking small trees for pots you have to start by choosing the trees. After you have selected the trees you want you have to choose containers that are suitable for whatever style you have in your garden but also large enough to hold the root ball of the tree you want to grow.
Never put a small tree in a very large container but instead if you buy the small tree when it’s a couple of years old, pot it in stages and put it in containers that are slightly larger as it gets bigger until you reach the final container size you want, in general, the larger the pot the better. With each of these trees and their subsequent containers you need to make sure there are plenty of drainage holes. If you buy plastic or wood containers, for example, you can always drill extra drainage holes in the bottom to make sure your tree does not suffer from root rot.
Lighter-weight plastic materials are one of the better choices if you plan on moving your trees around and the plastic materials are better at moisture retention but they can become brittle so look for plastic pots made from quality materials. Metal pots, stone pots, and wood pots are equally viable but beware of the terracotta pots. Terracotta seems great in terms of providing extra stability especially if you live in an area with a lot of windy weather but the downside is that they are porous so the compost inside will dry out more quickly and they can be very heavy so moving them could be out of the question if you choose a very large pot. Remember to choose a wide pot for extra stability.
Acer Palmatum (Japanese maple)
This Japanese maple tree is best known for the stunning foliage that takes on reddish-purple to green colours depending on the variety. It’s quite tolerant of rabbits so if that is a pest you contend with currently, you won’t have to worry once you plant your Japanese maple.
This tree is grown in slightly acidic, moist, well-drained soil and prefers full sun and partial shade, if you choose one of the red varieties then ericaceous compost it though to improve the red colour. If possibly prefers dappled afternoon shade and be planted out of cold winds as this can burn the foliage. With too much direct sunlight in the afternoon, the new foliage can get also scorched.
This small tree will typically reach between 3 and 5 meters in height and spread which some varieties growing upright while others are more arching. It takes on a rounded form with low branches. The palmates have two lobes and in the middle of spring you will see small, reddish-purple flowers. Up close they are visually appealing but you can’t really see them from a distance so most of the appeal this plant has to offer is from the leaves. This tree is not susceptible to many insects or diseases so maintenance is incredibly simple but aphids can sometimes take a liking to young shoots.
Bay trees are small trees native to Mediterranean areas and you can keep them grown in containers effectively by pruning them so your home can embody a Mediterranean feel as well. Bay trees are slow to grow so they’re suitable for pot growing and make perfect trees for either side of a door as pictured. They have very attractive foliage which you can prune into the shape of a topiary so there’s a lot of options for you to grow them in pots all around your garden, around windows, next to door frames and more. In the springtime, you can enjoy small yellow flowers which eventually produce purple berries in the Autumn but they are often clipped off before flowering if trimmed to shape.
A very versatile tree it prefers well-draining soil but isn’t very particular beyond that. Place the container somewhere the plant will receive full sun or partial shade. The leaves are included regularly in stews, sauces, and soups so it makes an excellent kitchen plant. You can collect some of the dark green leaves and dry them out, using them either whole or crumbled for your cooking needs. Size-wise they can be pruned to any size but will grow very tall if needed.
Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’ (Pussy willow)
Taking on an umbrella shape, this tree is one with an exquisite, graceful form. The weeping shape as wonderful texture to any garden. Every Spring you can watch as the pussy willow buds start out in a rich yellow shade and then eventually fade to grey. If you want to enjoy texture and winter flower arrangements you can even cut those stems with their buds and integrate them in your home.
This tree grows at a moderate pace and as it reaches full maturity it can span upwards of 2.5 meters in height and 2 meters in spread. It requires regular watering in full sunlight. It grows in a weeping pattern which makes it great for all manner of landscape uses whether it’s an exceptional focal point, grown next to a water garden, or used as an accent piece for a romantic cottage Garden. What we will say is most are sold as standards which means the main plant has been grafted into another stem, this means they can be kept at the size you buy them, they will just bush our more while retaining the current height which is great if you don’t want a tree that grows too tall.
Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ (Mimosa tree)
The mimosa tree is a very fast-growing, deciduous option for your garden but what a stunning tree. As it grows it will produce an umbrella-shaped canopy that is dazzling and the fern-like leaves take on a bronze and green appearance. This foliage starts out at the end of spring with a bronze-green shade and by summertime turns to a rich chocolatey colour, hence the name. At the end of summer you will see the leaves adorned with small, pink blooms.
Requiring full sun and regular watering, this specimen tree is very heat tolerant so it’s ideal for hotter climates further down in the UK and gives the Mediterranean feel along a poolside, and does well with coastal exposure. At its full maturity, it will spend roughly 7 meters tall and 5 meters wide but in pots, it grows much smaller.
Prunus ‘Kiku-shidare-zakura’ (Cheals weeping cherry tree)
This deciduous tree is also known as a flowering cherry has arching branches that are graceful enough on their own but end up smothered with double, richly pink flowers which makes it all the more impressive. These blossoms span approximately 3.5 centimetres across and inside of each one you will find up to 125 small, elliptical petals. This is what creates the stunning, powder puff look. Along each branch, you will see clusters of blossoms that create a magnificent display.
The leaves begin in a bronze tone and as they reach maturity they take on a bright green shade in the summertime creating a dense canopy dappling everything underneath. When the leaves fall off the peeling, copper bark of the tree trunk is revealed throughout the winter guaranteeing that you have something aesthetically pleasing to enjoy no matter the season. Perfect trees for container and pots.
Arbutus unedo Tree (Strawberry tree)
The strawberry tree is a slow grower that does well in full sun or partial shade. It requires acidic soil so needs to be planted in a soil-based ericaceous compost such as John Innes. If you live in an area that is very windy, this is a wonderful plant to consider as the tree is very tolerant of wind and once it gets established it will tolerate drought to some degree but as with all trees grown in pots watering regularly is still needed. This ornamental tree is also considered evergreen because it gives foliage all year round. At its full maturity, it will reach a height between 3 and 6 meters and a spread of the same size. However, it is a very slow grower which makes it perfect for pots.
The tree blooms between October and December offering panicles of urn-shaped flowers when nothing much else is flowering and most trees have even dropped there leaves. These flowers can range from white to pink. Eventually, it produces red and orange drupes that start to ripen come Autumn as pictured above. You can eat these but they are commonly used for Liquors, wines, and preserves.
Salix integra ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’ Tree (Flamingo tree)
You won’t know where to look when you plant this tree with its bright, showy colours. it is very compact but it has variegated foliage that grows upward. In the springtime lanced shaped leaves start out pink and then take on shades of creamy white which put on a reel show and eventually green. In the Autumn they turn yellow and then fall to the ground revealing the bright, coral red stems below. The length of the branches remains that rich, coral red all year round. At its full maturity, it will reach approximately 4 to 6ft in height making it perfect or pots.
Magnolia ‘Susan’ Tree
For the smaller garden, this slow-growing tree offers fragrant purple flowers that take on a goblet shape and are quite large. It blooms in the springtime but can sporadically bloom thereafter. The foliage remains rich green in colour and come Autumn turns a golden yellow. This is a magnificent specimen tree to add to your garden.
It will grow in the form of a compact, upright shape and at full maturity span approximately 3 meters tall and anywhere between 2 and 4 meters wide. It prefers slightly acidic soil and loves full sun or partial shade. Magnolias are very adaptable to all manner of soil types so long as it is well-drained.
Laburnum alpinum ‘Pendulum’
This deciduous tree will lose the leaves come Autumn but every spring you can sit back and enjoy new foliage and the flowers are to die for. It loves full sun and well-drained soil. This particular tree unlike some of the others on this list is very fast growing and eventually will span upwards of 2 meters in height and spread if not taller, the good news is it can be controlled if grown in pots. It is a spreading tree that produces weeping branches. Each of the branches cascade away from the main, upright stem. This makes it great for larger patios or small pots in gardens. Famous for its golden-yellow flowers, it will seemingly drip off of the branches creating a very luminous effect in the springtime. This plant works best as a specimen tree because it doesn’t like to get overcrowded. It doesn’t require a lot of pruning but it well worth the extra work.
Bay Trees (Laurus nobilis)
This is a slender, conical tree that takes on a small shape and we have already looked at the topiary version. Again it has dark green foliage that is highly aromatic and can be used in culinary seasonings. It thrives in containers and once it gets established it’s very tolerant of drought. More importantly, you can cut and shape it into a topiary form or use it as a formal Hedge in troughs as pictured above.
Planting and Care
Once you have picked your small tree from this list make sure you know what type of compost is best. Most of these trees thrive in loam-based compost that gives it a heavy or stability so this means using a John Innes soil-based compost. Acid loving trees should use ericaceous compost which is very important.
Once you plant your small trees for pots they will dry out a lot faster compared to the trees you may or may not have grown in the ground so you need to accommodate that with regular waterings. You may require several waterings in order to make sure that all of the compost is properly moisten from top to bottom when you first plant them.
With small trees, the overhanging foliage sometimes blocks the compost from access to Natural rainfall so even if it’s a very wet season the compost could dry out if you don’t tend to it properly so always keep an eye on the watering. And every spring you should tend to your trees by adding a fresh layer of compost on top after you scrape away the top few inches of the old compost. When you add the new compost to your trees mix in some slow-release fertiliser on an annual basis.
If you have a very exposed garden you will need to protect your small trees during the winter and you can wrap them with material like hessian or frost fleece, this is especially trying for bay trees. It’s also worth considering growing them in a sheltered position to avoid them getting blown over which can break the pots.