On April 21, we had our concrete patio extended in our backyard by quite a bit… we added a 10×26 foot slab for a total of 260 additional outdoor living space. Previously we had a tiny 10×15 area that barely fit our outdoor sofa and two chairs.
With that extension came a desire to spend more time outside, and then I bought my first three container plants (English lavender, pink petunias and red zinnias, seen below). I was officially a container gardener… and ready to make container gardening mistakes.
When we lived in our first home in Beeville, we lived on nearly an acre, we had a pond, a HUGE back yard, and I can tell you I had ZERO interest in gardening. Maybe it was my youth, my stressful job at that time, or the fact we had snakes, spiders and scorpions ALL OVER THE PLACE.
It was totally the scorpions. I remember when we closed on that house in fall 2010, our lovely realtor gave us two beautiful potted mums…that I promptly left on the porch and let die. I just wasn’t interested.
I think COVID quarantine has inspired us all to get creative in having fun in our homes, so here I am in late April jumping into the gardening game. All of you hardcore gardeners are probably thinking to yourself, “Boy, is she late to the game! She needed to start 6-8 weeks before last frost!”
Now that I’ve been gardening a whole two and a half months, I’ve learned some lessons. I’ve wasted time. I’ve wasted money (WHY IS DIRT SO EXPENSIVE?), but overall I’ve improved and I’m loving the process. Here’s the top container gardening mistakes I made in no particular order.
Too Many Container Plants
I had my newly extended patio and saw it as an opportunity to fill it with ALL THE CONTAINER PLANTS.
I went to At Home, HomeGoods, Marshall’s, etc. once they reopened in early May and bought ALL THE CONTAINERS. (Not literally, but you catch my drift.) Was it blue and white? Sold!
Eventually, my patio got a little overwhelming. What had I done? I was overflowing with containers everywhere, and it felt cluttered and didn’t look like the gardening paradise I had imagined.
If you’re getting into container gardening, my advice is to start small in quantity and buy your containers/pots in pairs so you have a chic, curated look.
Container Gardening Mistakes Bonus Lesson:
This kind of goes along with buying too many containers is buying containers/planters that are too small. I GREATLY underestimated the size of planters I’d need for the plants I was buying.
I had to repot a few things 4-5 times until I finally learned my darn lesson. I was scrambling around looking for things I had already that I could drill holes into to use as planters.
I don’t even mess around with cute little planters anymore unless I’m growing a mint cutting or something of that sort.
Not Sticking with a Color Palette
Remember the red zinnias I mentioned earlier? They stick out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of white Angelonia, blush pink Knockout Rose trees, pink Cosmos, pink Vinca, purple Salvia, and purple English lavender.
And because I apparently do not learn my lesson easily, I also then bought red Pentas.
I see no sense in killing a perfectly good plant, but in the future, I will definitely stick to my pink/white/purple/green color palette.
And if you’re the type who loves any and all colors, that is great, but I want a more structured vibe. I’m aiming for an urban cottage feel, if that makes any sense at all.
Improper Container Drainage Preparation
This is likely the BIGGEST container gardening mistake I made, and it resulted in the premature death of several petunias. Ok…five petunia plants.
I knew that plant pots/containers need drainage. And I thought that was enough. Does it have a drainage hole? Yes? PLANT GOES IN.
After some super heavy rain, I lost a few petunias because the soil stayed wet for DAYS and DAYS on end. Root rot central.
If I had just put some rocks on the bottom of the container to allow the water to drain out, I would have been in a lot better shape. Instead, I had wet compacted dirt bricks because the water had nowhere to go and was stuck.
I now know to add rocks above the holes, and my plants are much happier and drainage is happening as it should.
Side note: I feel like Miracle Grow potting mix (yellow bag) stays damp for a long time and compacts very easily, is it just me?
Yes, I Promise Watering Plants WILL Get Old
When I first started my container garden, watering my plants was the highlight of my day. I pictured myself like Snow White surrounded by birds enjoying my garden. I put on my floppy sun hat, grabbed the hose and burst into song.
If it rained, I lamented that I couldn’t water my beloved plants for days. Darn that rain, how dare she take this JOY away from me?
Now… I still love my plants, but watering them in the hot, humid, Texas mornings (or evenings for that matter) is not so fun. I also wonder how I will keep this up when I go back to the office (I’ve been working from home since late March).
This also brings me back to my main container gardening mistake I shared in which I had committed to too many container plants. At my highest I had 24. Now that number is under 20 and I can enjoy my patio a little more and worry a little less.
It is a chore sometimes to get them all watered and fertilized and happy. I recently bought this drip irrigation system that I saw over on Garden Answer’s YouTube, and I am thrilled to get it set-up and have this all run itself. I’ll do a review/tutorial, for sure!
Side Note: Deadheading still has not gotten old. I love, love, love deadheading plants. REMEMBER TO DISINFECT your cutting instruments as you move from plant to plant to avoid spreading diseases.
Container Plants Will Have Pest Issues
I always figured since I had container plants, I wouldn’t have to deal with caterpillars, worms, and other undesirables. How naive was I?
Well. These pests can fly, crawl and wiggle their way into literally any plant. No plants are safe. I remember the first time I saw a worm on a leaf, and I screamed bloody murder.
I’m not an insect girl. I was never the type to be curious about ants, grasshoppers, worms or want to see a caterpillar turn into a butterfly…hard pass.
I’ve dealt with my basil getting obliterated by something (never did catch it!). Once I put the basil near marigolds and trimmed it to hell, I was fine and have gorgeous basil now.
I had caterpillars and worms in several of my flowers that I had to treat with BT. I had/have issues with leaf miners, and I dealt with spider mites. I now have organic fungicide, insecticide and BT spray along with a bottle of soapy water on hand to deal with a broad range of issues.
I also use cayenne and cinnamon as natural remedies for ants and algae. For the sake of Pee Wee, our health and the environment/pollinators, I’m sticking to as organic as I can for controlling these things. This is another reason why I want to stop using Miracle Grow products, but that’s a topic for another day.
Whew, that’s a lot of container gardening mistakes, right? I will say the learning process is fun, it’s exciting to see plants evolve, grow and bloom.
This fall, I want to plant some of my container plants (especially the perennials and Knockout roses!) in the ground when it’s not as hot. This will then free up even more space on my patio.
I also have aspirations to start a cut flower garden, but I’m trying to take is easy on the new additions to the garden since it is 100 degrees outside nearly all the time, it seems.
I haven’t shared ANY of the patio extension on here, so I will definitely do a whole blog post on that. We have a new Palm Beach/chinoiserie chic outdoor dining set, a garden arch that has star jasmine vining through it at a rapid pace, and we refreshed our five year old outdoor living set with new cushions.
I know I’ve said a ton, but I would love to hear any of your gardening tips so others can also avoid container gardening mistakes. I have so much to learn and hope to be a lifelong gardener from this point forward. Take care and stay healthy!