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6 Container Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

6 Container Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Container gardening is a fun way to enjoy your plants up close and liven up your balcony, deck or porch. While it’s pretty simple to learn, there are a few things you’ll want to know before you get started. Let’s take a look at six common mistakes people make when growing plants in containers so you can be sure to avoid them.

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Container recipes like Storm Shadow and Neptune enhance your outdoor living spaces and bring hummingbirds and butterflies in for a close encounter. 

Mistake #1 - Using containers without a drainage hole

One of the most important things to get right when growing plants in containers is making sure water can drain freely out the bottom of the pot. This ensures your plants don’t rot if they get too much water. Most containers come with a drainage hole in the bottom but if yours doesn’t, drill one yourself using a masonry, glass or tile bit.

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See the small hole in the bottom of this container? It is a huge factor in your container gardening success!

Mistake #2 - Filling the bottom of large containers with filler material

You can find all sorts of ideas online for things to fill the bottom of your large containers—we’ve seen suggestions for everything from old shoes to pot shards and rocks. None of it is good for your plants!

Plants need soil to grow. Whether your container is 6” or 16” deep, it should be filled all the way with potting soil. Any filler material in the bottom of the container will inhibit drainage and cause water to pool in the bottom, eventually leading to rotting roots and very heavy pots. Good quality potting soil is lightweight and drains freely, which is exactly what your plants need to thrive.

Mistake #3 - Using garden soil instead of potting soil

It can be confusing when you are shopping for soil when all the bags seem to look alike. Look for those clearly marked “potting soil” on the front. The bag should be relatively lightweight compared to topsoil. High quality potting soil doesn’t actually contain “soil” at all. Instead, it is a mix of things like peat moss, perlite and bark which provide nutrients, good airflow and drainage for your containerized plants.

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Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® and Snow Princess® sweet alyssum make good container companions because they are both extra-vigorous growers and enjoy similar amounts of light and water. View the Glad All Over container recipe.

Mistake #4 - Pairing plants with different light and water needs

Everything you grow in your container is going to receive the same amount of sunlight and moisture, so you’ll want to pair plants that enjoy similar conditions. Start by selecting plants whose sunlight needs match the amount of sun you have to work with. For example, if your patio or balcony faces south and there is no shade for most of the day, make sure you choose all full sun plants. Read the labels carefully to match up plants that enjoy similar amounts of water, too.

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Self-watering AquaPots® take all the guesswork out of watering your containers.

Mistake #5 - Over or underwatering your plants

In the nursery business, we say that “watering is an artform.” By that we mean that it takes a little time to get to know your plants and how often they like to be watered. Factors like pot size, sun exposure and wind all influence how quickly they will dry out. Larger pots on a sheltered, shaded deck won’t need to be watered nearly as often as hanging baskets swinging in the wind on a sunny porch.

The general rule of thumb to know when it’s time to water most plants is to stick your finger down into the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water again. If you aren’t able to water your plants consistently or just don’t want to be tied to a schedule, consider investing in a WaterWise® drip irrigation system or in self-watering AquaPots® that will do all the work for you.

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Flowers need to be fed regularly to keep up their vigorous growth through the season. Don’t skip the fertilizer!

Mistake #6 - Skipping the fertilizer

Flowers should be fed often to grow and bloom prolifically. Give them what they need by mixing continuous release plant food into the potting soil when you first plant up your containers. That will feed the roots slowly over time. In addition, to get the most out of your plants, feed them every third time you water with water soluble plant food. This kind of fertilizer can be used by the plants immediately to produce more growth and flowers. If you’ve skipped or skimped on fertilizer in the past, try it for a few months this season. We promise you will see the difference!

Learn more about container gardening:

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Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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