How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter

I wanted to plant an evergreen tree in a container for my back deck to soften up the harshness of winter and to add vertical interest.

Simply put, I think an evergreen tree in a winter container is SO PRETTY AND CLASSY!

It adds color even in winter! But looks good in all seasons.

You can put pumpkins around its base in fall, lights on it at Christmas, plant pansies or violas at its base in spring, and summer annuals when the weather warms up.

For more info on how I plant colorful pansies in containers for winter, see my blog HERE.

If you would rather plant cute little violas, I can show you how I do it HERE.

How I Planted My Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter

This isn’t hard but I’ll tell you how I did it, step-by-step, and one trick I use to make it easy.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter

I planted ‘Emerald Green’ arbovitae in containers for winter on my back deck. I am in love with these evergreen trees planted in containers!

 

1. Choose the right container for your evergreen tree.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 1. Choose the right container

I planted my evergreen trees in two different containers. One is clay. The other is poly-resin. Both work in my zone 7.

There are a few things you need to consider when choosing the ideal container for your tree.

  1. Be sure your container has a drainage hole. You want all the water to be able to drain out of the container. If your container does not have a drainage hole, you can often drill one out. If not, it would be easiest to choose a different container for your evergreen tree.
  2. Be sure the container is twice as wide as the root ball of the tree. If you start with a large enough container, it will make the next few years easier on you and will extend the amount of time the tree can stay in the container before transplanting it. There will be more soil in the container to store water and nutrients. Plus, there will be enough space for the roots to extend. I planted two different-sized trees in the same size container. The larger one will have to be transplanted a lot sooner than the smaller one. I planted them both with full knowledge of this but it would have been smarter to find a larger pot for the larger tree.
  3. Be sure your container will not crack during winter. Some containers can handle cold weather better than others. Clay pots are porous. They absorb water and then when the temps drop, the pot will freeze and crack. Concrete can do the same in harsh winters. Polyresin containers may be a safer bet for where you live. I am in zone 7 and rarely have any trouble with my clay pots. I leave them out all winter with no issue. I planted one of my ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitaes in a clay pot. The other is planted in a polyresin container that mimics clay. I expect both will perform well for me this winter. If you are in a colder zone, you may not want to use clay pots in winter for your winter tree.

2. Use high quality potting soil in your winter container.

Don’t pinch pennies when choosing your potting soil.

Get high-quality potting soil and know that it matters.

You won’t be able to use soil from your landscaping bed or even garden soil.

It will most likely become too compacted giving no room for the roots to grow.

3. Fill the container with potting soil to the base of the evergreen tree.

Okay, so here’s a great trick, especially when you are working with trees that are heavy to move.

  1. Measure from the top of the root ball (not necessarily the top of the nursery container) of your tree to the base.
  2. Add 1″ to the height of the root ball you just measured. (I’ll explain in a minute.)
  3. Take that total number and measure that amount down from the top of your container.
  4. Fill your container with your potting soil up to that line.
  5. Water in the soil, which will compact it. Add soil to be sure you are close to your line.
  6. Now you’re at the perfect height to plant your tree.

4. Take the evergreen tree out of the nursery container.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 4. Remove the tree from the nursery container.

I removed the evergreen tree from the nursery container by squeezing on the sides of the nursery container and gently sliding it out.

Take the tree out of the nursery container by squeezing on the edges of the pot to loosen it.

If it’s hard, I will sometimes beat on it with my hand or something I have laying around.

Then angle the tree downward, holding on to the base, and slip it out of the container.

This can be a challenge if you are by yourself with a heavy tree and are a pansy like me.

Sometimes I just have to cut the container off with a utility knife. Either way is fine.

5. Place the evergreen tree in the center of your container.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 5. Place tree in center of the container.

Place the evergreen tree as close to the center of the container as you can.

Place the tree in the center of the container.

The top of the tree’s soil should be 1″ below the lip of the container.

This 1″ gives you a basin for water to collect.

It prevents water run-off by trapping the water in the basin so that it will eventually soak into the soil.

In addition, it prevents any soil from being washed away during rain or future waterings.

6. Break up the roots of your evergreen tree.

Using your gloved hands, break up the roots around the base of the root ball.

Your goal is to prevent the roots from continuing to grow around and around the root ball.

Instead, you want the roots to reach out into the soil around them.

Sometimes the roots can be impossible to break up with your hands.

In that case, I use a utility knife to cut the roots at a diagonal all around the root ball.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 6. Break up roots and fill around tree with soil.

Break up the roots of your evergreen tree then fill in around it with your high quality soil.

Fill in around the evergreen tree with your potting soil.

Try not to cover the top of the tree’s existing soil.

Instead, just place the soil around it.

7. Deeply water in your evergreen tree.

Water your evergreen tree until water drains out of the bottom of the container.

The soil may compact a bit.

Add extra potting soil if needed to keep it level with the top of the tree’s original soil.

8. Add mulch to the top of your evergreen tree.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 8. Add mulch around your tree.

Add mulch of your choice around your evergreen tree to protect it though the winter.

To help your evergreen tree thrive through the winter, add some mulch around the base of the tree.

I use pine straw but you can also use wood chips.

Sometimes I put small pumpkins all around the tree’s base.

They are festive in the fall and serve as the mulch.

I replace them with Christmas balls later then transition to just mulch.

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter - Christmas

I added some gold balls and lights to my evergreen trees for Christmas!

In spring, you can slip in some pansies or violas around the base of the tree if you want.

9. Enjoy your evergreen tree all winter and beyond!

How I Planted an Evergreen Tree in a Container for Winter 9. Enjoy!

Enjoy your evergreen tree throughout the winter but also all year.

Your potted evergreen tree should give solid color and architectural interest all winter but it won’t stop there.

Enjoy it in spring, summer, and fall, as well.

Try to give it a deep watering once a week or so.

Keep in mind, it will dry out faster in the summer heat.

Also, most evergreens love a good dose of sun.

Check on your specific variety, but generally, about 6-8 hours of sun is recommended although some varieties are able to handle less.

Be sure to position yours where it will be the happiest.

What are some of the best evergreen trees that grow well in pots?

From my research and also based on my opinion (the ones I like the best), here are some of the best evergreen trees to grow in containers:

If you’d like some ideas on evergreen shrubs to plant in containers for winter, you can check them out HERE.

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae

I’m in Zone 7 and can find this tree easily and at a great price.

I planted 5 of them in a soft semi-circle by the driveway at the top of a big hill at one of the houses where I used to live.

They were supposed to prevent the basketball from rolling down the hill.

By the time they were big enough to be effective, my boys had left for college. Haha!

They grow pretty fast. Just not fast enough for what I needed.

In containers, however, they will grow slower or so they say.

I chose these for my back deck and couldn’t be happier with them so far.

I planted a taller one and a smaller one.

I love the architectural interest and the green and I get to add lights to them this winter.

‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae tends to brown a little in winter, so I chose the one with the least browning.

We’ll see how it fares over my zone 7 winter.

‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae

I love these as a privacy screen in the yard.

They can get gigantic and are hardy.

I looked at buying these for my containers because I know in a few years (maybe 3) my evergreen tree will outgrow its container and I will need to plant it in the ground.

I would love to have a few of these planted in my yard.

However, when I got to the nursery, I changed my mind.

They are a little airier (maybe just what you are looking for) and I had a more compact tree in mind.

The guy at the nursery said they would widen out considerably over time too. Maybe too wide for the space I had in mind.

I kind of wanted to try them anyway but ended up going with ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae.

‘Thin Man’ Arborvitae

This is the evergreen tree I wanted to plant in my winter container.

I couldn’t find it anywhere around me.

They are super skinny and tall and would lend a great look for a winter container.

They grow well in zones 3-7 so I may order them when it’s time to plant a tree in a winter container again.

They grow fast, apparently, but the container should slow them quite a bit.

I love the way they look and want to give them a try sometime.

Italian Cypress

An Italian cypress tree in a container would be striking wherever you decided to put it.

It is tall and slender and makes you want to go to Italy. (I want to go!)

It is the epitome of the Italian countryside, or at least from what I see in pictures.

It is hardy in zone 7-10 so consider that when choosing if you want to plant this evergreen tree.

It will get up to 60 feet tall in your landscape but not in a container.

If it gets root bound in your container, you may need to dig it up and clip back some of the secondary roots or you can transplant it to a bigger container or into the ground.

‘Taylor’ Juniper

I love the look of a ‘Taylor’ juniper.

They are visually interesting columns of green.

In a container, they would pack a beautiful, arresting punch.

They only get 3′ wide which makes them ideal for areas where you don’t have that much room but want something green and tall.

They can be grown in zones 3-9 which makes them ideal for me in zone 7.

I’ve seen them advertised as being easy to care for so I’m liking the idea of this one.

Columnar English Yew

The ‘Columnar English’ yew has a unique look to it with its irregular shape.

It would be great in a container with its upright narrow growth.

It only gets 2-3′ wide and will reach 10′ or more planted in the ground.

It grows well in zones 6-8.

If you are in a colder zone and like the look of yews, check out ‘Hicks’ yew.

It is technically a shrub but grows tall and narrow and does well in colder areas.

FAQS About Growing Evergreen Trees in a Winter Container

More questions? I tell you what my experience has been like.

FAQS About Growing Evergreen Trees in a Winter Container

My evergreen trees look great all winter.

How long can an evergreen tree growing in a pot?

An evergreen tree can grow in a pot for 3 years or more if you plant it in a container twice the size of its root ball and are willing to do some root pruning.

Another option to root pruning is to simply transplant it to another larger container or into your landscaping when it outgrows its pot.

I just bought two ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitaes and planted them in winter containers for my back deck. I hope to enjoy them for 3 years or so, transplant them into my yard, then start over with another evergreen tree.

I think it’s fun to try new things so will most likely experiment with one of the trees I listed above next time.

Can potted evergreen trees survive winters?

If you choose an evergreen tree that is listed as hardy in your zone, you should have no trouble with your tree surviving the winter.

Keep in mind that a tree planted in a container can’t take as much cold or as much heat as one planted in the ground.

If you are borderline on the zone recommended for your tree of choice, you may need to water it more often or bring it inside during the winter.

You can also be sure to add mulch to the base of the tree to protect it and even wrap the container in bubble wrap or burlap.

The easiest thing to do is choose an evergreen tree that is easily hardy in your area.

You will still need to water it to keep it healthy through the winter, but the process will be so much easier than fighting nature.

How do you keep a potted tree alive in winter?

The main way to keep a potted tree alive in winter is to start with a tree that is hardy in your area.

Secondly, plant it in your container properly. Scroll to the top of this article to learn how I did it.

Third, be sure to mulch around the base of the tree with pine straw or wood chips.

Fourth, position your tree in an environment where it will most easily thrive. If full sun is recommended, be sure it is getting at least 6 hours of sun.

And fifth, water your tree deeply once a week if it isn’t getting rainwater.

 

Evergreen trees in containers for winter and beyond is a big statement wherever you place them. 

But if you decide you want to add some colorful flowers to your winter container, I give you my favorites HERE.

Happy gardening…all winter long!

Tracy Crosland, owner of Hey Honeysuckle

Written by Tracy Crosland

I was born and raised in small town, Tennessee. As an adult, I found myself thrown into the construction business, building new homes in our little town. My son has now taken over the business, which means I do what I want - a lot of playing in my cottage flower garden (zone 7). I hope you feel the love in my garden and in my blogs and that we can be friends.

For more about me, click HERE.

I want to know more about you!

Follow me at all the sites below. (And when you do, please say “hello.” I’d love to hear from you!)

 

My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden

My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden
(IN A WEEKEND!)

Cottage gardens make me happy!
I want you to be happy too…so this one’s on me.

  • Learn to create your first cottage garden with step-by-step instructions
  • A checklist to keep you on track
  • Images to inspire
  • Increase the value of your home by thousands
  • Explode your happiness quotient
  • Oh, yeah. It’s free! Free happiness.

I want to be happy! Give me the guide!

 

My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden

My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden

Cottage gardens make me happy!
I want you to be happy too…so this one’s on me.

  • Learn to create your first cottage garden with step-by-step instructions
  • A checklist to keep you on track
  • Images to inspire
  • Increase the value of your home by thousands
  • Explode your happiness quotient
  • Oh, yeah. It’s free! Free happiness.