Trees and Shrubs to Grow in Containers - dummies

By Bill Marken, Suzanne DeJohn, The Editors of the National Gardening Association

Many hardy trees and shrubs are suitable for container growing. When choosing trees and shrubs to grow in pots, remember that the hardiness zones given are for plants growing in the ground, and that plants growing in containers may need protection from extreme cold. Common deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs are listed here:

  • Deciduous: These plants drop their leaves in fall, go dormant in the winter, and begin growing again in spring.

    • Cotoneaster: Creeping cotoneaster (C. adpressus) and bearberry (C. dammeri) can spill from pots and hanging baskets, producing bright berries. They’re small (less than a foot tall). Most are hardy in zones 6 to 9.

    • Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica): Plant full-size varieties in large containers to grow as single-trunk or multitrunk trees, 8 or 10 feet tall. The bark develops an interesting combination of scaliness and smoothness, and summer flowers come in rich pinks, reds, and purples. Crape myrtle is hardy in zones 7 to 9.

    • Flowering cherry, crabapple, or plum trees: These trees aren’t for beginners, but their beautiful spring blossoms may tempt you to give growing them a try. Some produce fruit.

    • Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana Contorta): This plant’s contorted branches and shiny brown bark are shown off best when the plant is leafless in winter. In a container, expect a height of about 4 to 6 feet. Harry Lauder’s walking stick is hardy in zones 4 to 9.

    • Hydrangea: Huge flowers and bold foliage make Hydrangea macrophylla a summer show-off in 18-inch or bigger containers. Flowers in clusters a foot or more wide come in blue, pink, red, or white. Plants grow 4 feet tall and larger. Hydrangea macrophylla is hardy in zones 6 to.

    • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum): Japanese maple is just plain beautiful, whether spring green or fall red. And they’re the right scale for patio container plants. Japanese maples are hardy in zones 5 to 9.

    • Rose: There are thousands of roses, and theoretically you can grow all of them in containers. But some varieties are much better suited to container life than others. Rose hardiness depends on variety.

  • Evergreen: These hardy trees and shrubs hang onto their foliage year-round, making them good candidates for background plantings, for privacy screens, or to shield an unsightly view:

    • Aucuba: Aucuba japonica is grown for its bright red berries in fall and big, shiny leaves. Aucuba is hardy in zones 7 to 10.

    • Azaleas and rhododendrons: Consider yourself lucky if you live in an area where you can grow these magnificent, spring-flowering shrubs. Rhododendrons and azaleas are closely related. Check with local nurseries for varieties that do well in your area.

    • Boxwood: Boxwood is a shiny, dark green evergreen that lends itself to shearing in geometric shapes: globes, rectangles, and so on. Boxwood is hardy in zones 6 to 8.

    • Camellia: Grow camellias for their glossy, evergreen leaves and their beautiful flowers. Plants are handsome year-round, and in containers can grow slowly to 5 or 6 — or even 12 — feet. Camellias are hardy in zones 7 to 9.

    • Conifers: Conifers are available in a remarkable array of colors, forms, and sizes. Foliage may be green, blue-green, gray-green, chartreuse, gold, or silvery blue, depending on the species and variety. Look for dwarf or small-statured varieties and check hardiness ratings.

    • Daphne (Daphne burkwoodii): This evergreen shrub is easy to grow and reliable. Growing 3- or 4-feet tall, it produces sweet flowers in spring. Daphne is hardy in zones 5 to 8.

    • English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus): English laurel in a container makes a dense, glossy evergreen screen or backdrop for shady spots. Plants typically grow up to 6 feet tall, but compact types, such as Zabeliana, stay lower. English laurel is hardy in zones 6 or 7 to 9.

    • Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica): Not a real bamboo, nandina is a graceful, erect-growing evergreen shrub that performs solidly in all seasons. Clusters of small, white flowers bloom in spring and summer; red berries and crimson foliage follow in fall and winter. It’s hardy in zones 6 or 7 to 9.

    • Holly: Hollies can grow well in containers if they’re suited to your climate, you satisfy their rather demanding needs, and have enough patience to grow the plants for at least several years. Hardiness varies. In the United States, English holly is really reliable only in the Pacific Northwest and northern California.

    • India hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis): This dependable, versatile landscape plant provides glossy leaves year-round and bright pink flowers in spring. Plants form rounded mounds up to 4 feet tall. India hawthorn is hardy in zones 7 or 8 to 10.

    • Lily of the valley shrub (Pieris japonica): Lily of the valley shrubs always look nice. Their foliage is handsome year-round, tinged with red in spring. Little bell-shaped, white flowers are charming in spring. Lily of the valley is hardy in zones 6 to 8.