The Q&A Archives: Trees or Shrubs for Containers

Question: Please provides the names of suggested trees or shrubs for container planting.

Answer: Unfortunately, it is difficult to grow woody plants in containers successfully at home. The reason is that they tend to quickly outgrow their containers, the soil conditions are less ideal and fertility is difficult to control, and most important their roots are not as well insulated as they would be if planted in the ground. This exposes them to stress due to drying out and summer heat, but also due to extreme cold, as well as due to oscillating soil temperatures (freeze thaw cycles) in spring and fall. In my experience, most plants do not survive even one full year outdoors in a container. If you want to experiment, you could try deciduous shrubs and trees that are drought tolerant and winter hardy to at least a zone colder than your location -- so you would look for winter hardiness to zone 5 or colder. You might try a dwarf crab apple tree for instance, or perhaps a barberry shrub. Try to use as large a container as possible. Be sure to keep the soil moist any time it is not frozen, and provide protection from winter winds. If you can insulate the container during the coldest months, that would also be helpful. Alternatively you could bring the plants into a sheltered but cold place (such as an unheated garage) in late fall after they have gone dormant, then bring them out again in early spring to wake up naturally with the season. Good luck with your experiment!

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