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Q: I live in Vancouver and have a large south-facing deck on my condo. I love trees for both their shade and beauty. Can you suggest a few species that would do well in containers, be slow growing and tolerate full sun? Could you also please tell me how to know when to transplant into a larger pot? And will these trees stay healthy in a container or will they eventually have to be transplanted into the ground?
There are quite a number of trees that you could grow successfully in a container on your patio. Being south facing is a benefit, as most shade trees prefer a sunny location.
Start with a good-sized container – as big as you can. A minimum container size is 66 cm (26 in.) across, but 76-cm (30-in.) would be better still. That is large enough to contain a shade tree for many years and will provide pleasing proportions of tree size to pot. Most importantly, a large container ensures adequate root space and enough soil to retain water for a few days or so, at least. Keep in mind that as the tree develops and produces more leaves it will also use more moisture. Transplanting the tree down the road is not a good option; you’re better off planning for the appropriate size right from the start.
It is important to choose a tree that has a smaller overall long-term stature. Planting a mighty oak is not an option. Here are a few trees that have nice attributes and smaller overall mature size.
Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonica) is a beautiful June pink or white bloomer and offers an oval head that is easily maintained to an appropriate size. Dark-green summer leaves change to bright yellow in fall.
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ (redbud) has beautiful large heart-shaped burgundy leaves. Deep-pink flowers are prolific in early spring on bare branches.
For those with a little less sun, some of my favourites are smaller-growing members of the maple family (Acer palmatum). There are quite a number to choose from with a variety of leaf colour. They are very easy to grow and maintain to any width or height with a “V” shape from the pot up. They do best out with some protection from full late-afternoon sun.