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To grow conifers in pots is a good solution if you need to move them around because of a lack of sun or cold conditions. They also look good in containers standing on either side of your front door. Here’s how to successfully grow conifers in pots. Plus I list and describe five dwarf conifers that grow well this way.
Grow conifers in pots
The pot or container that you choose to plant your conifer in should be at least 10cm to 15cm wider than the container that your conifer came in. Or take a look at the root ball of the tree and use that for comparison.
Ensure the container has plenty of drainage holes in its base. You may need to make more. This can be quite difficult if your container is of clay, ceramic or stone. But this is an essential task for the successful growth of the tree.
Place terracotta or ceramic shards in the pot over the drainage holes. This stops the holes from clogging up with the soil and compost in the pot, while still letting the water drain out. It also serves to add weight to the pot if you’ve chosen a lightweight one, such as those made of plastic. Feel free to add more shards to increase the pot’s weight so that it won’t tip over when the conifer is planted in it.
Raise the container on feet (bricks, etc.) to encourage it to drain.
Add a shallow layer of soil-based mix to the pot to cover the terracotta pieces. For good drainage use a mix of soil-based mix and sand, or add pea gravel or perlite. You want a mixture that encourages drainage, so don’t use peat moss. Peat moss hangs on to moisture which might be too much for the conifer.
Loosen the roots in the root ball of the conifer. Using your fingers is best as you can, do this gently and feel how hard you have to tug to separate the roots. Place the conifer in the pot, making sure there’s space between the roots and the sides of the container. Put the tree in to the same depth from the rim of the container that it was in its original pot.
Top up the container with the soil mix. Water the plant well and consider adding a slow-release fertiliser to give the tree essential nutrients to handle its new home.
Place stones or gravel on top of the soil. This stops weeds from growing up but also keeps moisture from evaporating from the top of the soil.
Plants in containers dry out quite quickly. Keep an eye on the moisture within the soil and water your conifer regularly. Make sure that the pot is draining enough so that the tree isn’t water-logged. Air circulation is also essential to the tree’s health. Remove any dead needles or branches in the autumn to create more space for the air to flow around.
If it becomes very cold in winter, wrap both the container and the tree in burlap or horticultural fleece. Leave the sides and top open to let the air in. It’s also better for the tree if the container is raised up on feet so that it doesn’t stand on the cold ground. As your plant is in a container, you can always move it to a warmer, more sheltered location such as under the eaves.
Your conifer can remain in the same pot for a few years. If you suspect or see that the roots have created a large root ball, then repot the tree.
You may also need to trim them to maintain a good shape which I talk about in this guide on how and when to trim conifers
Five dwarf conifers that grow well in pots
Juniperus communis Compressa
This is the common juniper. It grows upright into the familiar cone shape with tightly-packed, somewhat prickly needles. The needles start the growing season as a blueish-grey and end as a copper bronze colour in the autumn. This tree grows to about 90cm tall and 60cm wide at maturity in around 10 years.
Picea glauca Albertina
You may have seen this cone-shaped evergreen in the winter holiday season. Its shape makes it a perfect tree to adorn with Christmas decorations and lights. Its branches are very uniform in size and shape. The needles are in dense clusters that begin as a light green and end as blue-green once the tree is fully grown. This is quite a fast growing tree, gaining 10cm in height per year.
Chamaecyparis pisifera Baby Blue
This dwarf tree is a silvery blue colour that adds a touch of lightness to your garden foliage. It’s a dense upright shrub with a natural conical shape. Aside from regular watering, it really needs no other maintenance.
Cryptomeria japonica Compressa
This is a dense dwarf conifer that grows broadly as well as in height. Dark green needles in rosettes in summer turn red and brown in winter. You have a year’s worth of colour with this tree. It grows slowly at 4cm per year until it reaches its maximum size of 40cm (high and wide) in about 10 years. It doesn’t have the regular shape of other dwarf conifers as it grows irregularly.
The dense upright branches in this dwarf shrub grow in a pyramid shape. The needles are quite narrow and short and the shrub handles pruning well. This is essential as this shrub can grow quite large if not kept in check. The needles are green with pink tones that add an unexpected colour combination to the foliage in your garden.
If anything goes wrong with your dwarf conifer in a pot, read my How to revive and bring conifers back to life? article for advice on what to do. You can also read this guide on why your conifers might be turning brown too.