When you've got limited garden space or just aren't quite ready to take the plunge and plant flowering trees in the ground, container gardening offers a solution. Not only can you move containers around to provide plants with optimal sun exposure, you can bring less-hardy plants indoors during cold spells. Trees growing in pots make a dramatic impact; just ask Kate Middleton, who used potted flowering trees as wedding decor. Not all flowering trees thrive in pots, so choose small, dwarf or semi-dwarf species that tolerate a limited root space.
1. For Fragrance
Some flowering trees add both color and fragrance to your garden. The Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) blooms in spring with aromatic, white blossoms; bring the tree indoors to force an earlier bloom. Female trees bear blue-purple fruits that attract birds. The Chinese fringetree is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5b to 9 and grows in shade or sun. The "Little Gem" Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora "Little Gem") also blooms with fragrant white flowers. This evergreen grows slowly and has dark, dense foliage. It's hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10 and grows in full sun or partial shade.
2. For Long-Lasting Flowers
Container trees with long-lasting flowers include the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), a drought-tolerant deciduous tree. It flowers from spring through summer with showy pink, purple, white or red blossoms and is hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9a. Dwarf cultivars include "Cherokee" and "Acoma." For blooms all summer long, plant a hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus). This small tree lends a tropical appearance with its large, brightly colored flowers. It's hardy in USDA zones 5b to 9a and grows best with protection from harsh afternoon sun.
3. For Fall Foliage
For flowers and fall color, plant a paperbark maple (Acer griseum). The University of Florida IFAS Extension describes this deciduous tree as "perhaps the most beautiful maple" due to its coppery orange, exfoliating bark and bright crimson fall color. It blooms in spring with small, green flowers and grows in USDA zones 4 to 7 in sun or shade. Small cultivars of the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) put on a colorful, yellow leaf display in autumn. This North American native is hardy in USDA zones 4b to 9a and grows in sun to partial shade. Cultivars for containers include "Texas White," "Silver Cloud" and "Forest Pansy."
4. For Fruits
Some flowering, container-friendly trees also bear fruits, such as the weeping flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella "Pendula"). Hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8, this tree has lustrous foliage on descending branches. It blooms in late winter or early spring with a profusion of pale pink flowers, followed by edible black fruits. Place weeping flowering cherry in sunny sites. The Japanese crabapple (Malus floribunda) also grows in pots and produces edible fruits. A disease-resistant tree, the Japanese crabapple blooms in spring with red-pink buds that mature to white flowers. Your kids will enjoy picking the small, yellow and red apples in the fall. Japanese crabapples grow in USDA zones 4 to 7 and prefer full sun.
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