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The Pros & Cons of Container Gardening

Container gardening is the easiest way to start gardening almost anywhere. Fill a container with soil, and you’re ready to start. However, it does come with some limitations. This article discusses the pros and cons of vegetable gardening in containers so you maximize the benefits, understand the challenges, and have the best garden possible. 

Container Gardening Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Take a look at these lists of the benefits and challenges of container gardening to decide if it’s right for you based on your circumstances and preferences.


Maximize Container Gardening Benefits:


PRO #1. It’s easy and inexpensive to get started with container gardening

Buckets and grow bags are inexpensive ways to begin gardening
Buckets and grow bags are inexpensive ways to begin gardening

If you have containers on hand, begin with those. If you need to purchase containers, five-gallon buckets and grow bags are probably the least expensive way to begin a garden. 


PRO #2. Container gardens are flexible and portable

Move containers to maximize (or minimize) sunlight
Move containers to maximize (or minimize) sunlight

A benefit of container gardening is that you can move containers around to take advantage of the best weather conditions, maximize sunlight in the winter (or minimize sunlight during hot summer months), and protect plants from sudden weather changes such as frost, heavy rain, or excessive heat. You can also take them with you if you move. 


PRO #3. No weeds!

Container Gardening Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Gardening is more fun when you don’t have weeds to contend with. 


PRO #4. Container gardens have fewer pests and diseases

Generally, you start with fresh soil free of pathogens, so soilborne diseases are less likely. Pests also haven’t built up in the soil and may be easier to spot and manage.


PRO #5. You start with good soil right away

Fill containers all the way up with soil. Don't use fillers.
Fill containers all the way up with soil. Don’t use fillers.

A major benefit of container gardening is that you can give plants access to good soil immediately by filling up your container with a well-draining, nutrient-rich mixture. A good soil mix for containers can be made by combining equal parts of compost, peat moss, and perlite. Learn more in this blog post.


PRO #6. It’s more difficult to overwater

Container Gardening Challenges & How to Overcome Them (9)

One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is overwatering their plants, which can be tough in containers. You can still do this, but as long as you have good drainage, extra water will drain out the bottom holes or through the sides of the grow bags.


PRO #7. Most crops grow in containers

Container Gardening Challenges & How to Overcome Them

You can grow just about every kind of vegetable, herb, and even many fruits in containers. Learn about 20 crops that grow well in containers in this blog post.


Container Gardening Pros & Cons Video


Understand Container Gardening Challenges:

Gardening in containers presents challenges, but they are manageable with the right knowledge and preparation. Let’s examine some of them and discuss the best ways to manage challenges so you can feel confident and prepared for your container gardening journey. 


CON #1: Limited growth space

A container naturally limits the size of the roots, which can limit the size and vigor of the plant.

How to manage this challenge:

  • Choose the right size container for the crops you’re growing. Understand how large crops grow and always choose the larger container when you have a choice. Learn about which size container to use in this blog post.
  • Fill the pot up with soil to take advantage of all the room. Don’t make it smaller than it needs to be, and don’t use fillers. 

CON #2: Watering is up to you

If you forget to water the plant’s roots, it can’t look for available water, and the soil can dry out. This can lead to uneven watering and plant stress.

Use watering helps like an olla and moisture meter to help with watering containers
Use watering helps like an olla and moisture meter to help with watering containers

How to manage this challenge:

  • Spend time in your garden each day. Monitor the moisture level and water if needed.
  • Use a soil moisture meter to gauge when plants need water, helping avoid over and under-watering issues.
  • Use ollas. Ollas are unglazed clay pots that you bury in your containers. They slowly release water as needed into the soil, providing a steady source of moisture for your plants. I use them in nearly all of my containers. I use the ollas from Growoya. Use code Growing for a discount.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to preserve moisture in the soil. Learn more about mulch in this article.

CON #3: Nutrients are flushed out when you water

A crucial element of any container is a drainage hole – without it, the plant’s roots will drown and rot. But that also causes nutrients to get washed away when you water. It’s also more challenging to build up the microbiology in your soil.

Fertilize monthly to maintain nutrient levels in containers
Fertilize monthly to maintain nutrient levels in containers

How to manage this challenge:


CON #4: Temperature fluctuations

Soil in containers can heat up quickly and cool down faster than ground soil. This can be good in the spring when you’re waiting for soil to warm up but bad in hot summers and freezing temperatures. Plants have preferred growing temperatures and don’t like wide temperature fluctuations – it can stress them out. Stressed plants don’t grow well and can be more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Put small containers away during extremes in temperature
Put small containers away during extremes in temperature

To manage this challenge:

  • Consider the climate in your area and choose plants that are more tolerant of temperature fluctuations
  • Group containers together for an insulating effect. This means placing containers close to each other, which creates a microclimate that helps regulate temperature. This is especially helpful during hot and cold weather, as it can buffer extreme temperature changes and provide a more stable environment for your plants. 
  • Use larger containers; they will have less temperature variation. 
  • Put smaller containers away during extremes in weather, such as the hottest months of the year in hot summer climates. The extra stress of a small container on plants’ roots is often too much, and they won’t grow well. 
  • Choose the best location based on the microclimates in your yard. For example, in hot climate areas, avoid placing containers on cement next to a block wall in the summer—the containers will absorb all that reflected heat. 

Although gardening in containers has challenges, you now know the benefits and what to do to succeed. I’d love to hear about your experiences with container gardening. What challenges have you overcome? Share your stories and tips in the comments below! 

Container Gardening Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Growing in the Garden container gardening resources:

If you’re looking for more resources, I have several videos and blog posts that provide step-by-step guides, tips, and tricks for successful container gardening. I even wrote a book about container gardening, which covers everything from choosing the right containers to harvesting your first crop. You’ve got this! 

"How to Grow Your Own Food: An Illustrated Beginner's Guide to Container Gardening"

If this post about the pros & cons of container gardening was helpful, please share it:

Kathy J

Monday 3rd of June 2024

Hello Angela, I have been following you on Youtube for a long time. I love your informative videos, thank you so much! I wanted to ask you about the wine/whiskey barrels you plant in. I recently acquired one and was wondering if you have seen yours suffer and decay from the sunshine and rain? I love the look of the natural wood, but if I need to put a protective spar urethane on it, I will before I plant it. Do you see that yours don't hold up in the weather? Are yours coated? Do you stain and seal yours? It is June 3rd and I would like to get a fig tree planted this week, I hope you will have time to answer me asap. Thank you very much. BTW, I am in Southern California.

Angela Judd

Monday 3rd of June 2024

Mine have held up amazingly well. I did not coat mine inside or out. I have used this wood treatment on other things - no VOC and made from Juniper.