The Q&A Archives: Planting a tree

Question: I recently purchased a hardy hibiscus tree from a homedepot garden center. I would like to plant the tree in front of my living room window. How far from the window should I plant or could I plant the tree in an over sized planter? I have been told that I may have to bring the tree inside in the winter months. I reside in Chicago where the temperature can go below 20 degrees. Finally, can you suggest a tree that is slow growing with not so invasive roots or a tree that will thrive well in a planter.

Thank you for your time and assistance,

D. Tucker

Answer: The so-called hardy hibiscus shrub or Hibiscus syriacus is considered hardy into zone 5 and your zip code places you in a nominal zone 5B or the warmer part of zone 5. So I think it should be hardy for you if it is planted in the ground in a location with winter wind protection and a well drained soil, meaning not a soggy low spot. It also needs a full sun location. In your area I would recommend a generous mulch applied in late fall. This plant leafs out very late in the spring, so be patient with it. It may also suffer some winter dieback each year so expect to do some routine pruning to remove that every spring.

I would not use it in a planter however. The reason is that the roots will not be as well insulated as they would be in the ground so the plant will become stressed both by extreme cold and by the freeze thaw cycles of spring and late fall. Also, this shrub is drought resistant due to its deep and strong root system. In my experience it will survive in a container but eventually does poorly due to the restricted root space.

If you want to keep it in a large container, you would need to sink the container in the ground in the late fall and mulch heavily or bring it into a sheltered but cold area such as a garage for the winter. Indoors you want it to rest dormant, not grow. For this reason a dark spot is fine, water just enough to keep the soil from going bone dry. In the early spring bring it back outside so it can wake up naturally with the season. As it begins to grow you would resume normal watering and feed with a water soluble or slow release fertilizer with an analysis of 10-10-10 or similar.

You would need to treat any container grown plant the same way.

Keep in mind that you need to plant far enough away from your house to allow for good air circulation when the plant reaches its mature size. This usually keeps the roots far enough away as well. Roots of even unaggressive plants will exacerbate any weakness in pipes or a foundation eventually as they search for moisture. In many cases it is better to plant a specimen tree further away from the house to allow it space to mature to its normal full size and this also allows you to appreciate it when it is full grown. When planted right up close to a window it tends to become overwhelming and look overgrown from the street side.

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