Common Problems in Container Gardening

Containers provide controlled and healthy environments for plants and are far less problem prone than conventional gardens. Sometimes however, some of the same problems affecting conventional gardens take their toll on container gardens as well. Some of the common signs of plant problems include wilting foliage (particularly if the plant is regularly watered), discoloration of leaves, dead or dying leaves or growing tips, mis-shapen leaves, poor growth habits and failure to flower or set fruit.

Sometimes these symptoms are caused by basic gardening mistakes, like using the wrong kind of fertilizer, or having too much water or not enough light. These types of problems are easy to fix with a container garden because you can change its location and have more control over the amount of water or fertilizer that the plants receive. Because fertilizers provide well-rounded nutrient profiles, well-tended container gardens rarely suffer from nutrient deficiencies.

Other problems, involving pests and diseases, need more intervention. Read the section on Integrated Pest Management to understand a modern, environmentally sustainable approach to dealing with these issues.

Reproduced below is a useful chart of common problems and their solutions adapted from the Cornell University Container Gardening Guide:

Common Problems in Container Gardening

Problems, Causes and Solutions:

Plants wilt despite obtaining enough waterInsufficient drainage and aerationUse lighter soil mix, increase number of drainage
holes, use mix with higher percent of organic matter
Leaf edges die or “burn” turning dry and
High salt contentAt regular intervals, leach container by watering until
water drains from drainage holes
Plants “leggy”, spindly and unproductiveNot enough light
Too much nitrogen
Relocate plants to area receiving more light
Apply fertilizer less often and allow water to drain
through drainage holes
Plants yellowing from bottom, lack vigor,
poor color
Too much water
Not fertile enough
Water less frequently and check for good drainage
Use fertilizer with higher level of nutrients
Plant leaves with spots or powdery, rusty or
dead dried areas
Grown at temperature that is too low
Low phosphate level
Move container to a warmer area
Use fertilizer with higher concentration of phosphate
Leaves with small holes or that are distorted in shapeInsect damageUse insecticide suited to the insect causing the
Plant leaves with spots, dead dried areas,
or powdery or rusty areas
Plant diseasesRemove diseased portion of plant and use fungi
cide. If problem is severe, discard entire plant and
replace soil
Plants stunted in growth; sickly, purplish
Low temperature
Low phosphate
Relocate container to warmer area.
Increase phosphate level in base solution.

Diagnosing Plants:

diagnosing plants wilting plants
Wilting Plants
Diagnosing plants Burnt Leaf Egdes
Burnt Leaf Egdes
diagnosing plants Leggy Plant
Leggy Plant
Diagnosing plants Plant yellowing
Plant Yellowing
Diagnosing Plants Leaves with spots
Leaves with spots
Diagnosing Plants Leaves with holes
Leaves with holes
Diagnosing Plants Powdery Leaves
Powdery Leaves
Diagnosing Plants plants stunted in growth
plants stunted in growth