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25+ Container Gardening Mistakes That Will Kill Your Plants

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

25+ Container Gardening Mistakes That Will Kill Your Plants

Container gardening is a fantastic way to grow food, especially for beginners. It allows you to grow a variety of plants in small spaces—be it a balcony, patio, or windowsill. Plus, it provides the benefits of easy accessibility, control over soil quality, and a lower chance of pests and diseases.

However, container gardening also comes with a unique set of challenges. Even the most enthusiastic gardeners can encounter pitfalls that hinder their plants' growth and health. In this article, we'll go over some common container gardening mistakes and share practical advice on how to avoid them.

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1. Using the Wrong Size Container

Choosing the right size container for your plants is crucial. Containers that are too small can restrict root growth, making your plants root-bound and stunting their development.

On the other hand, containers that are too large may cause overwatering issues, as the excess soil retains more moisture than the plant can absorb, potentially leading to root rot. Still, if you're not sure, it's better to err on the larger side.

Here's a vegetable container size chart so you can choose the perfect size container for your plant.

2. Using Containers That Are Too Heavy

When choosing containers for your garden, be sure to consider their weight. Heavier pots can become very difficult to move by the time you add soil and water. This can be a problem when you need to rotate the pots for even sun exposure or move them to protect them from harsh weather.

Use containers made of lighter materials like plastic or resin, which provide the durability of heavier materials without the extra weight. Also, consider getting some plant caddies or stands with wheels so you can easily move large pots around when you need to.

3. Not Cleaning the Container After Prior Use

Reusing containers without cleaning them can introduce pests and diseases to new plants. The residual soil, roots, and debris could have harmful pathogens or insect eggs that might harm the health of the next plant you grow.

To prevent this, thoroughly clean your containers between uses. Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to clean them, and be sure to thoroughly rinse them out to remove any bleach residue before adding new soil. This simple step can make or break your container garden.

4. Forgetting About Drainage

Proper drainage is essential to prevent water from pooling at the bottom of a container, which can cause root rot and other issues. Make sure your containers have adequate drainage holes.

If you're gardening indoors, put a saucer or tray under your containers to catch the water that drains out. This will protect your floors and allow you to easily remove the excess water.

5. Putting Rocks at the Bottom of a Container

Many people say you should put rocks at the bottom of your containers to help with drainage, but it's not really necessary and may even be detrimental. The idea that rocks aid in drainage is misleading. Water only passes into the rock layer once the soil above it is completely saturated, which means you could end up with waterlogged conditions that harm your plant roots.

Instead, use a high-quality potting mix designed for good drainage, and make sure your containers have plenty of drainage holes to allow the excess water to escape.

6. Using the Wrong Soil

Using the right type of soil is crucial for a successful container garden. Most garden soil is too dense for containers and can lead to poor drainage and root development problems. Potting soil, on the other hand, is specifically formulated to be lightweight and provide the perfect balance of air, moisture, and nutrients.

Also, keep in mind that different plants have different soil needs. Some plants need soil with higher acidity or more moisture. When planning your garden, be sure to get the right type of potting mix for each plant.

7. Using Low-Quality Soil

Using dirt from your backyard for your container garden is a huge mistake that can severely hinder plant growth. Soil from your yard is unlikely to have the necessary nutrients for your plants, and it's also unlikely to provide proper drainage and aeration.

Be sure to get a potting mix that's specifically designed for container gardening. This will ensure your plants get the right balance of air, nutrients, and moisture—something backyard soil can't guarantee.

8. Not Fertilizing Your Plants

Many people assume that if you're using a high-quality potting mix, you don't need to fertilize your plants. That might be true in the beginning, but over time, you'll need to start fertilizing as the nutrients in the soil will be depleted by the plant. Also, watering can cause nutrients to leach out of the soil.

If you want your plant to thrive, be sure to give it some plant food on a regular basis. And so you don't forget, create a fertilizing schedule and mark it on the wall calendar or put reminders on your phone.

9. Using The Wrong Fertilizer

Don't just use any fertilizer on your plants. Make sure it's meant for container plants. Also, remember that different plants have different nutrient requirements. You may want to get more than one type of fertilizer, depending on what plants you're growing.

10. Using Too Much Fertilizer

While fertilizing is important, you want to make sure you don't use too much, a mistake that can lead to fertilizer burn. This happens because too much fertilizer leads to excess salt in the soil, which can damage plant roots and inhibit their ability to absorb water.

You can recognize fertilizer burn by withered, scorched-looking leaves and stunted growth. Be sure you follow the recommend dosage and frequency on the fertilizer packaging.

11. Not Watering Enough

This is probably the most obvious mistake, but people do it all the time. Without a watering schedule, it's easy to forget about watering your plants, especially if your plants are outdoors. Be sure to establish a routine for watering and set reminders so you don't forget.

If your plants are outdoors, pay close attention to the weather so you know whether to skip watering days. I can tell by checking my rain gauge.

12. Watering Too Much

Overwatering is another common mistake, and it can quickly cause root rot. To avoid this, use the finger test to check soil moisture before watering. Just stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels moist, your plants probably don't need more water.

Some people use plant water meters, but in my experience, these things almost always say the soil is dry, even when it isn't. The finger test is a much more reliable way to make sure the soil isn't waterlogged.

13. Not Giving Plants Enough Light

Light is crucial for the health of container plants. Make that your plants aren't constantly in the shade. For indoor plants, place them near a sunny window.

If there isn't enough natural light, for example in darker rooms or during the short days of winter, consider using grow lights. These can provide the full spectrum of light that plants need to photosynthesize and grow quickly.

14. Giving Plants Too Much Light

As with water and fertilizer, it's possible to give your plants too much light. Excessive light can stress your plants, especially if they're exposed to direct sunlight all day. This can cause leaf burn, dehydration, and stunted growth.

To prevent this, be sure to put your plants in a spot where they'll receive some shade during the hottest part of the day, or use curtains or shade cloth to filter the sunlight.

15. Failing to Rotate Your Containers

Rotating your containers every now and then will prevent your plants from leaning towards a light source, which can result in uneven growth. This is especially important for plants located in areas with uneven light, such as near a window or on a partially shaded patio.

By simply turning your containers on a regular basis, you can ensure all sides of the plant get plenty of light, helping it to grow evenly.

16. Putting the Wrong Plants Together

If you're going to grow more than one type of plant in a single container, make sure they're plants that grow well together. You want them to be plants with similar water, soil, and light needs. If they don't have the same needs, they'll compete for resources and one plant will likely thrive at the expense of the other.

17. Putting the Wrong Plants Near Each Other

Keep in mind that just because two plants like the same type of soil and the same amount of water and light, that doesn't mean they'll grow well together. In fact, many plants can harm each other. As always, do your research.

If you're going to grow two plants in containers that are side-by-side, make sure they're companion plants. When you put companion plants together, they'll both grow better than they would have by themselves.

18. Packing Plants Too Close Together

This should be obvious, but it needs to be said because people do this all the time. Packing plants too close together in a container can lead to competition for resources like water and nutrients, even if they're companion plants.

When there isn't enough space, the plants will be stressed and their growth will be stunted. Be sure to research your plants and find out how much space they need for air circulation and root development.

19. Keeping Plants Alone

While some plants doo well by themselves, many plants will benefit from being near other plants. When several plants grow together, it creates a beneficial microclimate that regulates the humidity and temperature around each other. As long as they're companion plants and aren't too close together, they'll grow much better than they would alone.

20. Neglecting to Support the Plants

Some plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and climbing flowers, need stakes, cages, or trellises to support their growth. Without support, they can sprawl on the ground or become tangled, and this can cause poor air circulation, disease, and rotting, especially if fruits and leaves are in direct contact with wet soil.

Be sure to support your plants and help them grow upward. They'll be healthier and easier to care for. You can find trellises at any department store, or you can build your own.

21. Waiting Too Long to Trellis

If you're growing any climbing plants, be sure to introduce a trellis while the plants are still young. This will help guide their growth and support proper development from the start.

If you wait too long to add a trellis, your plants could develop weak stems or end up lying on the soil where they're more susceptible to pests and diseases. Setting up a trellis early on gives your climbing plants the best chance at growing healthily.

22. Forgetting to Thin Your Plants

It's always a good idea to plant several seeds together in case some of them don't germinate, but once you have a few seedlings with a pair of leaves, be sure to remove the shortest ones to allow the tallest one plenty of space to grow. Forgetting to thin out the seedlings means they'll compete for resources and none of them will thrive.

23. Neglecting to Prune Your Plants

Regular pruning and deadheading are vital for maintaining plant health. Pruning helps remove dead or overgrown branches, which can improve air circulation and light penetration. Deadheading (removing spent flowers), encourages plants to produce more blooms and prevents them from using energy to produce seeds.

24. Choosing the Wrong Variety of Plant

Selecting the right plant varieties for container gardening is crucial. Not all plants will thrive in confined spaces. For example, some plants may grow too large for a container, while others might have deep root systems that require more space than a container can provide. Be sure to choose plants that are known to grow well in containers.

25. Setting Containers Out Too Early In The Spring

As soon as the weather starts to warm up, many people get excited and move their container plants outside, but beware of false spring. If you move your plants outside too early, an unexpected cold snap could stunt their growth or even kill them.

It's a good idea to check the Old Farmer's Almanac and find out when the first and last frost dates are in your area. If you do set your plants out early, watch the weather and be ready to bring them back inside or cover them with plant covers.

26. Playing Heavy Metal Music Around Your Plants

Okay, I admit I added this one as a joke, but I googled it and it turns out there really is research suggesting that plants grow slower during loud, heavy music and better during soft, soothing music. Scientists believe it's because the sound waves stimulate plant cells and encourage them to grow, but harsher noises stimulate them too much and can hinder growth.

However, this hasn't been proven one way or the other, and there's still a lot of debate, but it certainly can't hurt to have some classical music playing in the background.

Final Thoughts

There are many benefits of container gardening: You can garden at any time of year, you can do it in a small house or apartment, you don't have to worry about bad weather, it's easier to plant prevent pests and diseases… I could go on and on.

However, don't think you can just plant the seeds, water them occasionally, and forget about them. You should check your container garden every day to make sure everything's growing well and that you're not making any of the container gardening mistakes listed above.

As long as you're vigilant, you'll have a happy, healthy garden that rewards you with beautiful flowers and delicious food.

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