A question we’re often asked is ‘Can I grow this in a pot?’ The answer is usually yes, but you need to put in more work when growing trees and shrubs in containers compared to plants growing in the ground. Plants are supposed to grow in the ground, it’s where water and nutrients they need to grow are easily accessed and pots just can’t provide this environment. It’s harder work to grow pot plants because you’re attempting to recreate that natural ground-based environment – but if you’re keen here’s what to do.

Growing Trees and Shrubs in Containers

Group plants in containers for impact – mix of topiary lollipop and Acer tree, ferns and hostas.

Size Matters

In our nursery plants are transferred into bigger pots as they outgrow them. We recommend at least doubling the size of the pot your plant arrives in, especially if you want to grow a containerised tree or another plant with a big root system. Smaller plants are more successfully grown in containers, but make sure you know how big the plant will eventually get. Bigger is better when it comes to containers.

What Soil Is Best?

Potted plants need good soil because their roots aren’t able to reach other parts of the garden when the pot’s soil runs low on water and nutrients.  When growing trees and shrubs in containers always use fresh soil that suits that particular plant. For example, blueberries, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons like acidic soil so use ericaceous compost for them. Most other mature plants benefit from John Innes no. 3. Refresh the pot’s soil every two to three years by removing a third of the depth and replace it with fresh soil. Use the spent compost as mulch on your border plants.

Buxus domes and globes growing in a container in a front garden in Central London

Beautiful front garden in container with elegant Buxus Globes.

 What About Top Dressing?

It’s a good idea to place a layer of mulch on the soil to seal in moisture and prevent weeds from taking hold. You can use organic matter or dry mulches such as gravel.

All Important Drainage

All containers need good drainage so there should be holes in the base of any container you choose.
It helps to pop a few broken terracotta pieces or polystyrene peanuts in the base to cover larger holes and prevent the precious soil from washing out when you water. Elevating the container with small feet, will help drain out any excess water.
Ensuring good drainage is an important step because when water builds up in a container it rots the root system and eventually may kill the plant.

Hydrangea Little Lime Shrub growing in a terracotta pot

Hydrangea Little Lime grows well in a container but needs plenty of water especially in summer.

Stabilising Tall Plants

Low growing plants are generally safe in a container but taller plants will need stabilising. Trees and bamboos for example catch in the wind and topple over, especially if they’ve dried out. This can damage your plant and smash the container too.

Pruning – Size Management

No matter how big your container is at some point the plant will outgrow it and that’s why pruning is so important. Regular pruning will keep the plant at an appropriate size for its pot.
Check your plant label for the right time of year to prune, but in general, you should prune back pot plants once a year and twice if they are fast growers.

Japanese Cloud Trees growing in containers - UK gardens

Rare trees can also be grown in containers like these Japanese Cloud Trees.

Feeding Pot Plants

All plants eventually use up the available nutrients in their pot, so you should feed them regularly. Use appropriate slow-release food according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Large pot plants need feeding once a month during the growing season compared to border grown plants that need feeding just once or twice a year.

How Often Should I Water My Pot Plants?

Pot grown plants need lots of water – even if it’s been raining! People tend to underestimate the amount of water a pot plant needs.
Sunshine and heat dry out containers, but less obvious is that wind does too. The combination of heat and wind dries containers out from every angle, so in the summer months pot plants will often need water every single day.
If you don’t like watering or just don’t have the time,  there are plenty of easy to use irrigation systems to help you out, these can be set up to deliver just the right amount of water to each container right throughout the year. These are especially helpful when you go away on holiday.

Ancient Olive trees growing in pots in Central London

Ancient Olive Trees as sentinels, creating a stylish entrance to this Central London home.

Love Me Tender

As if all that wasn’t enough, some plants need extra love in winter. Tender tropicals such as tree ferns need insulation in the cold months. Straw carefully placed into the crown works well at protecting next years delicate frond buds from the frost and you should insulate the container to protect the roots.
Wrap plenty of fleece or bubble wrap around the pot to keep roots safe from frosts and icy winds.

So there you have our guide to growing plants in a container. Its harder work and certainly more time consuming than placing them in the ground, but if you can put in the extra effort then pot plants can thrive and look just as stunning as those in the soil and bring life and colour to even the smallest patio, balcony or entrance.

If you need any extra advice about plants and containers contact us on salesteam@paramountplants.co.uk our expert team can advise on the very best options for growing trees and shrubs in containers in your location.

View our Paramount How To video guides for lots more garden tips and advice