Best Trees to Grow in Pots – 10 Varieties Designers Love and Are as Easy as Indoor Plants

These best trees to grow in pots can be placed anywhere, from the patio to the living room, giving spaces the perfect outdoor vibe

A living room in muted tones, with a tree in the corner
(Image credit: Natelee Cocks Photography. Studio credit Natasha Sturko)

The best trees to grow in pots are ideally the slow-growing or dwarf ones that reach a certain 'livable' indoor height without creating a chaotic interior. These can bring height, fruit, a rustic touch, and seasonal color into the home.

'Potted trees need a big container, regular watering, and a sheltered spot if you want them to remain happily potted for several years,' says garden designer Dan Cooper. But which trees suit life in a pot best?

To help you answer this container gardening question, we reached out to experts. Here are some varieties you can bring home.

1. Pear Tree

For the most eye-catching indoor modern garden, consider a potted pear tree that looks eye-catching and adds a courtyard-like vibe to the living room or bedroom.

'Pear trees, given proper care, can thrive in pots, offering delightful fruits with the right attention,' says Reese L Robins, a gardening expert at Just Pure Gardening. 'To grow one, begin with a spacious container, allowing enough room for root growth and ensuring adequate drainage. Use high-quality potting soil to provide the best foundation for your pear tree. Position the tree in a sunny spot with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, which is key for its growth and fruiting. Maintaining consistent moisture levels is crucial for pear trees in pots. Ensure the soil is consistently moist, but avoid waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. Also, feed your potted pear tree with a balanced fertilizer just before the flower buds open.'

'Maintain your potted pear tree in its usual sheltered location, such as indoors, on a covered porch, or within a protected area against a building in the winter months,' says Reese. 'Ensure it remains in these areas to shield it from extreme cold and frost. To further safeguard against potential temperature fluctuations, you can use insulating material around the pot or add a layer of horticultural fleece. This extra precaution helps stabilize temperatures around the roots, preventing any damage caused by freezing conditions.'

2. Star Magnolia

Star magnolia tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another great contender for an indoor tropical garden is the potted star magnolia tree.

'Star magnolias, enchanting with their captivating star-shaped flowers, are delightful additions to any container garden,' says Reese. 'These ornamental beauties can flourish in pots, provided they receive the care and attention they deserve. Choosing an appropriate container and creating the ideal environment for these blossoms can bring a touch of natural elegance to your space. Choose a well-draining potting mix for this tree. Look for a mix that's light and airy to ensure good airflow for the roots and to prevent waterlogging. Position your pot in a location with at least 3 hours of direct sunlight daily. This amount of sun helps the star magnolia thrive and grow healthily in a pot. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring, just before any growth appears. This will give the necessary nutrients for healthy growth without risking over-fertilization.'

'Timing is crucial when it comes to pruning your star magnolia,' says Reese. 'Optimal pruning time falls between mid-summer and early autumn when the leaves have fully opened. During this period, the focus should be on maintaining an open crown with a uniform shape. When trimming, cut back to a fork or the trunk, as this not only enhances the tree's appearance but also aids in managing its size while encouraging healthy growth. To provide extra insulation against potential temperature fluctuations, consider wrapping insulating material around the pot or applying a layer of horticultural fleece.'

3. Dwarf apple tree

Dwarf apple tree

(Image credit: Alamy)

To add to your balcony garden ideas, consider the easy-to-grow dwarf apple tree. This is a popular choice for home gardeners as it is resistant to fire blight, one of the biggest scourges of apples. The fruits tend to ripen in September with white flesh that is sweet, crispy, and juicy.  

'This tree is perfect for growing in pots and can produce lots of delicious fruit,' says Richa Kedia, garden expert and founder of Simplifyplants. 'It needs full sun and regular watering. Make sure to use well-draining soil and fertilize it regularly.'

4. Weeping cherry tree

If you're wondering how to design a small garden with the perfect plants and trees, a great contender is the weeping cherry tree. This is more of an ornamental tree. While it can be prone to pests and diseases, with good care, ventilation, and light, it can live for decades.

'These trees are known for their beautiful pink blossoms and can add a touch of elegance to any outdoor space,' says Richa. 'They prefer full sun and need to be watered regularly. Use a pot with good drainage and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.'

5. Crape myrtle 

This tree can provide your small garden or roof garden with year-round interest and color. The tree has bright flowers, colorful fall foliage, and attractive exfoliating bark in the winter. They are available in several sizes, from 2-foot shrubby dwarf varieties to towering trees, and are available in deep red and purple tones.

'This tree is known for its beautiful blooms and can be grown in pots,' says Richa. 'It prefers full sun and well-draining soil. Water it regularly and prune it to keep it in shape.'

6. Olive Trees

An olive tree in front of a front door

(Image credit: hdere/Getty)

The olive tree is pretty much bulletproof. Despite the Med vibes it instantly gives your backyard, they are surprisingly hardy when temperatures drop and it's not until it hits around 15˚F you should consider bringing your pot indoors (they can look equally chic in a kitchen) or you could cover them if you don't have the room indoors.

As you would expect, Olives is like a sunny and sheltered spot so ideal for urban gardens. They don't need lots of water but do keep an eye out that the soil doesn't get too dry and give it a little weekly water if it feels like it needs it.  Turn the pot regularly so it grows evenly. 

'Something we love about olives in pots is that you can change the look to suit your style of garden,' says garden designer Dan Cooper. 'Depending on how your prune (or don't prune) you can choose between a very formal lollipop tree, that you see flanking the front doors of elegant homes or for a more relaxed Mediterranean feel, let the plant do its thing and be sure to report it if it starts to grow too wild.'

7. Dwarf Lemon Trees

Lemon tree

(Image credit: Getty)

If you have a small backyard and want to ensure your pick of tree won't grow too big for your space, a surefire way to know is to look for dwarf varieties. Dwarf fruit and citrus trees will only grow to a certain height, so the best option is if you don't have lots of room or you plan to put it on a balcony. 

'Dwarf lemon trees are a great pick,' says Melanie Ward-Warmedinger, founder of Green Garden Living. 'They look decorative, take up little space when there are space constraints, can produce a beautiful scent that lingers in warm weather, and can produce fresh fruit.' 

'They can be a little demanding though,' says Melanie. 'The secrets of success include: ensuring good drainage using a soil mix 1:1:1 of loam, leafmould, and horticultural grit. Place them in a sheltered, sunny spot next to a south or west-facing wall. Water and feed them using a citrus fertilizer once a week.' 

'Plant them in a terracotta pot that doesn’t hang onto moisture,' says Melanie. 'Protect them from cold weather over winter and repot in the spring every two to three years in a slightly bigger pot each time.'

8. Fig Trees

The key to growing a fig tree successfully in a pot is to pick the right cultivar. Some figs can grow huge and could be a plant to avoid in a small garden but choose a fig that's suitable for a container and they can thrive, adding a Mediterranean vibe to any space, not to mention the tasty fruits. 

'Look out for Blanche, Brown Turkey, Verte, and Celeste cultivars, all of which are small-medium in size and will live happily in a pot,' says Dan. Just be sure to plant them up in a large container and pick as sunny as a spot to you have – figs like direct sunlight and as much exposed to those rays as possible.

9. Italian Cypress

If you prefer a low-maintenance garden, Italian Cypress is incredibly hardy and one of the easiest trees to go in a pot. Similar to the olive tree, they give a garden a lovely Mediterranean feel and you can prune them into shape or let them grow into a more natural shape. 

'They don't need much watering – once a week during the dryer months will be fine, and be sure to remove any cones if you want to keep that more classic formal shape,' says Dan. Italian Cypress grows tall but can be pruned hard to keep them smaller. However, its iconic tall and slender shape can be ideal for adding privacy.  

10. Japanese Maple 

Japanese Maple, or Acer trees, grow happily in pots and give any outdoor space that calming feel of a Japanese garden. 'They look glorious all year round and come in a variety of bold shades, from vivid greens to deep reds,' says Dan. 'Even when the leaves drop in the winter they look beautiful.'

They aren't the hardiest of plants, and are a bit of a Goldilocks tree, not too much sun, not too little. And have the pot in a fairly sheltered part of your yard so that they aren't too affected by harsh weather.

With the right variety and when pruned correctly, the Japanese Maple can also make for one of the best shrubs for containers

Do trees grow well in pots?

Yes, trees can grow well in pots; you just have to pick the right type. If you stick with slow-growing and dwarf varieties, they will be best suited to life in a container and won't grow too large. You want to avoid trees that are fast-growing as it'll be a lot of work to maintain.

Just like planting a tree in the ground, the success of the tree in a pot will come down to care and the positioning is right. Do your research on the needs of your tree and the bonus of pots is you can move them around your yard if the tree is not thriving in a certain position. 

How do you care for trees in pots?

The key thing is watering. Trees in pots don't have any direct access to water, so even drought-resistant plants will need watering weekly, and potentially more in the warmer, dryer months.

Repotting is also a big part of container gardening. It's not like you'll have to do it all too often, but do keep a close eye on whether your tree is becoming rootbound – if so it's time for a bigger pot. It will depend on the type and how often you will need to report but approximately you shouldn't leave a tree in the same pot for more than 5 years. 

You also may need to bring potted trees inside, but this again depends on the type and your climate. In warmer regions, trees will be able to stay out all year round, but in a cooler climate where temperatures tend to drop below 50°F, your pots will either need to be covered or brought indoors. 

Hebe Hatton

Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.

With contributions from