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.
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.
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.
Learn the Basics of Gardening in Just a Few Minutes
Gardening doesn't have to be complicated. Learn the basics in minutes, get started with your first garden in a day or less, and start your lifetime gardening adventure.
Enter your name and email address to download the Quick Start Garden Guide. You'll also get a mini-email course and weekly gardening tips and advice.
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.
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.
Grow the Best Tomatoes
Subscribe and get your free 10 page guide to Tomatoes. I'll show you how to start them from seed, the best care practices, and how to harvest them. Plus, you'll get 4 tomato recipes delivered straight to your inbox.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Want to Start a Vegetable Garden?
Learn the basics in just a few minutes, and set up your first garden in a day or less!
Get just the basics you need to start your garden this spring. I'll also email you a mini email course, helpful tips and easy garden advice, straight to your inbox.
Ready to start your garden adventure?
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.