How to Plant Ornamental Trees in Pots


Container-grown ornamental trees, like Japanese maple or dwarf weeping birch, are an option for areas where lawn or garden space is limited or non-existent, like on a patio or deck. Trees in pots can be placed where their height can provide shade or block an undesirable view. As with ground-grown trees, the best time to plant ornamental trees in pots is while the tree is dormant and the soil is not frozen, which could be autumn or early spring.

Step 1

Inspect the bottom of the pot to make sure there are drainage holes. To protect wood decks, put a large tray or saucer beneath the pot. Place the pot at the desired location.

Step 2

Measure the height of the root ball from the bottom to the top of the burlap-wrapped roots or from the bottom of the potted nursery container to the top of the soil in the pot.

Step 3

Measure the depth of the container into which the tree will be planted. Subtract 2 inches from the container depth measurement. This figure indicates the depth of the potting medium, which should stop 2 inches from the top of the container to make watering easier and to hold mulch.

Step 4

Subtract the height of the root ball from the height of the container (minus 2 inches). The resulting number indicates how deep the potting medium needs to be in the bottom of the container so the top of root ball will be 2 inches below the surface. As an example, a 20-inch tall container minus 2 inches equals 18 inches for the depth of the potting medium., and 18 inches minus 9 inches for the height of the root ball equals 9 inches, which means 9 inches of potting medium needs to be added to the bottom of the container.

Step 5

Partially fill the container with potting medium to the measurement from Step 4. Water the potting medium to settle the soil. Measure the depth of the potting medium, adding more if necessary.

Step 6

Remove the tree from the container and place the root ball in the center of the pot. If the root ball is wrapped with burlap, leave the burlap on the root ball.

Step 7

Add potting medium around the root ball. For a burlap wrapped root ball, when potting medium is halfway up the sides of the root ball, remove the cord or wire that is hold the burlap around the trunk of the tree. Pull the burlap down to expose the sides of the root ball. The burlap remains on the lower half of the root ball where, in time, it will decay. Finish adding potting medium around the root ball until the potting medium is level with the top of the root ball. Do not add potting medium to the top of the root ball.

Step 8

Water slowly until water begins to seep through the drain holes. If the potting medium settles beneath the top of the root ball, add more potting medium, tamping it down firmly. Then apply 1 inch of mulch, like bark chips, to help retain moisture. Trees in pots need to be watered regularly, which could mean daily watering during hot, sunny summer days.

Tips and Warnings

  • The weight of a potted tree can make it too heavy to move easily. If you want the option of being able to relocate the tree, purchase a wheeled platform specifically designed to be placed under heavy planters. Plastic planters, even filled with soil, may blow over when a mature tree in leaf is hit with high winds. If you're using a plastic container, add bricks or a few inches of stone to the bottom of the container before adding potting medium.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Moisture-retaining potting medium
  • Mulch


  • Oregon State University Extension: How to Grow a Potted Tree on Your Patio or Porch
  • University of Tennessee Extension: Trees to Plant in Containers or Wells
Keywords: ornamental trees, container trees, trees in pots

About this Author

Barbara Raskauskas is a certified e-learning specialist and certified Microsoft Office specialist. She has written web content, technical documents and course material for a decade. Raskauskas now writes how-to's, product reviews and general topics published on several websites, including Demand Studios.