It is one of the benefits of container gardening that gardening problems not only are a lot less likely to happen in a well-planted container garden, they also tend to be faster and easier to solve than out in a ‘big’ garden.
Having had many gardens or all sizes, in the ground and above it, i’ve discovered that small-space container gardening is very nearly trouble-free.
But not entirely.
So, while elsewhere on this site the container gardening information is about creating the healthiest, most trouble-free garden, the pages in this section are all about solving gardening problems you might encounter, for both outdoor containers and indoor container gardening (houseplants).
Solving gardening problems – outdoor container gardens
Container gardening problem: Too cold, or too hot
Temperatures that suddenly dip or soar (something becoming more common with climate change) create havoc with your plants. Most plants (and most people) don’t do well when they’re too hot or too cold.
If moving containers to someplace more temperate isn’t an option, group them together and provide some protection (wrap or loosely cover in garden burlap or plastic sheets before cold nights; create some shade and give extra water when it’s hot out, watering only in very early morning or late evening).
In gardening zones where there can be cold weather (and even frost) during the growing season, consider using Cold resistant plants such as winter pansies and succulents.
Gardening problem: Too much sun, or too much shade
Provide more shade with a garden umbrella, a well-placed trellis, or shield more sensitive plants with larger, sun-loving plants and flowers.
Providing more sun on a mostly shady patio or balcony is more difficult. If you can’t cut some branches off an overhanging tree (for example) or move whatever else is causing the shade (and generally you can’t), create your container garden using shade-tolerant plants. While there aren’t a lot of these (and all plants need at least some sun), there are enough to have a varied and interesting container garden. You don’t have to be limited to just impatiens, coleus and hostas.
Outdoor gardening problem: Too wet, or too dry
Unlike out in an in-ground garden, you have a lot of control over how much water your container garden gets.
Do you have plants that seem to be swimming in a pool rather than standing up in their pot? Have you watered too much, or too often? Check to see that the drainage holds at the bottom of the container aren’t plugged. Then allow the container to dry out for a few days.
At that point, if you plants are still swimming, you’ll have to gently take the container apart, being especially careful with the roots, remove the wet soil and re-pot with fresh container potting soil or soil-less mix. Do this soon enough and most of your plants will survive. You can save the wet soil, dry it and use it later in another container, unless it smells. If so, get rid of it.
Too dry? Forgot to water? Plants (like most people) do better on a schedule. Pick a day of the week (for me, it’s Monday, a good start to a new week) to check plants, water and do other care such as deadheading as needed. In hot weather, you will have to water more often (as much as a couple of times a day for small plastic containers in full sun).
These drought-resistant flowers and plants can take a bit more watering neglect.
Container gardening problem: Too tempting to deer, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, dogs or cats
One person’s garden might just be another creature’s dinner. But there are ways to prevent this, protecting your garden while deterring deer, resisting rabbits, and curbing cat cravings for your flowers.
Plant marigolds – their scent deters many small nibblers, including cats.
Put out food for creatures that is more attractive than your garden plants.
Garden centers sell a number of organic products that discourage deer, rabbits and squirrels, while not harming them (or your garden).
Get rid of pests
- Pick them off by hand, or use an detergent spray, which doesn’t harm anything but the bugs.
- Cankerworms eat leaves. Use a biological agent (a spray, available at garden centers).
- Hostas are prone to slug attacks; though less so in containers than in the ground. You can buy slug traps, or a bit of beer in an open jar will attract them (and they will die happy).
But don’t harm beneficial bugs
It may seem that all bugs on plants are bad news, but this isn’t so. Beneficial bugs do all sorts of necessary tasks for plants.
Their most important one (for us) is pollination. Without pollinators such as bees, many plants (including most of our food supply) would not reproduce (very bad news for human survival).
Many birds, including hummingbirds and other insects such as butterflies and ants are also pollinators.
The garden work they do can’t be replaced. For example, if your peony doesn’t have ants, it won’t bloom. The flower buds will simply wither and die.
When you choose solutions for gardening problems, whether these are in your container garden or in a larger garden or lawn, and no matter what the problem (weed control, bugs, etc.) I urge you to go organic, using environmentally-gentle products or
organic solutions, often based on traditional wisdom and planting practices, because they work, and
they solve the problem without threatening the health of pollinators, other beneficial insects, birds, other wildlife, pets, our children, ourselves and (ultimately) the planet.