How to Care for a Container Garden

Use these simple tips to keep your potted greenery growing strong all season long.

Whether you’ve placed hanging flower baskets around your porch, added a row of potted herbs to your balcony, or used an old wagon to grow veggies in your backyard, it’s so satisfying to watch plants in a container garden really take root.

And once they’re thriving, you’ll want to keep them that way. One of the benefits of container gardening is the sheer variety of container types (creativity is encouraged!), but when it comes to caring for potted plants, there are some simple tried-and-true rules.

Keep your container garden beautiful and productive by following these 7 easy steps.

1. Stay on the sunny side. Container plants need lots of warm summer sunshine to thrive, and you can tell by looking at them if they need a change of scenery. Sunburned plants may look dry, bleached, or wilted. Sun-starved plants may be slow-growing and leggy. Watch where and when the sun shines in your growing space, then reposition any containers that need different sun exposure. Cool-weather plants, like lettuce and spinach, need about 3 to 5 hours of direct sunlight per day. Warm-weather plants, including tomatoes, peppers, and petunias, want more—at least 6 to 8 hours daily.

2. Water when the soil is dry. Containers dry out quickly, so it may seem like your plants are constantly thirsty! Check them at least once a day by moving any mulch aside and pressing your finger into the soil. When the top inch of the soil surface feels dry, give your plants a good soaking. Water early in the day, aiming the water near the plant’s base and steering clear of any foliage. You’ll know your plant is feeling good when the water runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. (Smaller containers dry out faster than larger ones, so check each plant to avoid over or underwatering.)

3. Keep up with weeds. Weeds aren’t just for in-ground or raised bed gardens. They can sneak into container gardens, too. Since even a few of them can steal vital nutrients and moisture from your plants, pull weeds as soon as you spot them—and make sure to get the entire root. If you’ve mulched your containers, put the mulch back in place after weeding; it helps keep moisture in and new weeds out.

4. Feed your plants often. Since they’re growing in a limited amount of soil, container plants gobble up nutrients quickly. Add Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Water Soluble Plant Food to your watering can or Miracle-Gro® Garden Feeder hose attachment about a month after planting, and every week or two after that, to replace the soil nutrients your plants have absorbed through their roots. Container plants are known to grow up strong, lush, and productive when they’re well-fed.

5. Cut back to grow more. A little grooming goes a long way with growing fuller and bushier potted plants. Remove any dead or damaged leaves, or those that are blocking other plants from getting sun in a mixed container. (You give some plants an inch…) Deadhead your annuals—the process of cutting or pinching off spent flower heads—to encourage more blooms. And snip the tips of branches on perennials at a 45-degree angle, either before or after the growing season, to maintain shape and overall health.

6. Lend your full support. If you decided to go big this year with larger edibles, like tomatoes or peppers, add a stake or cage to the container to give them the bolster they need to really shine. Let vines, like pole beans, peas, and morning glories, follow their natural inclination to climb by placing them next to a trellis, arbor, post, wall, or fence.

7. Watch out for pests. Insects and other critters can take a bite out of your container garden—literally! Inspect your plants for bugs, slugs, and signs of pest damage, like spots, holes, wilted leaves, broken stems, or chew marks. Remove any bugs that you find to keep a problem from spreading. (Your local extension service can provide smart, friendly advice about pest problems.) Leaving ample space between clustered containers helps, too: Air can circulate, and pests have fewer places to hide.

Set aside a few minutes each day to spend on container garden care. You’ll establish good gardening habits while keeping your plants in tip-top shape. Everybody wins!

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