Magazine article Sunset

Sensational Small Trees

Magazine article Sunset

Sensational Small Trees

Article excerpt

A single tree growing in a large, handsome container adds a significant grace note to any garden. Carefully placed, it can become a sculptural focal point. It can define an entry or an outdoor living area - or screen one. Place it on a sunny deck or patio and it will obligingly cast shade for you or a cluster of smaller potted plants.

The keys to success are selecting a tree that grows slowly to a manageable size (see "Eight Trees Made for Containers," below), potting it in an ample container, and providing proper long-term care.

A tree in a container is like a bird in a cage: To keep it happy and healthy, you have to provide the right environment. Choose a generous pot that will allow the roots to develop; a 4-foot-tall tree will need a pot at least 20 to 24 inches in diameter and 16 to 24 inches in depth. Plastic and glazed ceramic containers won't crack in freezing weather, and they retain soil moisture much better than unglazed terra-cotta and wood containers.

Fill the container with a high-quality potting mix. Most trees (except pines) benefit from controlled-release fertilizer mixed into the soil at planting time. Use about 1/4 cup of fertilizer for every 5 gallons of potting mix.

A big container filled with soil and a tree is heavy; it will be much easier to move around a deck or patio if you set the pot on a mobile platform with wheels or casters attached to the undercarriage.

Remember that trees in containers need water more frequently than those in the ground. Every three years or so, take the tree out of its container and prune off the large old roots that have coiled around the outside of the rootball. Repot the tree immediately in fresh mix, moving it to a larger container if necessary.

Eight trees made for containers

* Bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata); Sunset climate zones 1-6. Dense, rich green needles on a tree that grows slowly, rarely to more than 20 feet. Nursery-grown stock has a pleasing conical form. Coldhardy and drought-tolerant. One mail-order source is Forestfarm Nursery, 990 Tetherow Rd., Williams, OR 97544; (541) 846-7269 or www.forestfarm.com. Catalog $4; pines from $12.

* Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica'); zones 1-6 and 14-17. …

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