9 Common Container Gardening Mistakes - Backyard Boss
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9 Common Container Gardening Mistakes

Creating a container garden is a creative way to optimize growing space while livening up porches and decks! Whether you grow beautiful flowers for the showy display or opt for a functional fruit or vegetable garden, planting in containers makes gardening accessible for most.

Container gardening is similar to planting directly into the ground; however, there are a few key things to keep in mind to help your container garden thrive. If you enjoy potting up those plants, learn about these common mistakes so you can avoid them!

1. Moving Heavy Containers

Large Terracotta Pot with Plant
Image credits: Ann Zzz via Pexels

Planning and beginning the gardening season is an exciting time, making all your plant dreams a reality! However, enthusiasm can cause some to overlook this essential task and make a mistake before even beginning.

When using containers, remember that their weight increases dramatically once they are full of soil. If you choose to use large planters, always place the planter in its proper location before filling it with soil. This tip can save you time (and your back!).

Pro Tip: If the large planter cannot go into its location immediately or will be moving throughout the season, consider placing the pot on a plant caddy to provide mobility before adding soil.

2. Wrong Location

Hanging Flower Baskets on porch
Image credits: Marneejill via Creative Commons

Location, location, location! It is no wonder this phrase exists, as where you place your pot is crucial! Container gardens can thrive or suffer depending on where you place them. Consider the amount of shade or direct sun the pot will receive when decorating a porch or deck. Foxglove, ivy, and hostas look beautiful in shady spaces.

In addition, is the pot to be placed close to a wall or fence? If indoors, consider heat sources that could cause problems for potted plants. If outside, always take into consideration your plants growing requirements. Too much sun can scorch or burn the leaves.

3. Improper Plant Pairing

Potted companion plants
Image credits: Daryl Mitchell via Creative Commons

Although it is fun to dream up beautiful plant combinations for your pots, a common misstep is pairing plants with others that need differing growing conditions.

The plants you choose for each pot receive the same amount of sunlight, grow in the same potting medium, and receive the same amount of water. Due to this, choosing plants without considering whether their characteristics and optimal growing conditions align will inevitably cause one or more of the plants to suffer. For example, shade-loving flowers like the lily of the valley do not mix well with full sun flowers like verbena.

Checking the plant’s label for individual requirements is the first step to pairing potted plants. Make sure to do your research on companion planting before giving your plants a permanent home.

4. Over/Underwatering

watering basil from watering can
Image credits: MALAKHOVSKIY via Shutterstock

A container garden is highly susceptible to over or underwatering due to several factors. Some plants, like lavender,¬†happily enjoy dryer conditions, while others, like astilbe, can grow in lots of moisture — Watering plants and gardens is like an art form.

Not only do plant characteristics determine how much you should water the plant, but the potting material also plays a role. Some containers, like hanging baskets and clay pots, dry out faster than materials that retain moisture, such as plastic pots. Because of this, you’ll need to water hanging baskets and clay pots more frequently.

In addition to drainage, temperature varies with pot materials. Metal containers can get very hot in the summer sunshine, while stone planters keep the conditions cool.

5. Wrong Potting Medium

Gardening soil outdoors
Image credits: Lisa Fotios via Pexels

When it comes to soil or potting mix, the options at your local nursery may appear endless! This can cause some confusion and set your container garden off on the wrong foot.

Remember that when planting multiple varieties of plants in one container, their soil requirements must be the same. Some plants like ferns prefer well-draining soils with perlite for example, over plants like the cardinal flower prefer heavy moisture-retaining mixes.

Other considerations when choosing a potting medium are acidity and alkalinity levels. Knowing your plants soil pH requirements can make all the difference.

6. Failing to Fertilize

organic fertilizer
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Plants growing in pots are susceptible to nutrients draining out of the soil. Due to this, fertilization is necessary to add back the missing nutrients.  Adding too many nutrients to the plants will eventually lead to poor-quality such as burnt leaves, stunted growth, or a buildup of salts.

Many different types of fertilizer all fall into two categories: organic and inorganic. Synthetic/inorganic fertilizers provide nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, while organic fertilizers contain micro and macronutrients from living matter.

7. Forgetting About Drainage

Potting soil and containers
Image credits: Ylanite via Pixabay

Your favorite plants may come directly from the nursery in beautiful and creative pots; however, not all pots have drainage holes. Failure to check the pot for adequate drainage holes can damage the plant in the long run. Root rot is a common problem when the soil remains wet for too long.

When you purchase pre-potted plants, always check for drainage. If you do not find drainage holes, it may be possible to add them yourself! If not, repot the plant into a pot with adequate drainage, you can also drill holes if a pot does not come with them.

8. Wrong Pot Size

lavender growing in pots repel squirrels
Image credit: congerdesign via Pixabay

Choosing a pot that is too small or too big is a common mistake many make when starting a container garden. If a pot is too small it stunts the growth and holds back the plant from its full potential! On the other hand, if the pot is too big for the plants, it can retain moisture and cause root rot to occur.

The best way to know what size of pot to use is to consider the mature plant size. The more plants you want in a container, the larger it needs to be. Make sure all the plants fit without stuffing them together and do your research on your specific plant to see if it likes open and airy conditions or enjoy being root bound.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind, larger pots generally need less water than smaller pots.

9. Ignoring Pests and Disease

Aphids on mishapen leaf
Image credits: Plant Pests and Diseases via Creative Commons

Ignoring disease or pests in potted plants is a common mistake and one you should avoid! For plants in containers diseases or pests can spread fairly quickly due to the proximity.

Check your plants daily to look for any signs of a problem and treat any issues immediately.

No More Growing Pains!

Container gardens make for excellent additions to homes. Whether you have a small outdoor space and want to optimize it or hope to add greenery to a porch or deck, potted plants make the perfect growing solution!

To keep those potted plants happy and thriving, avoiding a few common mistakes can be the difference maker for your plants. Getting the proper plant combinations in a pot, choosing the correct potting medium for them, and adding fertilizer are a few simple tips to keep you on the path to successful container gardening!

Do you have container gardens at home? Share some tips in the comment section below that you employ to keep those potted plants living their best life!

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