Biggest Container Fails

Discover the common pitfalls gardeners make when planting container gardens.

Photo By: Image courtesy of

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

©2007, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Grow Plants in Pots © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Balanced and Beautiful

A classic urn container dazzles with a planting that shows balanced design, contrasting texture and eye-pleasing color combinations. But not every container garden turns out this glorious. Learn about the typical mistakes gardeners make when designing container gardens—so you can avoid creating the same problems in your own plantings.

Opposites Don’t Attract

When choosing plants for your container gardens, make sure they demand the same growing conditions in terms of light and moisture. This container has sun-loving canna lilies paired with shade-craving impatiens. That’s a combination that won’t shine as the growing season unfolds.

Choosing the Wrong Companions

New dwarf shrub varieties can grow in containers, provided the pot has a large space for roots. In this container combination, a dwarf dark leaf weigela and a chartreuse sweet potato vine will assuredly overtake and likely kill the Mexican heather and geranium. This container garden would have been better off planted in two pots.

Keep Plants in Scale With Your Pot

When choosing plants for a pot, the mature height of the tallest plant in the combination should equal roughly 1.5 times the height of the container. These calla lilies are just a smidge too tall for this large pot.

Overplanted Container Garden

This tub planter has plenty of root room for the ‘Tiny Wine’ ninebark shrub, but only two of the remaining plants are needed. By season’s end, the shrub will overrun most of this container, shading other plants and taking all the moisture out of soil.

Summer Container Garden

When planting a larger pot, like this 16-inch-wide one, it’s easy to overplant. This pot features a four-cell pack of lobelia, Icicle licorice plant and a wine calibrachoa—in addition to Senorita Rosalita cleome. It would have been sufficiently full with the cleome only (see the next image).

Better Plant Size

Six weeks after planting, Senorita Rosalita cleome fills this 16-inch pot—and there’s little life left in the companion plants. The other plants made the pot look fuller at planting time, but they could have been used to create another container garden.

Trio Of Container Gardens

All of these containers are overcrowded, but the center one is especially so. The yellow million bells won’t survive as the dark leaf sweet potato vine continues to sprawl. The vine may even crowd out the geranium in the back of the container. When buying plants for a container, try to buy ones of a similar size to give them each a fighting chance.

No Drainage Holes

Recycling a kitchen pot and food can as container gardens is clever and creative, but unless you drill drainage holes in the bottom of containers, the plants are destined to die.

Plant Too Large for Pot

Like many tropical plants, a full-size canna lily needs a very large container. The height of the canna is already more than 1.5 times the height of the pot, which gives the design a top-heavy appearance. The other plants in the pot may well die before the growing season ends. Cannas need tons of moisture and easily suck soil dry.

Choose a Strong Thriller

In cool-season container designs, be sure to select a strong thriller at the proper size to create a strong contrast at planting time. In cool weather, plants don’t grow as quickly, and you can’t count on small thrillers to gain a height advantage that’s not already present. This is especially important in Zones 6 and colder.

Poor Pot Choice

Terra-cotta pots tend to dry out more quickly than plastic containers. Plants like mints, viola and petunia need ample moisture and cool roots to be at their best. Succulents would be a better plant choice for terra-cotta pots.

No Deadheading

Remove seedheads as they form on container plants, or you risk having the flower show grind to a halt.