One of the best things about repotting season is that it provides an opportunity for us to select new containers for our trees.
When we move trees from training pots or poorly matched containers to something better, it can be like having a new tree in the yard.
One tree that stumped me this year was a cork oak. The tree is new to the garden and has yet to be worked on, but I wanted to find a container that suited the tree and would provide some space for development. (I often use oversized containers for trees that are a few years away from having their final silhouette.)
Here are some obvious and not-obvious options for the cork oak along with comments about what I do or don’t like about the combination.
Pot 1 – gray oval (unglazed) with curved sides
Over the years I’ve used more gray pots for oaks than brown pots, and more ovals than rectangles. Gray clays call attention to the primarily gray bark and provide contrast to the brown stripes at the base of each fissure along the trunk.
The soft silhouettes of cork oaks lend themselves well to ovals, but not to ovals with large lips.
The above pot has a small lip and two curves along the pot wall, one outward and one inward. I think that shape makes more sense with trees that have more curves along the trunk.
This pot is also on the small side for a tree that will require several years of development before having primary branches large enough to complement the corky trunk.
The second pot I tried is also a gray oval, but the sides have a single curve outward and the size is a better fit for the tree.
Pot 2 – gray oval (unglazed) that flares outward
This isn’t my favorite shape pot for cork oaks, but it’s not far off and the size is right for the time being.
The next pot I tried doesn’t have a lip, but the sides are vertical which I don’t think suits the tree very well.
Pot 3 – reddish/brown oval (unglazed) with no lip
I’m also not a fan of the color, and the container is way too shallow for this stage of development.
Next up is a dark gray rectangle.
Pot 4 – gray rectangle (unglazed) with window
Rectangles strike me as too strong for oaks that don’t have massive trunks or angular features. The depth of the above rectangle makes the trunk look small.
I think the brown rectangle below is a better match for the tree, but it’s not great and it’s too large for the tree.
Pot 5 – brown rectangle (unglazed) with band and pinched corners
As you can see in the photo below, even greater depth and cloud feet aren’t a good complement for the tree. Something similar might be appropriate when the tree is closer to its final silhouette, but the more ornate details would only make sense to me if the tree had strikingly refined features like a perfect silhouette, great surface roots, and clearly defined pads – all features that we don’t typically associate with cork oaks.
Pot 6 – deep brown rectangle (unglazed) with pronounced lip and cloud feet
The above containers are all made in Japan. To try a pot with less refined features, I tried a few domestic containers made by Sara Rayner. The first was an unglazed oval.
Pot 7 – informal brown oval (unglazed) by Sara Rayner
Although this shade of brown isn’t my favorite match for the oak, it’s not far off and I like the general shape as the sides slightly flare outward. It’s too big, however, and a bit much for this stage of development.
Not forgetting that broadleaf evergreens can look good in glazed pots, I tried a deep rectangle with rounded sides.
Pot 8 – blue rounded rectangle by Sara Rayner
I really like the combination here. Were the pot not huge for the tree I’d likely use it as a growing container. I’ll keep this pot in mind if I come across a larger oak as I think the color and shape suit the tree well.
Finally, I tried a prettier version of the above pot but found it to be too pretty (and too large) for the oak.
Pot 9 – blue oval with bullets by Sara Rayner
It turns out I didn’t have the “perfect” container for the tree, but perfect is relative at this stage as the tree would do fine in most of the above pots as it’ll take five or more years before the tree has a refined silhouette.
I went with the second gray oval as I like the color and size for the tree even though it’s not the exact shape I’d like to use in the future.
After repotting (pot #2), 22″ tall
You may notice that I went with the other side of the tree as the front – further evidence that the tree has a ways to go!
Do you have a favorite container among the options above – or a completely different style that you think complements cork oaks well? Let us know in the comments below.
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