Best trees for outdoor containers

Trees in containers are perfect for outdoor areas that cannot support a full grown, ground-planted tree. You can use potted trees for outdoor focus or for privacy. Expect trees grown in containers to reach a height of 4 to 10 feet, but they can grow larger if the container can accommodate the roots.

Most trees are potable. It is the getting-tall-and-wide part that directs selection. With no way to grow outward, the roots of a potted tree will start to wind inside the pot. Eventually, the height and weight of the tree above container level will become so great that the tree will topple over because the roots have not expanded out for balance. In addition, when roots start winding inside the pot, they are not getting sufficient nutrients. They need more dirt. That means you need to either transplant the tree to a larger pot or plant them in the ground. Try to avoid that by choosing a tree that will enjoy being potted indefinitely – or at least for a very long time! In addition, plan to prune the tree to keep it at a suitable height.

Conifers and other evergreens

Trees that bear cones can thrive in a container. Christmas trees, Cyprus, Hollywood Juniper, and Yew are good choices, mostly because they can be easily pruned to retain the height and shape of your choosing. Also suitable are:  Dwarf Albert Spruce (6 feet) and Black Dragon (8 to 10 feet).

Japanese maple
Deciduous trees, including fruit trees  

Many varieties of trees that lose their leave in the fall can be successfully grown in a container. Those include Petite Pinkie Crepe Myrtle (5 feet), Japanese Maple (10 to 12 feet potted), Chinese Dogwood or Eastern Redbud (20+ feet; will need pruning!), Crabapple or Weeping Flowering Cherry (8 to 10 feet), Emerald Elf Maple (6 feet), Ginkgo Biloba (5 feet), and many more. Any dwarf variety of tree can be potted. Dwarf fruit trees (8 to 10 feet) that can be grown in containers are lemon, kumquats, nectarines, peaches, and apple.

Shrubs that can be pruned as trees

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus, Cutleaf Lilac, Japanese Holly, Rhododendron, Twisty Babe Locust, Sweet Bay Laurel, and Variegated Shrub Willow are just a few bushes that can become tree-like through pruning.

Keep in mind ...

Realize that you are not limited to the selections above. Instead, look for a tree that you will like living in your yard for a long time to come. Your nursery can advise you on the suitability of the tree of your choice for a container based on your locale. That is, it may get too cold for some trees (like a ficus in northern states) to make it through the winter outdoors in a container. Your choice may require that you bring the pot inside to a garage or other protected area during the coldest months.