Magnolia stellata

Best trees to grow in pots

Discover our pick of the best trees to grow in pots.

Plenty of trees can be grown in pots and containers, providing you with all the benefits of a tree but with the convenience and ease of growing in a pot.

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The ideal types of tree to grow in pots are slow-growing or dwarf varieties. Search for varieties described as ‘dwarfing’ – a ‘vigorous’ tree will grow too quickly to do well in a pot, while an ‘extremely dwarfing’ tree will be too weak to cope with growing in a pot.

You could also look for a multi-stemmed tree. Rather than a standard lollipop shape, multi-stem trees have several trunks growing from near the base, which reduces the overall height the tree will grow to. Fruit trees are often sold attached to a rootstock that controls how big they eventually grow.

How to care for a tree in a pot

Remember that trees growing in pots have less access to water than trees growing in the ground, so you will need to water it more often than you would normally. Every spring, scrape off as much of the top layer of compost as you can and replace with fresh, loam-based compost, to give the tree a boost of nutrients. Feed fortnightly in summer, following the instructions on the bottle or packet. After four or five years, you’ll need to repot your tree into a slightly larger pot. Alternatively, you can root-prune the tree and replant it into the same pot with fresh compost.


Best trees to plant in pots

1

Apple (Malus domestica)

Malus domestica 'Arthur Turner'
Malus domestica ‘Arthur Turner’

Spring blossom, followed by fruit in the autumn. Look for an apple growing on an M26 or M27 (dwarfing) rootstock. Many fruit trees grown on small rootstocks can be grown in pots – read our guide to growing dwarf fruit trees.


2

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida f. rubra)

Pink-flowering dogwood, Cornus florida f. rubra. Photo: Getty Images.
Pink-flowering dogwood, Cornus florida f. rubra. Photo: Getty Images.

Slow-growing with long-lasting, pink bracts in spring and purple autumn leaves. The conical shape of this cornus adds architectural interest.


3

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

Potted Cupressus sempervirens.
Potted Cupressus sempervirens.

Although Italian cypress grows very tall, it can be clipped to keep it in check. Create a formal look with a matching pair.


4

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

Potted Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'
Potted Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’

Japanese maples are slow-growing and come in a huge variety of colours. They are among the best trees for small gardens. Keep them in a sheltered position, out of strong winds and hot midday sun.


5

Snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii)

Snowy mespilus blossom, Amelanchier lamarckii.
Snowy mespilus blossom, Amelanchier lamarckii.

This delicate, small tree boasts spring blossom and vibrant autumn colour. Snowy mespilus is often grown multi-stemmed.


6

Olive (Olea europaea)

Young olive trees in pots on a terrace. Photo: Getty Images.
Young olive trees in pots on a terrace. Photo: Getty Images.

Olive trees are ideal for sheltered urban plots and should be moved into a greenhouse or porch when the weather gets very cold.


7

Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin)

Flowers of Persian silk tree, Albizia julibrissin. Photo: Getty Images.
Flowers of Persian silk tree, Albizia julibrissin. Photo: Getty Images.

The Persian silk tree has finely divided, mimosa-like leaves and flowers that resemble pink shaving-brushes, which give this hardy, shrubby tree an exotic look. Copes well with full sun and heat.


8

Starry magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata.
Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata.

Most magnolias grow too large for pot, but the star magnolia is a compact, multi-stemmed type, with star-like flowers.


9

Citrus trees

Lemon trees growing in pots. Getty Images
Lemon trees growing in pots. Getty Images

Citrus trees, including oranges and lemons (pictured) do very well in pots, particularly terracotta pots as they are porus and don’t hold on to moisture (ideal for these Mediterranean species).


10

Bay tree

Bay tree
Bay tree

Bay trees are well-suited to growing in pots. They’re easy to prune and topiarise, so can be used to make formal ‘lollipop’ shapes to position on either side of your front door.

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