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5 Container Garden Mistakes to Avoid

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

There are learning curves associated with container gardening, just like with any hobby. Whatever your level of mastery, you should avoid these 5 major types of mistakes:


Containers that are too small

Container gardening attempts to simulate the ground, but there are limitations. Sometimes, plants don't have enough room to spread out. Plants growing in too small containers will be unable to fruit or produce new growth.

Get an idea of how big your container plants' roots will become by taking a look at mature versions of them. You can use this information to determine what type of container your plants require at different stages as they get bigger.

Oversized containers

While plants need room to grow, smaller plants will drown in large containers because they will hold more soil, and more moisture, than they need.

Instead of starting your plants in a big container, repot them into bigger containers as they grow.

Unsuitable container material

Choosing the right material for your garden container is crucial. Plant container materials range from terracotta/clay to cement/stone to wooden crates and grow bags. You should be choosing containers based on your plant’s needs. For some plants, containers that hold water for a longer period would be ideal; they prefer moist soil. Others like fast-drying containers.

Using containers with poor drainage

This mistake usually occurs because a lot of gardeners repurpose containers. Repurposing is a great idea! Be sure to provide drainage holes in your containers, or you may wind up struggling with root rot.


Garden isn't getting enough light

Choosing the right location for your container garden is as important as choosing the right plants. The majority of container plants will thrive with at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. If you do less, your container gardening journey might be frustratingly slow. Low light plants still need sunlight to photosynthesize and grow.

Your plants are getting too much direct sun

As much as sunlight is best, some plants prefer to grow in shade. If that is not an option, use companion planting to shade smaller plants from the direct glare of the sun.

Your plants are not protected from the elements

Even though sun, rain, and wind are great for plants, container plants can only handle them in moderation. If you’re wondering why your plants are struggling, they might just need a change of location. If that’s not an option, protect your plants with plastic tarps when the elements are strong.


Incorrect watering technique

Watering properly is one of the skills every gardener should learn. Plants should be watered from the ground up (where the soil begins) rather than from the top of the foliage. By watering your foliage you might cause brown spots on the leaves, and the soil may not receive enough water.

Using tap water to water plants

While some plants tolerate any type of water, others are more picky, especially when they're growing in containers. Minerals in tap water can build up in container soil and cause plants to turn brown and drop leaves. To solve this problem, many gardeners use water filters.


It’s easy to fall into an under-watering pattern, especially if you are trying not to water the plants too much. Under-watering your plants can cause as much damage as overwatering. Containers dry out faster, which means that you need to stay on top of your watering schedule and make sure your containers are getting as much water as they need. Under-watered plants grow slower and are often limp and lifeless.


Overwatering is the other side of this coin. When plants are given too much water, the soil doesn't dry properly, causing the roots to sit in water and rot. One of the most common causes of houseplant death is root rot, which appears as browning leaves and stems.


Potting plants with the wrong soil/soil mix

Soil used for container gardening is different from ground soil.

Growing in containers requires soil that is airy and able to hold food for the plants. For this reason, container gardening soil has to be prepared carefully. The best soil for container plants is potting soil mix.

Not fertilizing plants

One mistake newbie gardeners make is to plant, stick to a watering schedule and forget to fertilize. Container plants are already growing in a limited medium, so they need plant food to thrive. Fertilize your plants during their growing seasons and refresh your garden soil with compost before planting a new batch.


Picking the wrong plants for containers

Container gardening can be empowering and grounding, but you need to recognize your limitations. Many plants that grow in the soil might not be suitable for containers. But this doesn’t stifle how creative you can get with your container garden. Instead, pick smaller/dwarf varieties of plants that are guaranteed to grow in the limited space of container gardens.

Buying plants that don’t thrive in your region

Your wishlist plants might be gorgeous, but if the conditions of your location cannot sustain them, they will die. This mistake leaves many gardeners frustrated, especially after spending hundreds of dollars on a plant you really want.

The key is to plant for success, not esthetics.

Planting in the wrong season

Location is an important factor in this mistake. If you live in a warmer region, you can plant throughout the year, but if the temperature gets cold in your area, you should plant in warmer seasons and maximize your planting season.


Gardening in containers should be fun, not a chore. If your plants are not sparking joy, then you need to consider that you may be putting too much pressure on yourself and not managing your expectations.

So don't be afraid of breaking the rules and going with what you like. Your garden should reflect your personality and reflect your tastes, so don't be afraid to try something new.

Growing things go through different seasons. Your expectations may not match the results, but that's part of the journey!


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