Potted trees

There are many myths in the world of gardening and one of the most common is that you need a big garden and lots of time to grow trees. This condemned all urban dwellers to having only small and medium sized plants, so you don't know how happy I was when I discovered that it is possible to grow trees in pots.

If you have a space with plenty of light, such as a terrace or balcony and room for a good sized pot, then you have everything you need to start growing your tree. Shade, colour and even delicious fruits are many of the benefits you can get from your potted tree. It would be amazing if you could go ahead and create your own little forest at home. Imagine harvesting lemons or apples every year. It's not a dream, you can have these and other species in a pot.

Tips for planting trees in pots

Choose the right pot

Trees can be planted in pots or planters, which come in a wide variety of sizes and materials, as well as many shapes and colours, so you should have no trouble finding one that fits your aesthetic style; but there are other variables to consider. If you live in a region where the seasons are quite extreme and you want to have trees that do not withstand the winter well, it is advisable to use pots with wheeled supports, so that you can easily put them out of harm's way.

Size matters. The pot should be the right size for the tree during its growth stage and should be chosen with the final size of the tree in mind when it has matured. Look for a pot that is as tall as it is wide, as this will provide the best protection for the roots.

You should also take into account the final weight of the pot, including the substrate and the plant. This information is especially important if you are placing it on balconies or terraces, where the structure has a certain weight capacity that cannot be exceeded. Remember that terracotta pots are heavier than plastic, but they are more stable in strong winds and reduce the possibility of the tree falling over in the wind. Terracotta pots also require insulation for winter, as they are porous and do not store heat as well as plastic pots.

If you decide to use plastic pots and the region where you live has strong winds, it is advisable to add a little extra weight to the pots, using stones or pebbles for the bottom, which will also improve the drainage of the substrate, avoiding puddles.

Use the ideal substrate

The substrate is even more important when growing trees in pots. It must have sufficient oxygenation and drainage, as well as being able to retain enough moisture without becoming waterlogged. It sounds complicated, but what you need to do is to know the species of tree you will be potting and find a substrate capable of providing everything it needs.

Some people think that using the substrate taken directly from the garden is enough, but the truth is that the simple fact of being in a pot makes a big difference in the conditions, as it will not have the same drainage capacity and some extra component must be added to improve this quality. Sometimes just adding some compost, sand or perlite is enough.

Another big difference in planting trees in pots rather than soil is that the substrate tends to dry out a little faster than the soil, so it is important to be a little more vigilant in order to develop a precise watering pattern for the species you are growing. It is also essential to fertilise with a certain frequency, as trees are species with certain nutrient demands, given their size and if they produce fruit it is even higher, so they run out of substrate reserves very quickly. For this reason it is a good idea to add a little more organic substrate every year to supplement the one that has been used up, as well as supplementing with extended release fertilisers.

Temperature is also essential. A plastic pot can overheat the substrate, killing the roots. Likewise, the substrate can absorb heat from the soil with the same fatal results. Wind and harsh winter weather can also affect the temperature of the substrate and affect the roots, so you will need to take appropriate measures by sheltering or protecting the plants and their containers with insulating materials.

Avoid overgrowth

Although the size of the tree will be contained with the size of the pot, in some cases it is necessary to make selective pruning to prevent the tree from growing so much that it overflows the pot and becomes too big. It is possible to remove the tree from the pot, trim the protruding roots and replant in fresh substrate, this is a similar technique to that used with Bonsai, but avoid cutting the main roots. If you can afford it though, transplant it into a larger pot.

The 7 best looking potted trees

Olive tree

The Olive tree or European olive is a classic of the Mediterranean landscape, which makes us think of large expanses of cultivation but which can be potted without major inconvenience. The olive tree is a fairly hardy plant, and as long as it has plenty of sun and good drainage it will be a happy tree. As for watering, it will vary according to its age. A young tree requires frequent and moderate watering, while as an adult it requires much less water. Water when the first few centimetres of the substrate are dry.

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It is preferable to grow the olive tree in a clay pot, which allows the substrate to transpire and avoids the accumulation of humidity. The substrate can be very simple, as these plants are used to arid soils, so something like peat mixed with some gravel or sand to improve drainage. It is not a bad idea to add some earthworm humus to enrich it a little. Don't forget to protect it in winter, as it doesn't like frost.

Lemon

The lemon tree is one of the trees best suited to life in pots, not only because of the size of its roots but also because it tolerates pruning very well. Although its leaves and flowers smell exquisite, this is not just an ornamental tree, as it will produce juicy and exquisite fruit if cared for properly, including fertilising during spring and summer with liquid fertiliser such as guano, following the manufacturer's instructions.

The lemon tree requires a pot that is as wide as it is deep, allowing for an even distribution of its roots. It prefers slightly acidic substrates, much better if you enrich it with a little organic fertiliser and peat, always taking care that drainage is efficient. Water a lot, frequently, but avoid waterlogging. In the warmer season you can water every 2 days and during the winter, once a week. In any case, check the substrate well and wait until it is rather dry before watering.

Magnolias

The magnolia or magnolia grandflora is an evergreen tree with beautiful, thick, dark green leaves and produces beautiful flowers. The magnolias are white, huge and produce a fantastic scent, appearing in spring and early summer. It adapts very well to all climates, even those regions with cold winters. Always try to keep it between -10° C and 35°C. It prefers semi-shade or full sun, as it requires large amounts of light to be completely happy.

You must be very careful with its substrate, which should always be loose, with excellent drainage to avoid problems such as fungus and choking its roots. This substrate should have plenty of organic matter, to nourish the sapling, especially during its first months. Water generously, about 3 times a week or whenever you see that it needs it. In winter you should reduce the frequency of watering. As for fertiliser, a fertiliser with a high nitrogen content, if possible with a PK 20-5-10 ratio, applied during spring and summer, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Garden plum tree

The plum tree or prunus domestica is a beautiful, fruit-bearing, deciduous tree that will grow up to 2 metres, depending on the size of its pot. It grows very well thanks to its shallow roots, so it requires loose, light substrates that do not store too much moisture. You should not worry too much about the temperature, as it is a very hardy tree that will withstand even frost.

The plum tree requires constant humidity but not waterlogging. Never allow the substrate to dry out too much and crack, as this can be fatal for your tree. Water once or twice a week, fertilise every fortnight with an organic or mineral fertiliser, especially at the beginning of spring to encourage the development of beautiful, juicy flowers and fruit.

Camellias

Of Asian origin, this tree can grow up to 2 metres high in pots. Its beautiful, shiny leaves stand out, but its main attraction is its beautiful, fragrant and elegant flowers. It loves acidic substrates and humid environments. Place it in full sun if you live in the north of the peninsula, but if you are in any other region, place it to the north or east of your home so that it only receives a few hours of sun in the morning. It should be in semi-shade, but receive good light.

Water generously, but do not overwater. Remember that humidity levels are very important to maintain flowering throughout the season. Camellias should be fertilised from March to June with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to encourage foliage development, while from July to September priority should be given to mineral fertilisers with more phosphorus and potassium.

Cypresses

Cypresses are gigantic conifers, which can reach 30 metres in height when planted in the ground, although they only grow to 2 metres in pots. They are long-lived, can live up to 500 years and are notable for their elongated shape. They have a thick trunk, while the crown is narrow and elongated. Although they are very hardy, these trees are sensitive to excess humidity, if you water them too much you can affect the roots and cause fungal rot. It is necessary to be very careful with watering, which should be 2 to 3 times a week in warm and dry places, but without overdoing it. In fact, these trees prefer drought to over-watering.

Cypresses require fertiliser from early spring to early autumn. Look for specialised conifer fertilisers or go straight to guano, which is fantastic for cypresses. It is important to stress that cypress trees should not be pruned unless they have dry branches.

Japanese Maple

The Japanese Maple is beautiful. Its silhouette is unmistakable and it is one of the most popular species in gardens. In Japan they are highly prized, especially in autumn when they change the colour of their leaves; in fact they are the symbol of the season. The good news is that you can have your own potted Japanese maple tree on your terrace or balcony.

Maple trees require a temperate climate, so they are perfect for any region where the 4 seasons are well differentiated. It can withstand temperatures between -15°C and 30°C . As for the substrate, it must be a little acidic as, like azaleas, it is an acidophilic plant. It must be porous and loose, allowing the roots to breathe. Place the pot in semi-shade, as direct sunlight will burn its leaves.

Water frequently in summer but reduce watering as temperatures fall. Fertilise in spring and summer with a fertiliser for acidophilic plants, as specified by the fertiliser manufacturer. It resists pruning, so you can remove dry, weak branches and those that affect the beautiful silhouette of this tree.