Container gardening mistakes to avoid, according to garden experts

Find out what container gardening mistakes to avoid before you plant up your pots for your patio or deck

container gardening mistakes
(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Ready to plant your containers? You'll want to know the container gardening mistakes to avoid before you get started. 

Whether you have a large garden or a simple backyard, planting beautiful blooms in containers is a great way to add color to your patio, deck or pathway. It can be easy to get your container gardening ideas wrong, however. From choosing the wrong sized container to not watering your plants correctly, small errors can soon add up to an unimpressive display of flowers or foliage. 

So to help you ensure you get beautiful looking pots this year, we asked a number of garden experts for their top tips. Keep reading to find out what they think are the most common container gardening mistakes people make and what you can do to avoid them. 

1. 'Not giving your containers enough water'

container gardening mistakes

Pots from a selection at Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

Victoria Wade, RHS Gold Winning garden designer
‘Anything planted in containers will dry out much quicker than things planted in the ground. The bigger the pot the less you will need to water it, so if you aren’t going to be able to keep on top of daily watering in the summer, choose the biggest pot you can. 

'For this reason, I would recommend using at least a 15in/40cm diameter pot. Or if you are going to use smaller pots, choose drought-loving species to plant in these instead.’

Our guide to watering plants has plenty more tips and tricks for keeping your plants looking healthy. 

2. 'Trying to cram too much in your containers'

container gardening mistakes: rattan planter

(Image credit: OKA)

Lucy Chamberlain, Head Gardener and host of the Talking Heads podcast
‘This is such a tempting prospect when you're looking at all the summer bedding plug plants on the garden center shelves, but don't waste your money and make one of the top container gardening mistakes! The extra plants won't thank you for it as they'll struggle to grow.

'You can avoid this mistake by making a tally of how many plants your containers will comfortably hold, and (try to) stick to it. It's tricky, I know, so if you are tempted by extra purchases, promise me that you'll buy a container for them at the same time! 

'All these beautiful plants need adequate root space to flower and perform at their best. It depends on the size of the pot and spread of the plant, but aim to have at least 5-6cm of space around each plant when they're initially planted - with a little warm weather and water, you'll be amazed how quickly they'll fill out their allotted space. 

'Don't forget to add regular doses of liquid feed, too. Begin with a balanced one such as Growmore, then switch to a high potash formulation as flowers appear.’

3. 'Choosing the wrong container'

container gardening mistakes

(Image credit: Gardenesque)

Lucy Butler, @mindful.gardener
‘Plants require different planting depths according to their variety, so bear this in mind if you want to avoid container gardening mistakes. Make sure your pot is deep enough for the plant you are growing and that there is enough room for the roots to develop properly so they are not restricted in any way - unless you happen to be growing plants that like to have their roots restricted such as Agapanthus.' You can find out how to grow agapanthus in our guide. 

'Another common mistake is not paying attention to what your container is made of. For instance if you are growing edibles you should avoid using containers that may contain toxic materials such as lead which can leach into the soil when watering. This can be a problem if using repurposed household objects, for example. 

'Using containers that are not frost-proof for planting outdoors can lead to pots cracking and breaking which can cause damage to the plant. When planting, be mindful of the type of container you wish to use and where it’s going to be situated. If outdoors always opt for frost-proof.’

There's more inspiration in our garden planter ideas feature. 

4. 'Underestimating how much some plants grow'

container gardening mistakes: planters and bistro set on patio

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Greg Loades (@hull_urban_gardener) is an editor and author of The Modern Cottage Garden
‘One of my biggest container gardening mistakes is one that I’ve repeated many times. Underestimating how much some plants will grow - if I had a money for the number of times I’ve had to move plants that end up too close to others I would be a rich man. On the plus side I now have lots of experience of how to move plants!' 

5. 'Underfeeding your container plants'

container gardening mistakes: trio of pots on patio

(Image credit: Ivyline)

Isabelle Palmer, (@thebalconygardener), small space container garden designer and author of Modern Container Gardening
‘Most composts contain enough nutrients for three months.These are quickly absorbed by the plant's root system so it’s worth feeding supplementary food and organic matter regularly in the growing season. 

'A good liquid fertilizer added when watering every two weeks is the best trick. Use half the amount specified just to be on the safe side as the nutrients don’t have anywhere to go in a container and can damage a plant if overfed.’

You can find out how to compost in our expert guide. 

6. 'Not giving your container plants the right amount of light'

container gardening mistakes: tall planters on patio

(Image credit: Lechuza)

Lechuza, garden planter company
'Different plant varieties have varying needs and likes when it comes to light so, when selecting your plants, take note of the care tags and make sure you know whether they grow best in sun or shade. 

'You want to avoid mixing sun- and shade-loving plants in the same pot if you are creating an arrangement. It is also worth saving these care tags to remind yourself of feeding and watering requirements.'

Got a shady spot you want to plant up? Our shade garden ideas feature is a great place to start for inspiration. 

Sophie Warren-Smith

Sophie has been an interior stylist and journalist for over 20 years. She recently trained to be a florist and launched The Prettiest Posy where she curates beautiful flowers for weddings and events.