21 Trees Perfect to Grow in Outdoor Pots and Containers

Whether you’re short on space or need a vertical accent for your patio or balcony garden, growing trees in pots is the answer. Gardening expert Madison Moulton lists 21 compact trees ideal for growing in containers outdoors.

trees outdoor containers. Close-up of a lemon tree in a large container against a blurred garden background. Lemon trees are small to medium-sized evergreen trees with glossy, dark green leaves. The tree produces oval green-yellow fruits with rough skin.


For those with smaller backyards – or worse, no backyard at all – planting trees is usually out of the question. Space is at a premium, and it’s hard to give up precious growing space for one singular tree. But there is a way to have the best of both worlds: growing in containers.

Most trees are not ideal for container growth due to their extensive root systems and resource needs. Luckily, there are a few that stand out for their compact size and tolerance of confined conditions. These 21 trees are perfect for growing outdoors in pots or containers, making the most of small garden spaces.


Close-up of a potted olive tree near a large white house. This tree is in a large tall clay pot. The olive tree is a medium-sized evergreen tree with a distinctive appearance characterized by silvery-green, lance-shaped leaves that have a leathery texture and emit a subtle fragrance. The tree has a gnarled and twisted trunk with a smooth, grayish bark, and it features a broad and rounded crown of foliage.
Grow olive trees in containers for Mediterranean ambiance and year-round harvest with proper care.

If you want to bring a Mediterranean feel to your patio or backyard, an olive tree is a must. Scientifically Olea europaea, olives are ideal for container growing thanks to their compact size and drought tolerance. Plus, if your climate is just right, you’ll even be able to harvest delicious olives to enjoy throughout the year.

Originating from the Mediterranean region, olive trees grow best in warmer conditions with moderate winters. USDA Zone 8-10 is best, but they can manage in Zone 7 with some extra attention. If you live in Zone 6 or below, you’re better off keeping your potted olive tree indoors.

Soil choice is incredibly important to avoid common growth problems like rot of leaf drop. Use a gritty, well-draining potting mix like a succulent and cacti mix, and pick a pot with large drainage holes to prevent any root damage.

Japanese Maple

Close-up of Acer palmatum 'Dissectum' in a large decorative pot on a balcony next to a black chair. The Acer palmatum 'Dissectum', commonly known as the Japanese Maple 'Dissectum', is a striking ornamental tree with a unique appearance characterized by its delicate, lace-like foliage and cascading branches. The leaves are deeply dissected, giving them a feathery and intricate appearance.
Opt for compact Japanese maple varieties in containers for vibrant, low-maintenance patio features.

Acer palmatum, commonly known as Japanese maple, is the answer for those needing a pop of color on their patio. The changing foliage is available in a surprisingly wide range of colors, from deep burgundy to the plant trend of the year – cyber lime. The bright hues, combined with their size, make them the perfect potted feature for your backyard.

Choosing dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties is crucial when container planting. These compact cultivars are bred for growing in small spaces, meaning you won’t deal with as many growth problems in a pot. Trees like ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘Elizabeth’ have a compact stature fitting for containers but are still large enough to make a statement.

Japanese maples can grow for many years without needing repotting as long as you choose a large enough container from the get-go. If you want to manage their shape and size for a more tree-like look, pruning is helpful. But beyond that, they don’t require much attention to look their best. 


Close-up of several rows of potted apple trees in an orchard. The apple tree is a deciduous tree with a characteristic appearance featuring a spreading canopy of broad, ovate leaves that are dark green and smooth. The trees produce medium-sized, round-shaped fruits with smooth green-pink skin.
Opt for dwarf apple trees in larger containers for successful container gardening and fruit production.

Fruit trees are my first choice for growing in containers, with the humble apple a great starting point. Despite their size, apples can grow quite well in containers, although they will need extra maintenance to fruit successfully.

While larger apple trees struggle in pots, dwarf and semi-dwarf options are well-suited for container life. If your tree is grafted, it’s the rootstock size that has the greatest influence, so double-check what you’re growing before you start any planting. Also, choose a larger container over a smaller one. They don’t mind being slightly confined, but giving them more space will improve growth later on.

Even when grown in containers, many apple tree varieties will still produce crisp and tasty fruit. However, some apple varieties require a second apple tree nearby for cross-pollination to bear fruit. Choose your variety carefully, or plant two compatible types if fruit is what you’re looking for.

Crab Apple

Close-up of a Crab Apple tree in a large plastic pot in a sunny garden. The Crab Apple tree, also known as Malus, is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with a picturesque appearance characterized by its dense, spreading canopy adorned with profuse clusters of small, round fruits, known as crabapples, yellowish-pink in color.
Choose dwarf crab apple trees for container gardening, with manageable size, beautiful flowers, and versatility.

A relative of the apple tree, crab apples are another great choice for container growing. Typically smaller than standard apple trees, dwarf varieties grow to a maximum of 10 feet, especially when the roots are confined to a container.

Although they do produce mostly ornamental fruits, the standout feature of these trees is the flowers, exploding in spring to cover every branch. The flowers release a sweet scent that will quickly fill a patio or balcony area or even your entire backyard in the right position. These flowers also attract pollinators to bring a buzz of life, along with birds that enjoy picking at the fruits.

Growing in containers means the trees are also easier to manage in terms of maintenance (like pruning) and care. They can be moved to different locations between the seasons to maximize growth and change up your design without getting your hands dirty.


Close-up of a pomegranate tree in a large blue plastic pot in the garden. The pomegranate tree is a small deciduous tree with a distinctive appearance characterized by its slender, upright growth habit and glossy, lance-shaped leaves that are a vibrant green. The tree produces large, round fruits with leathery skin that is red-pink in color.
Pomegranates, admired for their red fruit, thrive in warm, dry climates.

Native to parts of the Middle East and South Asia, pomegranates are beloved first and foremost for their red fruit (or, more specifically, the juicy edible seeds inside the fruit). Take a walk through the world’s famous museums, and you’ll see these intricate and visually striking fruits as the subject of many paintings.

But for home gardeners, the tree itself is equally attractive, producing dark green leaves and bright red flowers. It’s also relatively compact, growing well in the confined space provided by containers. Potted pomegranates typically remain smaller than their in-ground counterparts, fitting in any urban garden that has enough sun to keep them happy.

Thanks to their native environments, pomegranates are best suited to warm, dry climates (USDA Zones 8 to 10). While they can tolerate short periods of cold (down to about 10F or -12C), they are not frost-tolerant and should be protected or moved indoors during harsh winter weather.

Crepe Myrtle

Close-up of a flowering Crepe Myrtle potted tree in a garden. The Crepe Myrtle tree is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree known for its stunning appearance, characterized by its graceful, multi-stemmed growth habit and profusion of vibrant flowers. The tree bursts into a spectacular display of colorful, crinkled flowers in shades of pink, which contrast beautifully against the tree's glossy green foliage.
The flowers are borne in large, showy clusters at the tips of the branches.
Grow Lagerstroemia in containers for ornamental flowers and bark, choosing compact varieties for confined spaces.

Lagerstroemia is grown for its ornamental papery flowers and striking bark similar to myrtle, hence the common name. These trees flower in summer and produce eye-catching pink, purple, and white flowers that last throughout the season. They are classified as shrubs or small trees (depending on the variety), giving you a clue as to their ability to grow in pots.

For container growing, shorter varieties such as ‘Red Rooster’, ‘ Centennial’, and ‘Acoma’ maintain a smaller stature perfectly suited to confined spaces. These cultivars still offer the stunning floral display and attractive bark of larger types, just in a more compact form.

When growing crepe myrtles in containers, ensure the pot provides plenty of drainage to prevent waterlogging. Also, fill the container with well-draining soil to avoid issues with root rot. Look out for other issues like aphids and powdery mildew, too, which can spread quickly in confined conditions.


Top view close-up of a blooming Magnolia tree in a sunny garden near a brick wall. The tree produces large cup-shaped flowers with elongated oval pink petals surrounding the pistils and stamens in the center.
Grow smaller magnolia varieties in containers for limited space, ensuring appropriate variety selection.

Magnolias are majestic trees and a personal favorite, known for their massive flowers and glossy leaves. The arrival of spring would be incomplete without magnolia blossoms appearing on bare branches, only to be surrounded by lush leaves later in the season. No matter the size of your garden, this is one tree you should consider planting.

Container growing allows gardeners with limited backyard space – or no backyard space at all in the case of patios or balconies – to grow magnolias year-round. Due to their large root systems, confining them to a pot can limit their growth and reduce their lifespan, but choosing the right variety will help counteract these downsides.

Naturally, smaller species like the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) are the ones to choose for containers. As popular as they are, you don’t want a massive species like Magnolia grandiflora that will quickly outgrow the container unless you’re choosing a dwarf cultivar like ‘Little Gem’.

Italian Cypress

Close-up of Italian Cypresses in large black plastic pots in a sunny garden near a stone fence. The Italian Cypress is an elegant, tall evergreen tree known for its distinctive appearance characterized by its narrow, columnar shape and dense, dark green foliage. It features a straight, upright trunk with branches that grows in a compact, symmetrical manner, forming a slender silhouette that tapers toward the top. The foliage consists of small, scale-like leaves closely packed along the branches.
Grow Mediterranean cypress in large containers for structured gardens or privacy screens.

Cupressus sempervirens is a staple of the Tuscan countryside, hence the common names Italian cypress or Mediterranean cypress. Its distinctive shape offers something a little different from the previous entries, suitable for structured formal gardens.

Mediterranean cypress trees are primarily used to add height and structure, often used for lining pathways. Their tall and slender shape also makes them great choices for privacy screens when used en masse.

When container-grown, it’s better to choose a large and sturdy pot to accommodate the tree’s root system and stop the tree from toppling over. A deep pot will also provide visual balance – they can look a little strange in containers that are far shorter than their mature height. Pruning can also be helpful to maintain the right shape.


Close-up of a ripe pear on a tree with green foliage. The Pear tree produces elliptical-shaped, glossy green leaves. The fruit is medium in size, oval in shape with a tapered top, and has a smooth green-pink skin.
Grow dwarf pear tree varieties in containers for fruit and ornamental value, providing proper care.

Pear trees are mainly grown for their fruits. However, these trees also have tons of ornamental value that makes them worthwhile additions to container gardens. There are a few standout species cultivated for their fruit, but just like apples, it’s the rootstock type that matters when planting in a confined space.

For successful fruiting, choose dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties specifically bred for container growing. This limits their size but still allows for strong fruit development. While you may not get as strong a harvest from a potted tree, you can still enjoy a few fresh pears throughout the season.

Pears prefer well-draining soil and consistent moisture, especially while they develop their juicy fruits. Cold temperatures are needed during winter to stimulate bud development, making them suitable for growing in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

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Close-up of young lemon trees in two plastic pots outdoors. Lemon trees have glossy, dark green leaves in an elliptical shape. Oval fruits with shiny yellow skin hang on thin branches.
Grow compact lemon trees like ‘Meyer’ in containers for fruit and ornamental value.

Lemon trees are one of the most popular citrus trees for home gardeners, and the first tree I ever grew in a pot on my balcony. The tree’s ornamental value and ease of care were a factor in my choice, but the driving goal was – of course – the lemons themselves.

The lemon tree’s moderate size, especially when pruned carefully, makes them ideal for growing in smaller spaces (even indoors if you have enough light). Certain varieties are better for containers than others, like the classic ‘Meyer’ lemon that grows to around 10 feet in height.

Unfortunately, you won’t get to harvest as many lemons from a potted tree as you would a larger one with space to expand in the ground. To maximize production, give them at least six to eight hours a day and water regularly. Regular feeding with a citrus-specific fertilizer will ensure your tree has the necessary nutrients to flourish.


Close-up of a lime tree in a black plastic pot in the garden. The lime tree is a small, evergreen tree with a distinctive appearance characterized by glossy, ovate leaves that are light to dark green in color. It produces round-shaped fruits with smooth, thin, and bright green peel.
Grow compact lime varieties in containers for kitchen use and ornamental value.

If you already have a lemon tree or want a citrusy alternative, lime trees are the answer. Whether used to add a zesty punch to your stir fry or as a garnish for your cocktails, limes are just as useful in the kitchen. Their fragrant white flowers also make them attractive ornamental plants, especially when framed with the right container.

There are specific lime varieties best for growing in pots. Smaller varieties, such as Persian lime and Kaffir lime are all happy to grow and fruit in smaller spaces. You still need a large container to keep them happy, but the roots won’t mind being a little restricted.

Lime trees are tropical plants and grow best in warmer USDA Zones 9-11. For those in cooler climates, the best part about growing them in containers is the ability to move the trees indoors or to a greenhouse over winter to protect them from frost. Pick a lightweight container material to make the pots easier to move.


Close-up of a Kumquat tree in a bright red plastic pot in a greenhouse. The Kumquat tree, a small evergreen citrus tree, has a distinctive appearance characterized by its compact size, dense foliage, and abundance of small, oval-shaped fruits. The tree features glossy, dark green leaves with a slightly serrated edge. The small, round or oval fruits have a smooth, bright orange skin.
Consider growing kumquat trees in containers for their unique flavor and compact size.

Kumquat trees (Citrus japonica) are a less common citrus choice but one that urban gardeners with limited space should consider. These adorable fruits have sweet skin and tart flesh, usually eaten whole, creating a complex flavor.

Kumquat trees are quite hardy compared to limes, but they still prefer a warm and sunny climate, growing in USDA Zones 8 and above. Like other citrus, kumquat trees thrive in full sun and well-draining soil and should be protected from frost. In regions with harsh winters, simply move your potted kumquat tree indoors to avoid frost damage.

Resembling tiny oranges just larger than a grape, kumquat fruits can be eaten skin and all, unlike other citrus types. This makes the fruits a wonderful fresh snack, or you can use them to make marmalade or jams. In the right conditions, even potted trees will produce plenty of adorable fruits to harvest.

Bay Leaf

Close-up of a gardener with a small Bay Leaf tree seedling in a black pot against a blurred green background. The gardener is wearing a blue checkered shirt and a yellow apron. The Bay Leaf tree is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree with a distinctive appearance characterized by its dense, glossy green foliage and upright growth habit. The tree features oval to lance-shaped leaves that are leathery and dark green.
Bay trees are versatile and aromatic, perfect for containers with their lush foliage.

Laurus nobilis is typically classified as a shrub or small tree. The flexibility in their growth makes them a perfect fit in various areas of the garden, including in containers. They respond well to shaping, so you can keep them looking shrubby or prune them into a more traditional tree shape.

Bay trees are known for their aromatic leaves that are often popped into stews and curries for their fresh, earthy taste. Just one leaf imparts plenty of flavor, meaning you’ll never run out of leaves to harvest. Even when not in use in the kitchen, the glossy green leaves also add a lush Mediterranean feel to any space.

Bay trees are relatively adaptive and can tolerate a range of conditions, ideal for beginners. But to help them grow to their full potential, plenty of sun and well-draining soil is essential. They also don’t manage frost well, so those in lower USDA Zones will need to protect pots over fall and winter to avoid permanent damage.

Weeping Fig

Close-up of a Weeping Fig Variegated tree in a large wooden pot in a flowerbed with a layer of decorative white stones. The Weeping Fig Variegated tree is a striking ornamental tree with a unique appearance characterized by its weeping branches and variegated foliage. The leaves are ovate to lance-shaped, glossy, and marked with irregular patches or streaks of creamy white or yellow.
Ficus benjamina is ideal for partial shade and compact spaces but may experience leaf drop.

If your container garden only has spots with partial shade, you may struggle to grow a few of the previous entries on this list. That’s where Ficus benjamina comes in. While they can grow in sunny areas, they prefer partial shade with some light direct morning sun to protect the sensitive leaves.

Drooping branches and dense growth provide the classic tree look but on a smaller scale. Pruning can also help maintain not only their shape but also their size if you need to keep them compact. Limiting container size is another way to manage growth. The weeping fig I keep outdoors is in a relatively small container (for a tree) and is maxed out at about 7 feet.  

Weeping figs do come with a few potential problems, with leaf drop being the most common. This can be caused by a variety of factors, with changes in conditions the primary culprit. To prevent this, it’s important to provide consistent care, ensuring a balance in watering and avoiding drastic changes in the environment.

Edible Fig

Top view of a young potted Ficus carica tree. The Ficus carica, commonly known as the Common Fig tree, has a distinct appearance characterized by its large, lobed leaves that are deeply cut and dark green in color.
Ficus carica, known for its sweet fruit, needs sun, water, and feeding for strong growth in containers.

Related to the weeping fig, Ficus carica stands out from other members of the Ficus genus due to its delicious, sweet fruit. Unlike the ornamental weeping fig, grown primarily for its foliage, the edible fig is cultivated for its fruit first.

That’s not to say the tree doesn’t have any ornamental value. This ficus sports large lobed leaves that look right at home in any tropical garden. The fruits vary in color from green to purple or almost black, depending on the variety, adding a stunning pop of color to gardens.

Container-grown fig trees need a sunny spot, regular watering, and consistent feeding during flowering and fruiting to produce a strong harvest. It’s essential to choose a container large enough to accommodate the tree’s root system if you want to avoid problems with stunted growth. Also, ensure the container you choose has enough drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.


Close-up of a blooming Dogwood tree against a blurred garden background. The tree produces delicate, four-petaled pink flowers with white bases and veins. The tree features oval to lance-shaped leaves of dark green color.
Choose compact dogwood varieties for pots, provide shade, and trim regularly.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is often considered one of the best trees for small gardens. In spring, the branches are covered in stunning blooms (which are actually bracts surrounding the small central flowers). In fall, the foliage changes colors, and red berries emerge, providing year-round interest.

Smaller dogwood cultivars like ‘Cherokee Prince’ are better for pots, as they naturally maintain a more compact size. But you will still need to contend with their dense root systems that prefer extra room to spread out. Regular trimming and a large container are vital to keep these trees happy in pots long-term.

Choose a spot with partial shade. Direct afternoon sun is often too intense, so a location with morning sun and afternoon protection is ideal. Mulching can help retain soil moisture and protect the root system from damage in pots, especially for those in warmer regions.


Close-up of a flowering Frangipani tree, also known as Plumeria, in a garden. It is a tropical tree renowned for its exquisite appearance characterized by clusters of fragrant, waxy flowers and sparse, succulent branches. The tree has thick, fleshy branches with elongated, leathery leaves arranged alternately. Its flowers, which bloom in various colors including a combination of white and yellow, have distinctively shaped petals arranged in overlapping layers, creating a visually striking and aromatic display.
This tropical favorite thrives in large containers with excellent drainage in warm climates.

Frangipani is a tropical garden staple that brings an instant resort feel to any garden its planted in. The vibrant flowers are a standout, with a recognizable shape and warm tones reminiscent of the sunny tropics.

Originating from the Americas, these plants need tropical climates to thrive. They are best suited to USDA Zones 10 to 12, where temperatures rarely dip too low. In these ideal climates, frangipanis can grow into small trees (they are also classified shrubs), fitting well into large containers.

Since these plants have quite a substantial root system, a large pot made from sturdy materials is a must-have. The container needs to withstand the weight of the mature plant with its thick branches, along with moist soil. Terra cotta or concrete is ideal, or you can weigh down lighter pots with a layer of gravel at the bottom. They are prone to rot, so any container you choose should have excellent drainage.

Persian Silk Tree

Close-up of flowering branches of a Persian Silk tree. The Persian Silk Tree, also known as Albizia julibrissin, boasts a stunning appearance characterized by its graceful, fern-like foliage and striking pink, fluffy flowers. The tree produces showy, globe-shaped clusters of fragrant flowers with long stamens, resembling silky pink pom-poms.
Growing Persian silk trees in containers restricts aggressive roots and invasive seed dispersal.

Albizia julibrissin is known for its uniquely shaped summer flowers, with the common names Persian silk tree and mimosa. Native to Asia, this interesting species is actually part of the legume family (Fabaceae) and related to a few plants you may already have in your garden.

Growing the Persian silk tree in containers gives you better control of the tree’s environment, particularly in cooler regions (USDA Zone 5 and below) where it may need some extra protection. Container cultivation also restricts the aggressive roots.

However, it’s important to note that these trees are listed as invasive in some regions. While growing in containers and keeping them in enclosed areas can limit damage, seeds may still disperse from the pods, which can disturb local environments. Check your local resources to determine whether it’s safe to plant in your garden to avoid disappointment.


Close-up of flowering branches of an Amelanchier tree against a blue sky. This is a picturesque tree with a charming appearance characterized by its delicate, deciduous foliage and clusters of white or pale pink flowers. The leaves are small, elliptical, orange-bronze in color.
Serviceberries, though large, thrive in pots temporarily, offering blossoms, berries, and vibrant foliage.

Amelanchier, commonly known as serviceberry or shadbush, may not be the first plant to come to mind when you think about growing in pots. These medium-sized trees are quite large, but they can grow in pots for a few years with the right care and maintenance.

Native to temperate regions of North America, shadbush has delicate white spring blossoms, edible summer berries, and vibrant fall foliage – truly the full package. The spring flowers provide nectar for bees and butterflies, while the summer berries are a favorite of birds and other wildlife.

These trees are easily shaped with careful pruning, allowing you to manage growth rate and size in pots. To increase longevity, choose a smaller cultivar and start with a large container to give the roots plenty of space to expand. Well-draining soil is also essential to prevent issues with rot.

Dwarf Conifer

Close-up of many potted Conifer trees in a sunny garden. Conifer trees exhibit a distinctive appearance characterized by their cone-bearing structure and needle-like or scale-like leaves. The trees feature a pyramid or columnar shape, with branches arranged in whorls along the trunk.
Naturally compact and slow-growing dwarf conifers offer year-round interest in containers.

Dwarf conifers are a diverse group of trees and are naturally compact and slow-growing. It’s a classification that covers cultivars in several genera, including pines, spruces, and cypresses (like the previous Cupressus sempervirens but even smaller). You get all the benefits of conifers in texture and structure, just in a smaller package ideal for containers.

Thanks to their evergreen nature, dwarf conifers have year-round interest in container gardens. Like their taller relatives, they are perfect for adding vertical accents, creating structural focal points, or framing entrances.

Depending on the variety, dwarf conifers are typically happy in slightly smaller pots, especially when compared to larger trees like serviceberry. However, they will grow better with less restriction, so balance is needed to prevent stunted growth. Consider the mature size of the specific conifer when selecting a pot, as dwarf varieties vary greatly in size over time.

Banana Tree

Close-up of a Banana tree in a large black plastic pot. This tropical plant is characterized by its large, paddle-shaped leaves arranged spirally around a central trunk. These leaves are bright green.
Beloved bananas, though technically large herbaceous plants, resemble trees in size and structure.

Bananas, often referred to as trees, are not technically trees at all. They are actually large, herbaceous plants with the genus name Musa. The ‘trunk’ of a banana plant is not a true woody trunk but a ‘stem’ formed by tightly packed leaves.

Despite this distinction, banana plants are commonly treated like trees due to their size and structure. They can reach impressive heights and are known for their large, dramatic leaves that fit seamlessly into tropical gardens. The compact height of smaller cultivars is manageable in containers, and keeping them outdoors improves your chances of fruiting.

Potted banana plants can produce fruit, but only with the right care and conditions. Starting off with bright sunlight, plenty of warmth, and regular feeding will boost your chances of success. Banana plants typically take 9 to 12 months to mature and produce fruit, so patience is key.

Final Thoughts

Potted trees are the ideal solution for space-strapped gardeners who still want vertical accents in their gardens. Choose the right container and location, and these 21 trees are bound to thrive.

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