Container gardening is perfect if you want beautiful flowers grown from your favorite organic seeds on your porch or deck. We’ve all seen pictures of gorgeous plant pairings in pots that provide stunning living bouquets that we want for our yard or balcony. Part of the success is due to experience. Each year, you will learn more about which plants do well together and which groupings bombed for some reason. That is part of gardening—each year you will learn something new either through success or failure. Container gardening is no different. You are more likely to be successful if you can avoid some common mistakes gardeners make when planting container gardens.
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of mistakes to avoid when container gardening:
- Pot is Too Small
A small pot will dry out quickly in the sun and wind outdoors. Unless you are willing and able to water several times a day, choose a large pot for your plants. This is especially true for hanging plants which are exposed from all sides. Use pots that are 14-16 inches across to prevent your plants from drying out.
- No Drainage Holes
Always buy pots with drainage holes. If your pot has no holes in the bottom, you can drill some yourself using a drill bit made for the type of material your pot is made of. Without drainage holes, your plant can easily be sitting in water causing the roots to rot and the plant to die. More plants die from overwatering than any other cause. By having drainage holes in your pot, you avoid having your plant sitting in water. As soon as you see water seeping out of the drainage holes, you know that your plant is adequately watered.
- Bad Soil
Don’t make do with whatever soil you have left in the bag or by filling the pot with a shovel full of garden soil. Use a good quality potting soil. This is lightweight compared to garden soil. That is because it actually contains no real soil, but rather is a mixture of peat, perlite and other ingredients that are lightweight to allow good air flow and hold moisture while allowing the excess water to drain.
- Starting With Sickly or Weak Plants
Don’t let cost be the deciding factor when purchasing plants. Buy your seeds from a reputable nursery where you can be sure the plants are well-grown and disease- and pest-free. You can even start your own flowers early by planting organic seeds in the house. By growing your own plants, you can be assured of their health and vigor.
- Pairing Plants With Different Needs
You need to put together a plant combination that includes plants with similar needs. Don’t plant a shade lover in the same pot as a plant that needs full sun. One of the two is going to suffer and even die. Try to keep the watering needs in mind also. Some plants like constant moisture while others want to dry out between watering. Some of this plant knowledge will come with experience, but if you are at a good nursery, ask for help. Pick out a plant you really want in your pot and ask them for advice on plants that will go well with the one you chose.
- Poor Plant to Pot Ratio
If you have a large, tall pot and you plant it with short-growing zinnia seeds, even the full-grown zinnias will look out of proportion to the pot. Neither the pot nor the flowers will look their best. Plant taller-growing zinnias or plant the short variety of zinnias in a shorter pot and both will complement the other. While growing a single type of flower in a pot can be very effective, also consider planting several different colors of the same flower. Another tip for designing your mix of plants is to have taller plants similar in height to the height of the pot. Surround the tall plant with medium height plants and finally a shorter plant that will drape over the sides of the pot to soften the edges.
- Lack of Fertilizer
Your plants growing in a pot need nutrients to keep them healthy and continuing to provide fresh blooms throughout the summer and into fall. A good fertilizer is essential. Plan to fertilize every third watering. If it is difficult to remember which time is the third, many gardeners are successful using half-strength fertilizer with every watering. In other words, if the instruction on your fertilizer says one tablespoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water, you will use ½ tablespoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water every time you water.
- Lack of Pruning
Plants in a pot need to be deadheaded and pruned just as the plants in the garden do. Don’t be afraid to trim out an unruly stem or thin a plant that is overpowering its companion plants. Some flowers are self-deadheading, while others need help. Don’t neglect this task as a few minutes of deadheading every couple of days will reward you with many more blooms throughout the season.
- Faulty Watering
Underwatering can occur if your technique is faulty. Make sure the water is actually reaching the soil and not just the foliage. If you spray water over the top of your plants, most will hit the foliage and drain off the sides of the plants to the ground. Very little water actually reaches the potting soil. This is especially common when watering hanging plants. Make sure the spray is directed under the foliage and on the soil. An alternative to hand watering is to use a drip irrigation system that will water the pots for you at a scheduled time each day.
If you can avoid the mistakes listed, you will have a very successful container garden.