How to Plant a Tree in a Container


If you don't have a large yard with plenty of planting space, don't let that keep you from planting a tree. As long as you have a balcony, deck or patio, you can enjoy a tree's beauty and cool shade by planting in containers. Although trees in containers require more attention than trees grown in the ground, when properly planted and cared for, trees grown in containers will last for many years.

Step 1

Purchase an appropriately-sized tree for container-growing, and be sure to consider the size of the tree at maturity. Most trees grown in containers will grow no larger than 4 to 10 feet tall, unless the container is very large. Dwarf trees are often a good choice for container growing, as dwarf trees have most of the benefits of larger trees but won't outgrow the container.

Step 2

Select a large, sturdy container with a heavy bottom. Without bottom weight, container-grown trees will be top-heavy and can be blown over in a strong wind. Be sure the container has drainage hole in the bottom.

Step 3

Place 1 to 2 inches of rocks in the bottom of the container to provide drainage in case the drainage holes get clogged. Fill the container with a high-quality, all-purpose commercial potting soil.

Step 4

Fill the container approximately 1/3 full with potting soil. Remove the tree from its nursery container or burlap wrapping and set the tree in the center of the container. The top of the tree's root system should be level with or slightly above the surface of the soil, so if necessary, adjust the potting soil in the bottom container to bring the tree to the correct level. If the tree is planted too deeply, the roots can rot.

Step 5

Fill the container with potting soil, up to about an inch from the top rim of the container. Add potting soil a little at a time, tamping the soil lightly around the roots with your fingers or a trowel as you go. if necessary, ask a friend to hold the tree straight while you fill the container with potting soil.

Step 6

Water the tree immediately after planting, then add additional potting soil to fill space left when the potting soil settles.

Step 7

Feed the tree every three months, using a time-release fertilizer, or once a month with a regular, water-soluble fertilizer.

Step 8

Check the soil often, as containerized trees will dry quickly. During hot, dry weather, containerized trees may need water twice a day.

Step 9

Place the tree in a sheltered spot during the winter months. If necessary, wrap the container with an insulated blanket to protect the tree from hard freezes.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree
  • Sturdy container with heavy bottom and drainage holes
  • Rocks
  • Commercial potting soil
  • Trowel
  • Time-release fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer


  • Oregon State University: How to Grow a Potted Tree on Your Patio or Porch
  • Gardening Know How: How to Grow Container Trees
  • University of Tennessee: Trees to Plant in Containers or Wells
Keywords: plant a tree, containerized tree, trees in containers

About this Author

M.H. Dyer is a long-time writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the East-Oregonian Newspaper and See Jane Run magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life." She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.