Skip to main content

Can you start a tree in a flower pot? It depends on the tree

Trees are a great addition to yards and gardens. There are a lot of reasons you may want to grow a tree, whether you want a little more shade in your yard or want to commemorate an important date with a tree planting. You can get saplings from a nursery to plant directly in the ground, but if you’re looking to start even younger, or want to remove some of the variables that come with exposing a young plant to the elements, you might consider starting your tree in a pot. If you want to know all the ins and outs of starting a tree in a pot, stick around to find out!

What types of trees can be started in pots?

Good news! Any type of tree can be started in a pot. However, there will be differences in care requirements depending on the tree, and some trees do better in pots than others. Trees that stay small can be kept in pots for longer, as can some larger trees that are very slow growing.

A bonsai tree, for example, can live its whole life in a pot, provided it is properly cared for and is in the right size pot with the correct soil to grow in. A walnut tree, on the other hand, likely won’t be able to live in a pot for more than a year, although you could stretch that if you have very large pots.Five small potted trees on a white background

What size pot is best?

The best pot is one that is just a bit bigger than the roots of the plant. This means that, when starting a plant that grows quickly such as trees, which get drastically bigger in their first year, you need to start small and repot your plant regularly. Although it may seem tempting to get a large pot that your tree could grow into to avoid later transplants, this can actually cause major problems.

The main problem caused by a pot that is too big is uneven watering. This can mean overwatering or underwatering and often leads to root rot or dehydrated plants. When you water a plant, the water soaks into the soil and the roots absorb it. However, in pots that are too big the water pools in places where the roots can’t reach. Then, either the plant is watered again before all the water is gone, causing a build up of water, or the plant is not watered again under the assumption that the roots can reach the wet soil at the bottom and sides of the pot, leading to wilted plants.

Where should you put the pot?

While the needs of trees vary depending on the species, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. While your tree is just a sprout, make sure it gets plenty of sun. Young plants need lots of energy to grow, and trees are no exception. Keep an eye out for sunburns, though, in the form of brown spots on leaves. Sunburns can be caused by getting too much direct light or sunlight that is focused through water on the leaves.

You also want to be mindful of the temperature. Young plants are especially sensitive to extreme temperatures and to sudden temperature changes. It’s often best to start your plants indoors so they can develop in relative safety, and then slowly move them outside once they’re strong enough. Be mindful of drafts caused by loose windows or heating and air vents!

Bonsai tree in purple rectangular pot blooming purple flowers
Devin H. / Unsplash

How often should you repot your tree?

This depends slightly on what type of tree you have and what size pot you’re starting with. A good rule of thumb, however, is to repot your tree whenever you see a significant size change, or if you start noticing a change in plant health that could be related to pot size.

As trees age, they begin to grow more slowly and will need less repotting. In their early life, when they are growing quickly, you may need to repot your plant once every week to two weeks, depending on the type of tree. Once they begin to slow down, you may find yourself repotting once a month to two months, then less frequently.

Larger trees often struggle in containers after the first year of development. Their roots are simply not made for pots, so unless you happen to have industrial-size pots on hand, it’s time to transplant them into your yard or garden.

Now you know all you need to know about starting trees in flower pots! Start with a small pot, repot often, give them plenty of light, keep them warm, and you should be just fine. Go with confidence, knowing that you can start any tree you want in a pot! Just be sure that if you’re starting a large tree, you have somewhere to put it when it grows up.

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
6 popular magnolia tree and shrub species for your yard
At least one of these will fit in your yard or garden
Closeup of a southern magnolia flower

Magnolias are beautiful, long-lived trees and have many wonderful species. Although they’re well known throughout the South, magnolia trees can actually grow anywhere. There is a magnolia tree for any garden or lifestyle, from dry weather to cold weather, big to small, and with a wide variety of flower sizes, shapes, and amounts. These stunning flowering shrubs and trees will look lovely in your yard. No matter what type of magnolia you’re looking for, one of these six is sure to be a good fit. Here are our six favorite magnolia tree and shrub species for you to try.

Star magnolia
Star magnolias are stunning shrubs or small trees with white or pink flowers. They are among the hardiest magnolia species, being resistant to cold, as well as pests and diseases. However, it's not a drought-tolerant tree. This magnolia species is most suited for zones 4 through 9, and it's among the earliest blooming magnolias. You can expect to see tons of flowers in early spring or occasionally even in late winter! Although not the smallest magnolia species, they are relatively small, growing to between 15 and 20 feet tall. Star magnolias can grow in containers, but they may require extra pruning to keep them smaller.

Read more
This is when you should start seeds indoors
Everything you need to know about timing your seed-growing journey
Seedling growing from soil

For gardeners, late winter can be an exciting time of year. When the weather gradually warms up, that means that you can finally start your seeds indoors. Even if the temperatures aren’t quite warm enough outside, you can grow seedlings to transplant into your bountiful garden for spring. But if you’re wondering when to start your seeds indoors, you’re definitely not alone. To give your seedlings the best chances of survival, here’s what you need to know about timing your seed starting. 

Why you should wait to start your seeds
In the winter, cold soil temperatures make it difficult for plants to get the water and nutrients that they need in order to grow healthy and strong. Even if your plants do grow, they can be prone to disease and cold damage. Unless you’re using a greenhouse or live in a warm climate, it's probably best to delay growing anything outside until after the last frost. You especially want to delay growing your annuals too early, as they’re not suited to grow out in your climate zone all times of year. 

Read more
Can you get rid of that terrible compost stench?
How to fix unpleasant compost smells
A metal bucket labeled compost, laying on its side against a blue background. Food scraps spill out of it.

Composting is one of the easiest ways to make your own fertilizer for your garden. Sometimes, though, decomposition doesn’t smell very nice. While the earthy smell of healthy compost doesn't appeal to everyone, it shouldn't smell terrible. If your compost smells deeply unpleasant then it might be a sign that something is wrong with it. Luckily, these issues are easy to identify and fix! This simple guide will walk you through what to do when your compost smells bad.

Why does my compost smell bad?
Compost should smell mostly like dirt, or, at its worst, like a forest in fall. If your compost smells bad, there are a few different things that could be wrong with it. Here's a rundown on what might be going on in your compost.
Moisture
The easiest problem to identify is too much moisture in your compost. If you had a lot of wet weather just before your compost started smelling, this is likely the issue. You can also identify this by sight and texture. Compost should be moist but not soggy.
Over-compacted compost
Another problem you can identify by sight and texture is over-compacted compost. If your compost is too compacted or too moist, it means your compost isn’t getting enough air, which is bad for your compost, but it also means that the smell has nowhere to go.
Compost that's been too layered
Similar to becoming compacted, your compost might be too layered. The easiest way to detect this issue is by thinking about how you add matter to your compost bin. If you add a layer of leaves, vegetables, grass clippings, etc., then add a layer of soil on top of that and let it sit; this creates layers in your compost. Layers trap most of the decomposition in one place. This limits air flow and over time can lead to your bin becoming compacted, as well.
The contents of the compost
If your compost isn’t wet, compacted, or layered, the issue is likely in what you’re adding to your compost. When the issue is with what’s in the bin, you can typically determine the problem by smell. If your compost smells like ammonia, the problem is likely that your compost has too much green material. That means your bin has more vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and wet leaves than it does soil, straw, and dry leaves. Your compost may also smell if you’ve recently added manure or meat to it.

Read more