My Mistakes With Container Gardening (What I’ve Learned So Far)

Last year, I talked about how I was attempting gardening for the first time. Some of you were interested and I meant to discuss it, but never did.

I do not have a backyard, but a balcony. So choosing to grow in containers was not a hard decision for me. There are many benefits to container gardening. For example, container gardening is great for plants that are invasive and spread everywhere. It’s very helpful for those who do not have a yard to work with.

It’s not hard to grow in containers. Like anything, you need to be informed, and experience will help us become better. The main issues come from not having the right knowledge prior.

My journey with container gardening actually started in 2018.

container gardening
This was from last year when I was getting my containers adjusted to the outside. I watched them like a mother bird.


Originally, I tried growing from seeds outdoors and quickly had a chipmunk become friends with my balcony. He dug up the seeds and ate them. Then every morning we would hear him “chirp” letting us know he wanted breakfast.

This is what led to me starting to grow seed indoors. The seeds need to grow big enough. Usually, this means a few inches before the rodents who are attracted to the seeds will leave them alone.

2018 Summer- I attempted chamomile and lavender in some rectangle plastic container. I just used some potting soil. Nothing else.

The herbs grew, but I had issues with overwatering and no proper draining holes.

The result?

Spider mites. They are pretty harmless, but yikes, it’s like a little horror movie in a container. I quickly decided to move the plants outdoors, as I read it helps make them leave, waited on watering. They left.

You could smell the scent of the herbs on their leaves even without them flowering, which I never reached the flowering stage, anyways. (The soil wasn’t deep enough, I think. They maybe had 3 inches of soil or so.)

A Home Too Small

During this time, I was also attempting to grow a flower. I got some incredible leaves that lasted into the fall. Then I began to realize the sizing for the pot was way too small and there wasn’t enough soil. Note: Always have an idea of how tall your plants will be. This helps you get the right-sized containers. DO NOT STAY WITH POTS YOU GET IN A KIT! They will always be too small, they are only starter pots. In addition to these problems, with overwatering, I had fungus gnat issues as well.

It was well enough because we were going to visit family for Christmas and I decided not to take it home. Placing it outside in the frigid cold, I decided this wouldn’t be the end. I would just have to try again.

I don’t really count 2018 as my first attempt because I didn’t really try as hard. It was let’s get some dirt and water and see what happens.

too small pot
Make sure to keep rotating plants toward the light, and not get them to bend in a particular direction… like I did.

Garden Soil Versus Potting Soil

2019 in April I collected leaves that had fallen on my balcony from the previous autumn. Putting them in a plastic gallon-sized bag, I crunched them up to use as a homemade mulch.

I also was saving my eggshells, later boiling them first, and then crushing them up into pieces. It’s supposed to help give nutrition to the plant. (I later learned that unless they are made into a fine powder it takes a long time for the eggshell to break down to be beneficial.)

I found a $15 grow light. It had 3 different light settings. Depending on what stage of growth your plant is, determines what type of light they need. I don’t know if this light actually helped or not. Maybe a little.

I learned of a sale on soil and went to get my soil for my pots. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I bought gardening soil until it was too late.

The major difference is potting soil is looser and not as compact for better airflow. Water can drain better in a container with potting soil. It also has nutrients in it, and some have fertilizer, or a slow-release fertilizer. Depending of what kind of plant you have will determine what kind of nutrients they need. Some really like nitrogen. But give a lot of nitrogen to the wrong plant and you burn it.

Garden soil is denser with no nutrients.

And I had garden soil, but I couldn’t waste it. I hoped the homemade mulch and eggshells would help.

cucumber growth
Cucumber growth. Pictured to the left is an unfertilized cucumber (unopened) female flower

Trellis Trouble, Watering Issues, More Gnats

Last year, the goal was attempt to grow, cucumbers, bunch onions, and green beans. Alongside, my herbs again, and attempt some flowers.

2019, Late May– I tried little trays to help the seeds get started, and honestly, it didn’t help me. My cucumber grew, the green bean never did. My herbs did nothing. The bunch onions grew but with little soil they grew thinly, even after moving them to a bigger pot.

I moved my cucumber plant to a bigger pot, the biggest I own, 10 inches. The cucumber did really well with growth.

But I was still having issues with overwatering and attracted gnats, which they enjoyed the soil so much they laid eggs and infested the cucumber plant’s soil. It didn’t hurt the plant much. But the issue is the babies when they hatch can damage the roots. Also, they liked flying around the other plants, too.

I am on a budget, so buying more soil wasn’t an option for me. I moved my plants outdoors when they were big enough. It didn’t stop the infestation… at all. 😦

Cucumbers are vines and because of this I had bought 2 trellises from Dollar Tree and quickly realized that cucumber plants need taller trellises than what I had! So I combined them.

Nope. Still too short. Eventually, I had to encourage my vine to wrap around different sections of the trellis it had not previously wrapped around.

My bunch onions grew in very thin, again lack of nutrients I think. The green beans I grew from seed in a pot, and they took off. I think I only did one plant or so. You can grow about 5 green bean plants in one container of 12 inches. You will know how many you can grow in a pot if you get a container friendly seed packet. They let you know on the back.

bunch onions
My Bunch Onions Cut Up

Learning Self Pollinating

Bees are helpful as they are wonderful pollinators. I didn’t really have any bees so I had to learn self-pollinating for my cucumbers last year.

Some plants have male flowers (where the pollen is) and female flowers (the pollen needs to be rubbed on them to become fertilized because they do not have any pollen). Other plants, like my green beans, their flowers have both male and female parts so they do not need to be pollinated.

female flower growth
Female Flowers have unfertilized cucumbers attached to them
green bean growth
Stages Of Green Beans. When the flower breaks away you see a little green bean inside.

I learned to take a clean paintbrush, the black bristles help see the yellow pollen better, and rub it on the male cucumber flowers to get some pollen. Then I gently brushed the female flowers with the pollen. It was a slightly awkward process, I wondered what my neighbors might wonder what exactly I’m doing to my plants. LOL!

I was able to pollinate the female flowers, and cucumbers grew. But sadly, they did not grow much. They were supposed to get about 6 inches or so, and they barely reached 2 inches most of the time. Again, I think lack of nutrients, and gnat infestation, helped lead to this, but I was very glad to reach the flowering stage and fruit stage!

What I Learned:

  1. Have the right sized container for your plant
  2. Know what nutrients your plant needs
  3. Get the right type of soil
  4. Have proper fertilizer (again, some potting soils have fertilizer in it)
  5. Be careful with overwatering
  6. MAKE SURE TO HAVE PROPER DRAINAGE HOLES IN YOUR CONTAINER! I had gnat issues, I’m sure, because I didn’tΒ 
  7. If growing indoors, be careful about using the air conditioner and where your plants are. It can make your plants get too cold, and can lead to powdery mildew.Β I have had this issue multiple times last year.Β 

There are a lot of visuals of gardening in the Bible and experiencing all of the growth, as well as hardship it entails, it truly is a powerful image.

sunset growth cucumber
My make-shifted trellis. Cucumber plant 2019 summer.

(NIV) Luke 8:15, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

The one cucumber I harvested ❀ It stayed about this size, but was biggest I had.


What have your gardening adventures been like?

Main Christian Blog: Inside Cup

Peeking Beneath

8 thoughts on “My Mistakes With Container Gardening (What I’ve Learned So Far)

    1. What I read was some compost works better for other plants than others. Depends on what the plant likes. If you have FB there are some container gardening groups you can join. πŸ™‚


  1. “I wondered what my neighbors might wonder what exactly I’m doing to my plants.” Haha! This got a chuckle out of me.

    Mom also warned me about having proper drainage for potted plants. It’s nice to see how much you’ve learned so that you can share it with beginners like myself.

    T.R., thank you for this post. I’ll certainly keep these tips in mind as I’ve been thinking of growing plants inside.

    Liked by 1 person

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