Trees in Containers

What trees do well in containers in Vancouver, B.C.?

Q: I live in Vancouver, BC, and I have a large south facing deck on my condo. I love to grow trees both for their shade and their beauty. Can you suggest a few species that would do well in containers, be slow growing, and do well in full sun?

Could you also please advise as to the type of soil that would work best and how determine 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 definitely quite a number of trees that you could have success with growing in a container on your patio. Being south facing is a benefit, as most shade trees prefer a sunny location.

Don’t start with too small a container and preferably not plastic, in fact go as big as your patio will allow based on its size constraints. If you have a patio large enough for a shade tree then the minimum container size should be 26 inches (66 centimetres) or better still increasing it to 30 in (76 cm) for the ultimate success. That should be large enough to contain a shade tree for many, many years. This will also offer a proportionate sizing of pot to tree.

The most important aspect of a larger container is ensuring adequate root space and soil volume. This should prevent your tree from becoming your pet. Too small a container will have the soil drying too quickly, causing harm and affecting the overall health and long-term success of the tree in the container.

Also keep in mind as the tree develops and produces more leaves it will also utilize more moisture. Transplanting the tree down the road is not a good option either. You’re better off starting with the appropriate-size container right from the start. It is important to choose a tree that has a smaller overall long-term stature. Planting the mighty oak is not an option.

Here are a few 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 whatever size. Dark green summer leaves change with the fall months to a bright yellow.
  • There is also a Dwarf Kwanzan Cherry, which offers more of the traditional trunk and “V” shaped head. Everyone loves the early fragrant pink cherry blossoms in spring as well.
  • Forest Pansy (Red bud) (Cercis canadensis). The beautiful heart-shaped leaf in either burgundy or green is very unique as well. Deep pink flowers are prolific in the early spring on bare leafless branches.
  • For those with a little less sun, then one of my favourites is the maple (Acer Palmatum) family. There are quite a number to choose from with many shades of green and many shades of purple leaves. Very easy to grow and maintain to any width or height with a “V” shape from the pot up. Their preference is to not be in the full late-afternoon sun.