Living in the sunshine as we do, gardening is a popular pastime. Floridians can coax plants, vegetables, flowers & Herbs to grow year round, and we don’t need a large garden to do it. Containers can turn small areas, lanais and even sunrooms into productive gardens. While easier to manage than traditional garden beds, container gardening still requires careful planning and nurturing.
For those looking to try it, we have assembled 8 common mistakes to avoid so that your container gardens will flourish.
Container Gardening? Don’t Do This!
- Choose Too-Small Containers: The purpose of a container garden is to grow plants—particularly veggies—in a smaller space than a traditional garden bed. However, plants still require a minimum amount of space to grow, so choosing containers that are too small will result in unhealthy, unproductive vegetables. In general, avoid using a container smaller than a 5-gallon bucket.
- Overcrowd the Planter: It can be tempting to overcrowd a container when planting your seedlings, but trust the planting instructions! Once mature those vegetables will compete for water and nutrients, which will lower their overall productivity.
- Choose the Wrong Type of Container: Consider your plant’s health when choosing a container. Terra cotta pots are gorgeous, but will soak up water from the soil and leave your plants parched. Line any terra cotta pots with plastic (with drain holes at the bottom) or double-pot using a less-pretty plastic container to ensure the soil stays moist. Avoid dark-colored or metal pots—these will get extremely hot and bake the roots of your vegetables. If you choose to repurpose old household items as your containers, make sure they do not contain any toxic materials such as paint residue that will leach into the soil and harm your plants.
- Plant the Wrong Variety: Many vegetables, such as tomatoes, come in different varieties. Choose one that has a smaller, more contained growth form. Finding key words like “bush” or “patio” in the variety name on the seed packet will confirm that the plants will fit in your containers and not outgrow them.
- Forget to Consider the Available Light: When gardening on a porch or patio, study how much light it receives throughout the day. Once you have an idea of how many full-sun hours your patio gets, choose plants that thrive with that light. Flowering vegetables like squash and cucumber will not grow well in an area that receives less than 8 hours of direct light each day. On the other hand, leafy greens like spinach do well in partial sun, needing only about 3-6 hours. Do your research and choose plants accordingly.
- Not Watering Enough (or Overwatering): Containers dry out more quickly than garden beds, and thus will need more consistent, daily watering. Make sure the water has somewhere to drain from though, otherwise you risk drowning your plants.
- Neglect to Feed your Plants: Without worms and other soil creatures helping to provide and recycle nutrients, your container gardens will need to be fertilized frequently. Provide a monthly fertilizer feeding such as a fish emulsion, and after each season mix some compost or new soil into your containers to replenish lost nutrients.
- Forget Pruning: Pruning greatly increases the health and yield of fruit and vegetable plants. Prune areas where foliage is dense to allow for light penetration to the leaves underneath, and trim back any branches that are not as healthy as others. This will allow the plant to focus on producing fruit rather than trying to save the unhealthy branches.