Best low-maintenance trees for pots – 5 compact varieties that don't mind being ignored

These trees are perfect for small spots – and for those who take a more relaxed approach to gardening

Tree in pot
(Image credit: ROMAOSLO via Getty Images)

The beauty of the best low-maintenance trees for pots is that these varieties can thrive with little attention and fuss – making them a popular choice for modern outdoor spaces.

It can be hard to know which of the best trees to grow in pots is right for your yard, so if you're looking for more undemanding container gardening ideas, this list of the best low-maintenance trees for pots will have something for you.

Whether you are looking for the best fruit trees to grow in pots or need privacy trees to grow in pots, there are many trees that are perfect for containers – and that don't require lots of attention to keep happy.

The 5 easiest trees to grow in pots

Acer tree in pot

(Image credit: Johner Images via Getty Images)

Discover our expert list of low-maintenance trees for pots so you can make the right choice for your containers.

1. Olive trees

Olive tree in pot

(Image credit: Credit: Sarah Franklin via Getty Images)

A popular choice for containers, olive trees are very low-maintenance and will flourish happily in a sunny spot on your patio. It's also possible to grow an olive tree indoors.

'Olive trees thrive in a sunny position, provided they have good drainage. They are also very hardy and disease resistant, so even if you don't have a green thumb you can keep your olive looking great with very little effort,' says Fern Berg, plant and gardening expert at Tree Vitalize.

Olive trees are Mediterranean and only need to be watered when the top two inches of soil are dry. They grow best in US hardiness zone 4 to zone 11 and should always be protected from winter weather.

You can prune olive trees to keep them looking healthy and can expect to harvest their fruits in fall.

Olive trees for pots are available to purchase online, like this dwarf olive tree from Nature Hills.

2. Crab apple trees

Crab apple tree flowers

(Image credit: Marcia Straub via Getty Images)

Crab apple trees are among the best trees for small gardens. It's possible to grow dwarf crab apple trees in pots for a flowering container plant.

'Great for a full sun spot, such as a sunny porch. Crab apples are resilient trees that can handle small areas and can be easily pruned to stay small,' says says tree care expert Lisa Tadewaldt.

These trees will grow best in US hardiness zone 4 to zone 8. You should water them moderately and let them dry out between watering. To encourage flowers and fruit, you may also choose to provide your potted crab apple tree with a balanced fertilizer.

Find flowering crab apple trees online, like this Marilee Crab apple Tree from Nature Hills.

3. Acers

Acer tree pot

(Image credit: ChalkyWhite via Getty Images)

Popular choices for container plants, acer trees, or Japanese maple trees, are among the best trees for fall color. They have iconic, beautiful leaves that come in many colorful hues, from red to yellow.

'When choosing acers for a potted plant, a dwarf variety is recommended. These trees require excellent drainage, acidic soil and a pot that is 2-3 times larger than the size of the root base,' says Dave Sheridan, tree expert and owner of Ascension Tree Care.

There are many varieties of Japanese maples, with many being compact enough for pots, growing just under four feet in height. They grow best in US hardiness zone 5 to zone 7 and will retain their deep colors if provided with plenty of bright light.

Acer trees are widely available to purchase online in a range of colors, such as this Bloodgood Japanese Maple Tree from Fast Growing Trees.

4. Lemon trees

Lemon tree in pots

(Image credit: sunara via Getty Images)

Lemon trees are one of the easiest citrus trees to grow – you can grow lemon from seed for a zesty addition to your kitchen garden.

'Lemon trees foliate year round requiring regular sunlight and watering. They prefer slightly acidic, well-draining soil and produce fruit at a young age,' says Dave Sheridan.

Keep your lemon tree in a bright, sunny spot to encourage an abundance of fruit and water when the top two inches of soil are dry. It's a good idea to bring your lemon tree indoors in colder temperatures as part of your potted lemon tree winter care.

If you notice your lemon tree leaves turning yellow, it might be because your plant is overwatered. Prune your lemon tree to revive its appearance and let it dry out before watering again to encourage it to thrive again. 

This Meyer Lemon Tree from Fast Growing Trees is the perfect size for a patio citrus garden.

5. Dwarf conifers

Confier tree in pots

(Image credit: sunara via Getty Images)

A classic potted plant that can instantly green up your space, dwarf conifers are some of the easiest trees to care for.

'Conifers like good drainage in their soil which makes them ideal as potted plants,' says Lisa.

It's best to provide these trees with a more acidic soil to encourage growth, although they won't need to be repotted often.

'Dwarf conifers can thrive upwards to 5 years before re-potting or root pruning is required,' says Dave Sheridan.

If you notice your conifer going brown, it's best to provide consistent moisture levels and prune as needed to keep it looking its best. 

Most nurseries will stock small conifer trees and you can also find them online, like this Forever Goldy Tree from Garden Goods Direct.

Shop tree planters online

There are many types of compact trees that are low maintenance and perfect for pots. Whether you're dressing up a patio, or adding height to your container garden, there's a small tree for every yard space. 

You may also be interested in low-maintenance trees to grow indoors if you have limited outdoor space.

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and likes to encourage gardeners to make greener choices to help tackle the effects of climate change with a trowel in hand. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection.