Avoid These 8 Mistakes for a Better Vegetable Container Garden | Shifting Roots

Avoid These 8 Mistakes for a Better Vegetable Container Garden

This year I had visions of a beautiful container garden filled with vegetables on my back deck.  I would make it interesting by adding flowers to some of the pots and create a space that was both beautiful and edible.  However, my dreams and reality did not meet.  Here’s the mistakes I made and how you can learn from them.

Really quick gardening disclaimer: I garden in zone 3b in Saskatchewan, Canada, and as such, my gardening advice is best suited to the Canadian Prairies.  While I try to make my gardening tips applicable to as many locations as possible, it is impossible to be 100% relevant to every single zone in North America and beyond.  Thanks for understanding!

Second disclaimer: Nobody really wants to see pictures of practically dead plants.  The pictures here are of my pots when they last looked good, around the mid-point of the growing season.  They went downhill shortly after.

Do you dream of having a container vegetable garden on your patio, balcony, or other small space?  Gardening in pots can be tricky for beginners--here's 8 mistakes you'll want to avoid. #gardening #containergardening #pots #vegetables #vegetablegardening #beginners #plantcare

Mistake 1: Your Location has Too Little or Too Much Sun

My back deck is south-facing and receives little wind.  This means that when the temperature soars to 30 degrees celsius, that spot on the deck feels more like 35.  It’s a great spot for starting a milk jug garden in the spring, but a terrible spot for young vegetables to grow in pots without watering at least twice a day.  In retrospect, I should have moved my pots to a shadier location when the heat wave hit, but I was determined to be a purist, because my apartment-dwelling readers would not have said-luxury.

On the flip side, if you have a deck that is covered in shade for most of the day, you’re probably not going to have much success either.

A Quick Fix: Make sure that none of your pots are touching the wall in this situation. They should all be placed at least 18 inches away, so they will be less scorched and will get rainwater when it rains.

Do you dream of having a container vegetable garden on your patio, balcony, or other small space?  Gardening in pots can be tricky for beginners--here's 8 mistakes you'll want to avoid. #gardening #containergardening #pots #vegetables #vegetablegardening #beginners #plantcare
This Hungarian Wax Pepper was the only vegetable in my container garden to be truly successful this year.

Mistake 2: Not Keeping Up with Watering

Further to mistake 1, I had a hard time keeping up with watering once the middle of July hit.  The initial excitement of gardening was over and I was busy having summer fun.  I generally watered once a day, but with the heat wave we were having, I should have watered twice a day or surrounded my plants with mulch.

Related: How to Keep Your Garden Alive on Vacation

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Mistake 3: Planting Too Many Things in One Pot

We’ve all seen those pictures on Pinterest where someone has planted basil in with their tomato in a pot and it looks wonderful.  I probably should have used a bigger pot, because my tomato flourished and my basil stayed baby-sized.  Same with the nasturtiums I stuck in with another tomato.  They grew, but they never bloomed.

Update: I tried the basil and tomato combination in a larger pot the next year and I still couldn’t get it to work. I can only get it to work in a raised bed.

Do you dream of having a container vegetable garden on your patio, balcony, or other small space?  Gardening in pots can be tricky for beginners--here's 8 mistakes you'll want to avoid. #gardening #containergardening #pots #vegetables #vegetablegardening #beginners #plantcare

P.S–Like the blue painted pots?  Here’s how to make them.

Mistake 4: Your Pot is Too Small

I thought I had it all sorted out.  I planted my larger plants in larger pots and smaller plants in smaller pots, but none of them seemed to be big enough.  My kale never grew more than 8 inches, my bush beans barely produced, and I finally had to give up on my melon and baby-pumpkins.

Mistake 5: Stop Trying to Grow Regular Sized Tomatoes in Pots

Can it be done successfully?  Yes.  Is it easy?  No.

This year I put mine in bigger pots (that still weren’t big enough), added nutrients and used better soil when planting, and still ended up with a disappointing crop compared to the ones in my garden.  Lesson learned–either use a huge container or just stick to cherry tomatoes.

Related: The Best Tomato Varieties to Grow for Your Needs

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Mistake 6: Thinking You Don’t Need Fertilizer

Every plant can benefit from fertilizer, but potted vegetables really need it to thrive.  Ideally, you should use a slow release fertilizer twice a season, or some sort of water-soluble fertilizer, like Miracle Grow or a homemade compost tea, once a week.

Do you dream of having a container vegetable garden on your patio, balcony, or other small space?  Gardening in pots can be tricky for beginners--here's 8 mistakes you'll want to avoid. #gardening #containergardening #pots #vegetables #vegetablegardening #beginners #plantcare

Mistake 7: Letting the Bugs Eat Your Garden Alive

If there’s any lesson I learned the hard way this year, it’s to protect my investment.  From birds eating all my young beets and lettuce, to moths eating my cruciferous vegetables, to an outbreak of powdery mildew, my garden had a hard time flourishing.

Most of the damage could have been prevented with a bit of netting and removing infected leaves as soon as I spotted them.

I swore I would “get to it later,” except later never came.

Related: Companion Planting with Flowers in the Vegetable Garden

Do you dream of having a container vegetable garden on your patio, balcony, or other small space?  Gardening in pots can be tricky for beginners--here's 8 mistakes you'll want to avoid. #gardening #containergardening #pots #vegetables #vegetablegardening #beginners #plantcare

Mistake 8: Giving Up and Labelling Yourself a Brown Thumb

If you’ve had an experience like mine this year, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow anything.  It just means that you made some mistakes and you’re going to learn from them next year.


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And if your garden has fallen into neglect because of illness or family emergency?  Be kind to yourself.  Sure, it sucks to see your vegetables go to waste, but there is always next year.  People are generally pretty happy to take your harvest off of your hands if you can’t deal with it.

Are you a pro at container gardening?  We’d love it if you’d share your best tips with us in the comments!  Please remember that I am currently gardening in zone 3b, and it is really helpful if you mention your zone/general location along with your comment.  Thanks!

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Kristen

Welcome!

Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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