Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Container Gardening Advice for the Novice

Last year was my first attempt at container gardening and I was constantly calling my mom for gardening advice.  Suffice it to say, my container garden got off to a rough start.  My plants had stayed the same size for weeks.  We're talking maybe an inch or two.  That is not normal by any means.  In conversations with my mom about gardening advice I had come to realize two of my mistakes which had stunted the growth of my plants. 

1.)  Some plants NEED to be started inside.

I was lazy last year.  I didn't want to have to transplant any starts so I planted all of my seeds directly in the pots about mid April.  I would place them outside during the day thinking they would like the natural sunlight and brought them inside at night since we were still dipping below the freezing point.  It took forever my my seeds to sprout and then like I said they just weren't growing. 

I learned that some plants such as tomoates and peppers like to have warm soil when they are first starting.  While it wasn't below the freezing point during the day it was still pretty darn cold.  Thus a good portion of my plants were struggling as starts because the soil was not getting nearly warm enough for their liking.  There are some plants that like the cold but in order to determine which you should start inside and which are fine outside its best to read the back of the label and follow its' instructions... go figure. 

2.)  Water drainage is important

In my mind I thought having the trays underneath planters was an ingenious idea.  You could soak the soil and the extra water in the tray would act as a continous feeder for the plants.  If the soil started getting dry the roots could just tap into the reserve.  

Again, I was mistaken.  After a while my conainters and plants started to stink really, really bad.  That's about the time my mom squashed my ingenious idea. Not only was the water sitting in the bottom container tray not feeding my  plants, it was toxic. 

 If you let your plants sit in water like that it will rot the roots from the bottom up.  Roots need oxygen but when you let your container sit in water it can "drown" your roots. In addition, if you have a tray full of water underneath your pot, the soil will draw salt and sodium back in which has the potential to take the water right out of your roots.  That would be bad.  Too much sodium is toxic to your plants, encourages poor water movement, and limits the overall growth of your plant.   

This principle holds true whether you are growing vegetables in containers outside or a small house plant inside.  When you water them they need to be able to drain out all of the excess water.  I currently have my container garden sitting on rocks, no trays underneath.  When I water my indoor plants I let them sit in my sink until for a few minutes and let the extra water drain out.  Then I can place it back on the tray.
No wonder my plants were struggling so much, they were cold and couldn't "breathe" very well.  It was pretty late in the season by the time I figured this out.  Still, I started some seeds inside and it was amazing the difference in my plant growth just from changing these two things. 

Do you have any gardening advice from your own trial and error? 


  1. Oh Sarah, I'm the worst when it comes to gardening. I'd be so embarrassed if you saw my potted plants. They look good for about a month and then... :(

  2. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips