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7 Common Container Gardening Mistakes

Since I have made every mistake possible, many more than once, the following list of 7 common container gardening mistakes is just a start, and is in no particular order.

1. Filling a large container in the wrong place: Ever tried to lift a large container garden filled with dirt and plants? I have, and it can be overwhelmingly heavy. When using a large or unwieldy container make sure to place your pot where it will live and then fill it – you’ll save your back!

Also, if you know you are planting shallow rooted plants in a very large container (for example, herbs, annuals, succulents), you can fill the bottom third with empty plastic bottles and cover them with plastic screening. You can also use a product called “Better Than Rocks,” to take up space. It will make your container lighter and less expensive because you won’t need as much potting soil.

2. Overwatering Your Plants: To avoid over-watering your container gardens, use containers that have drainage holes – lots of them. Also, make sure to read the moisture requirements for your plants and then follow them. Before you water, check if your soil is moist. To do this put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water your plant.

If you do over-water, leaves may turn yellow and fall off, or your plants may get limp. If your soil is too wet, move the container to a dry, breezy spot until it dries out.

If you have the room, you can also move your container garden into a garage or sheltered spot to dry it out, particularly if the weather is continuing to be wet.

3. Underwatering Your Plants: Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the heat of the summer.

Many, especially hanging planters or small containers, need watering even more often because there is less soil to hold moisture. When you water, make sure to really soak your plants – if you just give them a sip, the water will only wet the top layer of soil. Water until you see it coming out of the bottom of your pot.

Lots of people use water crystals but they are expensive and some tests have shown that they aren’t particularly effective.

If your plants do dry out, don’t despair; even the most pathetic, limp, plant might revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container take a skewer or stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the roots. Then water generously.

4. Awkward plant to pot ratio: Make sure to consider the proportions of your plants to your container. A large container stuffed with short plants can look stunted. If you need a rule of thumb (and remember that rules are meant to be broken) try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. Also try plants that will spill over the sides.

5. Buying weak or sickly plants: Buying plants at a reputable local nursery is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. You have a greater chance of getting plants that are disease and pest free and well cared for than at a big box store. At a nursery, you can often get a wealth of information and advice from knowledgeable staff. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you pick out a good plant.

If you can’t resist the prices of buying plants from a big box store (and occasionally, who can’t?), try to buy them on or close to the day they’re delivered. Don’t be shy to ask someone who works there which day new plant stock arrives. Delivery is usually the same day every week.

Here are some suggestions for how to save money on container gardening.

6. Fear of pruning: When your container gardens start looking leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut them back.

You may want to put them in an out-of-the-way spot until they re-bound, but chances are they’ll come back healthier and happier with a good haircut.

7. Selecting plants with different requirements: Make sure that all the plants in your container garden share the same sun, soil and water requirements. You can find out this information from your seed packets or plant labels.