Container gardening is a rewarding and efficient way to grow plants anywhere. Since you can easily move the containers around (indoors or out and from one room to another), you can control their environment and ensure optimal health conditions. This method of gardening can allow you to grow plants you may not otherwise be able to. Even better, it gives you the chance to create decorative focal pieces around your home.
Although container gardens are stunning when done right, they also come with a number of challenges. After all, they can’t go anywhere. Your plants are confined in a small space and completely at the mercy of your care. As a result, it’s vital that you provide the best soil, sunlight, container, and water for your plant.
To help you create a healthy and lasting container garden at home, here are the 11 most common container gardening challenges and how you can solve each.
1. Compacted Soil
The problem: Plants begin to wilt even though you’ve provided a sufficient amount of water.
The cause: Poor drainage and soil aeration.
Try this: Repot the plant using a well-draining soil with plenty of perlite or vermiculite. Next, make sure the container offers the proper amount of drainage holes in the bottom. Prop the pot up so water can drain more easily into the bottom saucer, and empty excess water regularly. It’s important to avoid waterlogging plants that are more susceptible to root rot and fungal diseases.
For added drainage, add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of your container before adding in the soil. Additionally, cover the drainage holes with a coffee filter before adding in the stones. This will keep the soil from washing away each time you water.
2. Overheated Plants
The problem: Full-sun locations can cause some plants to overheat. This can either be because the direct sunlight heats the soil too much, or because the container is dark in color. Overheating can drastically damage the roots.
The cause: Hot temperatures and direct sunlight.
Try this: Switch to using light-colored planters over dark and choose containers made from wood or resin over metal and ceramic. You can also move the containers into a shady area or a location with indirect sunlight. An east-facing location can help decrease how much sun exposure your plants receive. As a result, it will reduce the soil’s likelihood of drying out.
If the plants seem okay but the soil dries out too quickly, switch to a plastic or resin container. These tend to hold onto moisture longer, as clay pots dry out fast. The smaller the container, the faster the soil will dry out as well, so make sure the pot is the appropriate size for your plant.
3. Failure to Thrive
The problem: Your plants just aren’t doing well. They may have a lack of color or vigor, or leaf yellowing. Blooms may fall to the ground before fully forming or stop forming at all.
The cause: Low fertility.
Try this: Well-fed plants are going to live longer. Try feeding your plants bi-weekly with a fertilizer or select a potting soil with slow-release fertilizer. This will help to maintain well-fed plants all season. Make sure you also don’t overwater the plants, or you may flush any nutrients you add right out of the container.
Depending on your plant, you may need to use a slow-release fertilizer or allow more room for the roots to grow. Some plants can grow quickly and become pot-bound, allowing for little to no room for the plant to continue to grow. You need to repot the plant into a larger container or divide the plant into smaller, new plants. Do your research for recommendations and best practices for your plant type.
You can also try homemade cures to fertilize your plants, such as compost tea, manure tea, worm casting tea, or an infusion made from diluted coffee. Each of these options work great in container gardens. Just keep in mind that some of these options are a bit stinky, which is important if your containers are indoors and you’re having a dinner party or guests over.
4. Plant Incompatibility
The problem: Container gardening with more than one type of plant inside doesn’t always work well.
The cause: Incompatible species.
Try this: Use companion planting techniques to keep species together that will help the other thrive. Select plants that are compatible in terms of their soil, light, and care needs, and make sure they appear aesthetically appealing when planted together.
Check out the label of each plant to determine if they should be grouped together before you plant. Then fill the container with your favorite color scheme or match the appearance with your home decor.
5. Container Placement
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The problem: Your plants appear tall and spindly. They’re unproductive and may not grow at all. They could even become sickly looking and turn a purple shade.
The cause: Insufficient light or heat.
Try this: Move the container to an area that offers more sunlight. You can search for the specific plant’s sunlight requirements and make sure the container is placed in an adequate location. If your plant doesn’t improve with the recommended amount of light, try reducing how much nitrogen you feed it.
A purple or sick-appearing plant may need higher temperatures. Move the plant to a warmer area, and if it doesn’t improve, try increasing the amount of phosphate in your base solution.
The problem: The leaves of your plant appear to have small holes, or the foliage looks distorted in terms of the shape. Whole leaves may go missing overnight.
The cause: Insects, commonly aphids, slugs, snails, beetles, cutworms, and spider mites. Larger wildlife like birds, rodents, and deer can also become troublesome when they start eating your garden.
Try this: Find the pests and hand-pick them from your plants. Alternatively, hose the plants down with an organic insecticidal spray. You may also use cages and other cures to deter certain pests, for example:
- Encourage beneficial insects to reduce pest numbers
- Select plant varieties that are resistant to the common pest issues in your area.
- Use a physical barrier to keep insects from the plant, such as a floating row cover.
7. Diseases Common in Container Gardening
The problem: Foliage appears dead, dried in some areas, rusty or powdery, or the leaves have spots.
The cause: Plant diseases like powdery mildew or blossom end rot.
Try this: Preventing these issues is easier if you select disease-resistant varieties, and care for your plants properly. If a disease does manifest, removing the affected foliage immediately, and burn it. Many diseases, such as mildew, mold, rot, and fungus issues result from overwatering.
8. Yellowing from Overwatering
The problem: Plant foliage yellows from the bottom.
The cause: Watering too much.
Try this: Reduce the amount and frequency you water the plants, especially while they are dormant in the winter months. Also, check to make sure the container gardening pots offer proper drainage.
If you’re struggling to remember to water your plant or stopping yourself from overwatering, try incorporating a drip irrigation system. You can make your own by combining drip-emitter rings, tubing, and a simple timer, and the watering system will take care of everything.
9. Death or Harm by Cold
The problem: Cold temperatures can freeze and kill your plants.
The cause: Colder climates and colder seasons with frost.
Try this: The winter season means you’ll need to protect your plants in some way. This can be done either by moving the containers inside for the winter, incorporating a greenhouse, or using cold frames to continue growing over the winter. All depend on your location and what type of plants you grow.
Plants in containers require you to take them indoors during the winter to avoid the frost or they need to be replanted each year. Check the hardiness zones of each plant before you purchase them, and make sure your climate offers the best temperatures throughout the year.
When you move the containers inside, make sure you also cut back on watering and fertilizing.
10. Improper Container Choice
The problem: Plants die off, or they keep becoming waterlogged, overheated, etc.
The cause: The container doesn’t match up to the plant’s needs.
The solution: Containers aren’t all created equally, and the pot you select should fit your plant’s needs while allowing for excellent drainage. Each type of container comes with pros and cons. Terra cotta pots are porous, for example, giving the great drainage. In contrast, they can warm up very quickly in the summer sunlight and overheat your plant’s roots. When you’re container gardening, choose pots based on the type of plan that’ll go into them:
- Terra cotta: Best for heat-loving Mediterranean plants like rosemary, that prosper in quicker-drying soil.
- Wood, plastic, and glazed ceramic: Better for water-loving plants and come in larger options. However, ceramic may also heat up quickly in the sun.
- Shallow containers: Containers only around 8 to 10 inches deep are great for succulents, strawberries, lettuce, and herbs such as cilantro.
11. Frequently Overturned Pots
The problem: You constantly find your containers overturned, damaged, or broken and the plants appear squished from the beatings they’ve taken.
The cause: Strong winds, tall or large plants, or light containers.
Try this: You may need to move the containers, especially if the damage is caused by people tripping on the plants. Place pots in safe locations, where tall or large plants are protected from the wind with secure support. You can use taller plants to shelter smaller ones, tie your plants to support sticks, or position them near a deck to reduce the wind flow.
Container-wise, look for durable options rather than ceramic or terra cotta pots that are easily damaged. Lightweight plastic and resin pots are studier and handle colder temperatures better. You may also need to move your plant to a hanging basket, or tie back a top-heavy plant to ensure it doesn’t tip over anymore.
It’s not surprising that most of the common issues to container gardening are a direct result of improper care for each type of plant. The trick lies in knowing your plants’ needs, selecting the right container and placement for each, and remaining consistent. With the proper amount of attention, you can keep a container garden thriving all year long!