Growing Plants in Containers

Container Gardens

Q:  The plants in my containers don’t always grow well. What am I doing wrong?  Can you give me some growing tips?

A:  There are several important factors to keep in mind when gardening in containers.
Using an appropriate container is the first thing to be considered. Fancy containers without drainage holes can be tempting but should be avoided because they have limited usage. If you can’t resist using containers with no drainage, see these for instructions on drilling bottom holes. If a container is used that has large drainage holes, soil loss may be a problem. Weed barrier cloth can be cut to line the bottom of the pot to prevent soil loss but to allow the medium to drain properly.  

Consider the location when choosing a container. Terra cotta or clay pots should not be used in full-sun locations that receive direct sun at least six hours per day. Unglazed pots tend to wick water from the soil because of the dryness of the material. This can result in stressed plants that require watering several times per day and should be avoided. Plants such as succulents, shade plants, or plants that don’t require as much water can successfully be planted in these types of containers.

The soil medium used in your containers is extremely important. A good quality potting mix is essential to good growth. Using leftover soil from last season’s containers is not recommended because it could carry disease or insects. Soilless mix should not be used because it is too light and does not retain nutrients.

It is important to remember that the odds of successfully growing in containers improve if you put the right plant in the right place. Full-sun plants grown in too much shade will fail to bloom and may grow taller than normal and spindly because they are stretching for more light. Shade plants grown in too much sun may scorch and fail to thrive, which can lead to premature death.

Please contact Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972 or plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org for additional information.