5 Container Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

Container gardening mistakes to avoid

In the short time that I’ve had a container garden, I’ve learned a few things about what not to do when it comes to planting a successful garden.

In no particular order, here are 5 container gardening mistakes to avoid:

Don’t fill a big container in the wrong place

Have you ever tried to lift a big container garden filled with dirt and plants? I have, and it’s not fun. When using a large container, make sure to place your pot where it will stay, and then fill it.  You’ll save yourself a lot of sore muscles!

Related tip:  if you’re planting a vegetable with shallow roots in a large container, you can fill the bottom third with empty plastic containers or Styrofoam.  This will make your container much lighter, provide good drainage and make it cheaper to fill since you’ll need less soil.

Related: These are my favourite pots for growing vegetables in!

Don’t over-water your plants

To avoid over-watering your plants, make sure to use containers that have drainage holes.  Also, be sure to read the moisture requirements for the plants you chose and then follow what the labels say. A good habit to get yourself into before you water, is to check if the soil is moist. To do this, put your finger into the soil about an two inches deep. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water.

A sign of over-watering is yellow leaves or limp plants. If you notice either of these signs, your soil is too wet.  Move the containers to a dry spot or stop watering until they dry out.

Don’t under-water your plants

Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the summer. Sometimes small containers and hanging baskets, need watering more often because there is less soil to hold the water. When you water, make sure to really soak your plants.  If you only give them a tiny bit, the water will only wet the top layer of soil. which won’t reach the roots. I like to water until I can see it coming out the bottom of the pot.

Related tip:  Make sure you have your containers in a convenient spot for watering.  One year I decided to put some containers on our bedroom deck which meant I had to traipse through the house with a dripping water can about four times a day because there was no hose.  It was a real pain!

Don’t buy sick plants

If you’re purchasing starter plants rather than seeds, make sure to buy healthy plants.  Buying at a local nursery is a great place to start since the staff is usually full of valuable advice.  They’ll even help you pick out healthy, pest and disease free plants!

Don’t have unrealistic expectations

Before you jump into container gardening, take a look at your life.  Will you be away a lot during the summer?  Do you have dreams of a more relaxed summer with less to-do’s?  If so, you may want to reconsider having a container garden.  My first year of container gardening, I was really excited to start planting.  I think I bought every type of plant that was suitable for containers.  As the season went on, I lost my interest since watering the plants daily felt like one more to-do I didn’t want to do.  After that initial foray into container gardening, I have since learned to either cut back on the amount of plants or forget about it completely, to make it work with my life each year.

While it may seem there are a lot of don’ts when it comes to container gardening, it’s really not that difficult to grow delicious vegetables at home!  Quite often I’m surprised at how “tough” plants can be!

Happy gardening!


  1. While waiting to move, I have had my cottage garden in pots 4 about 2-3 years. It’s about 250-350 plants. Every spring and fall I check to see if the plant is root bound. I top up the potting soil and put it in a larger pot. If you don’t do this , some plants will die. I still buy new plants when they are on sale. Last fall my big score was 5 Japanese Maples 4 $20.00.
    I am moving in 2 weeks and my garden is in my friends yard until the winter is over. I live in a zone 5.
    If you do want to move your garden, it is a lot of work, but well worth the cost of replacing all the plants. My Japanese Maples are wrapped in bubble wrap in my porch. If you have any questions about certain plants, it is always a good idea to check the internet for over wintering in pots.
    Can’t wait till the snow is gone and I see what my new yard will look like.
    P.S I collect rocks to, big and small only moved 40, leaving behind 450. My husband thinks I nuts!

  2. Jaime McBrady says:

    I’ve recently had a second herniated disc and have to reluctantly control my compulsive -gardening-disorder. I was considering moving more plants–mainly cottage flowers–into pots. It would seem to me an easier way to control spreading varieties, weeds and back-breaking labor. My back yard is mainly woodland so not much care needed. Advice???

  3. cynda douglas says:

    I had an appartment with a patio and I found a container I always liked to use. Styrofoam coolers, large rectangular ones, mostly, and even some smaller round ones., They are usually white, which looks nice, and i have grown regular tomatoes, flowers, etc in them. You do have to fill them where you plan to leave them. They can be moved, full, but will break unless lifted carefully by the bottom. I poked the drain holes in the sides, just above the bottom, as doing it in the bottom doesn’t work, as it sets down tight and seals them off. I use a piece of screen on the inside over theholes. I have had an edge break off, but I found a strip of duct take around the top and maybe the base adds strength. Now one can get decorative tape. They are very inexpensive for a large container and easily replaced. A real plus is sun hitting them does not heat up the roots like plastic or ceramic. I love the larger, very thick walled ones that fish are shipped in. Great for flowers. I have had some I have even used for several years with a bit of care. Have a great summer.

    • That’s a great idea to use those containers! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you for the idea using the Styrofoam containers…I just bought ceramic ones at a local nursery and were too pricey and the ones at the dollar store were too small. Now I will know what to look for during the fall!

      • Rosie Leake says:

        I have a number of really large ceramic pots . I gather pine cones and layer them half way up the pot then cover with weed fabric (tucking it down the side of the walls) and then put it my soil. It keeps the pots remarkably light and it is better for the environment. The fabric allows the water to drain and there is very little settling. Its worked out great.

    • THANK YOU! I have never thought of this idea, it’s perfect! I cannot wait to go and grab a few from the local shops.

    • great idea! I had planned to throw my Styrofoam (fish) containers out. Glad I saw your suggestion. Thanks.

    • Carla Schmidt Roark says:

      I love this Idea! I have two of the large thick walled type you speak of. I will give this a try for sure. Thank you for being so gracious and sharing your idea.

  4. Soil: make sure it is potting soil(not top soil, not perennial mix)
    Most reputable nurseries have a brand they grow with or sell their own potting mix.
    No matter what brand you choose, you will still have to fertilize once a month or so.
    With containers, all the nutrients drain away too , so they need extra nourishment.

    Fertilizer: use a formula recommended for annuals, or with a bloom booster.
    Osmocote is a nice time-release fertilizer for pots.

  5. I’m confused. No mention of the type of potting mix. No mention of the type of fertilizer. No mention of the size of the container as it relates to the type of plants that are being grown.

  6. most important…..u need good sunlight! Morning sun is best.

  7. Here in South Carolina, I do not water my containers every day, instead I use Miracale Grow moisture soil, or I add the crystals that absorb water, and I mulch the top of the soil.

    • I am in North Carolina and find the water crystals are great, my biggest problem is hanging baskets. Years ago I mounted a birdbath on the deck railing and every morning and every evening I give one of the baskets a chance to sit and soak up water. I also line the cocomat baskets with plastic then fill with dirt. A couple of holes poked in the bottom helps then soak up water while the plastic around the sides helps keep them from drying out as soon. I have 4 Japanese maples on my deck and big pots elp them from drying out. I find herbs do better in the garden, never had luck with basil in pots. I also switch out the dirt every year and dump the old dirt in my vegetable garden. I use 3 parts potting soil and 1 part compost or aged manure. During the worst part of the summer deadhead the plants way back and really give them a good shot of fertilizer once a week. I like Peters over Miracle grow. I just mix 1/2 tea. in a gallon of water. A week solution but fine on a weekly basis. Beautiful flowers all fall. Learn what does best in your area is key!

  8. Great tips and very similar to advice I share with my container gardening friends, clients, and world. Do you mind my sharing of your tips at a class I have coming up? Let me know via the email above. With full credits of course, Cathy T

  9. Instead of using Styrofoam to fill large pots that you don’t need to fill all the way with soil, I’ve started filling the bottoms of pots with leaves or partially composted compost. It does a good job filling the space, helps retain moisture better, adds nutrients the plants need and continues to break down over the summer. I dump it all either into my garden or back into my composter at the end of the summer.

  10. Richard Buse says:

    These are great tips. Thanks for sharing them. Soil weight is a crucial issue, especially for hanging baskets. Peat moss or potting soils are much lighter than regular top soil. Also, sometimes quality winds up being less expensive in the long run when it comes to purchasing pots. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where summer temperatures between 90 and 105 are common. The plastic pots I’ve purchased got brittle and cracked after a few years of being exposed to that heat. I’ve taken to buying clay pots on sale in October/November for use the following year.

  11. Sheila, I have over 100 roses growing in pots. I use MiracleGro potting soil and mix in some dry horse manure. I water every day in the summer here (South Texas). I fertilize every 2 weeks at half strength during the spring. My roses are growing great! They do get partial shade in the afternoon.

    • when do change the soil for the roses, I grew 15 roses in the garden, but neve in pots, im so interested in how u maintained the soil every year, without changing the soil after 3 yrs. thank you

      • I don’t actually plant any roses in containers. I put them in the ground. The only stuff I plant in containers are annuals and some veggies.

  12. Hi there! I just impulse bought a ton of plants to start my container garden when I saw a big spring sale at Home Depot-glad to see I’m not the only one getting ambitious in the first go-around! I’m already worried that I bought the wrong soil though. What are your soil recommendations? Have you used any that really stunk? Thanks for your help! 🙂



  1. […] 5 Container Gardening Mistakes to Avoid […]

Add Your Comment