If pine trees (Pinus spp.) are native to your area but you have little space for a full-grown pine tree, it's possible to grow one in a container, just like any other potted plant. As a matter of fact, conifers, in particular, are well suited for container growth because they require less food and nutrients than broad-leaved species. Potted pine trees are very tolerant of root restriction, which is bound to happen to a container plant.
How to Grow a Pine Tree in a Container
Step 1: Select Pines Suited to Containers
Choose slow-growing dwarf pines to grow in containers. Selections such as Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla, USDA hardiness zones 9-11), which is not a true pine species, are often grown in containers, both indoors and outdoors. True pines that do well when grown in containers include dwarf blue Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris 'Glauca Nana,' zones 4-7) and Slowmound mugo pine (Pinus mugo 'Slowmound,' zones 2-8). You want a pine tree that is able to grow with restricted root growth, which will keep the plant small, or one with a dwarf form.
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Step 2: Make Your Own Potting Mix
Make your own potting mix from a combination of compost and perlite or pumice. Use 1 part perlite or pumice and 2 parts compost. This will ensure that the mixture drains well but also retains water long enough for the roots to absorb it.
Step 3: Select a Pot
Select a pot that is twice the width and depth of the root ball in the nursery pot. The rule of thumb for potting trees is 1 foot of pot diameter for every 4 feet of tree height. Clay pots dry out faster than plastic ones, but clay pots are also much heavier, which is something to consider if you're worried about wind knocking over the tree. For a heavier pot that retains more water than clay, choose glazed ceramic. You can find glazed ceramic pots at locations such as Home Depot, Amazon and Walmart.
Step 4: Pot Up Your Pine Tree
Remove the nursery plant from its pot and loosen the roots gently. Put it back in the nursery pot as you add enough soil to the bottom of the new pot so that the top of the plant is a 1/2 inch to 1 inch below the pot rim. You want the top of the soil to fall just below the pot rim so that when you water, it stays in the pot and is absorbed, rather than running over the sides. While adding soil to the pot to fill in, make sure there are no air pockets in the soil. Tamp gently on the top of the soil as you fill. Water well.
Step 5: Keep the Pine Tree Watered
Water the tree when the top inch of soil feels dry. Water it deeply, until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Discard any water in the collection tray, if there is one. If the tree needs daily watering, it's a sign it has outgrown its pot and should be repotted.
Step 6: Repot Your Pine Tree
When the tree has outgrown its pot, prune back the roots or repot the pine in a larger container. To root prune, remove about one-third of the roots and repot in fresh soil in the same size pot. If you're repotting in a larger container, remember the rule of thumb: 1 foot of diameter for every 4 feet of tree height.
Step 7: Protect the Pine From Cold
Protect the potted tree from cold by moving it to a cold greenhouse or unheated porch or wrapping the pot in blankets during cold months of the year.