The benefit of growing plants in containers is they have fewer problems with pests. But it’s still a problem that we need to be aware of. That’s why I researched what are the best ways to protect my container garden.

You can protect your container garden from pests by preventing them from invading your plants. You can do this by inspecting your plants every day, making sure they’re clean and healthy, intercropping plants, and getting rid of pests as soon as they pop up.

There’s a lot more you can do to protect your plants from pests so keep reading.

1. Make sure to buy healthy plants

When you buy plants from your local garden center or a farmer’s market, it’s important to check the plants are healthy.

I would check for the common signs of pests on a plant. Check if there are pests hovering around the plant. Check the leaves including the underside for signs of pests or disease.

Make sure the leaves are not wilting, turning brown or yellow. Check there are no signs of pests and disease on the stem.

I would even suggest taking the plant out of the container and checking the roots. If the plant is root-bound it means the plant is under stress. Check if there is a root rot setting in the plant.

When you make sure the plants are healthy there’s very little chance of bringing home pests into your container garden.

2. Choose native plants when you can

It’s a well-known fact that native plants are resistant to pests and diseases in the region they belong to.

Growing plants from other regions make them more susceptible to such problems. So the best solution is to grow as many native plants as you can.

You do need to research the native plants in your region and then buy some of them. But that does not mean you only need to use native plants.

You can grow other plants in your container garden as well but it’s nice to mix them up. Native plants also attract beneficial insects to your garden.

3. Grow a variety of plants

Pests have a tendency to attack plants that are grown in clusters. That’s because the pests find it easy to receive signals on where the plants are growing. The best way to protect your plants is to diversify what you grow.

Mix different types of plants like herbs, leafy vegetables, flowers, fruit vegetables, and root vegetables as part of your container garden.

This does not allow the pests to easily identify which plants they want to target. Growing herbs and flowers with fragrance tend to discourage the pests from reaching your containers.

Include a variety of native plants in your container garden that have resistance to many of the native pests.

4. Clean your containers before planting

When you have your plants or seeds ready, it’s time to plant them in a container. You may have purchased new ones, reused old ones, or got some recycled ones for free.

The containers may have pests and diseases from the earlier use so it’s good to clean them well before use.

I would recommend soaking them well in a mix of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for at least an hour. You can then rinse them well in water and air dry them.

5. Don’t reuse potting soil

If you’re starting a new container garden, you don’t have to worry about reusing potting soil as you’ll buy some new bags.

But if you have already been container gardening for a while, you will have potting soil available in your containers.

I would suggest not to reuse such potting soil because it might contain pests and diseases that can infect your new plants. My advice is to throw such potting soil away.

You can use it in the compost pile if you’re making your own compost. The idea is that the high temperature in the compost will kill the pests and diseases. But I would still not recommend taking the risk.

6. Keep your plants strong and healthy

Like humans, plants have their own immune system that protects them from pests and diseases.

You want to ensure your plants remain strong and healthy so they can fight any pests and diseases that try to attack them.

If your plants are under stress due to overwatering or underwatering, they are vulnerable to such problems.

You also need to ensure they are getting the right nutrients every few weeks. You need to use a good organic fertilizer to feed your plants.

organic fertilizer
Organic fertilizer I use for my plants

Make sure your plants have the right growing space in the container. If the plants outgrow the container, they will become root-bound which means the roots cover up the entire pot.

This problem does not allow sufficient water and nutrients to reach the roots through the soil. And such stress will cause your plants to suffer from pests and diseases.

You need to monitor your plants and as soon as they grow bigger, you need to move them to a container that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant.

7. Encourage beneficial insects in your containers

Beneficial insects are your best friends in the garden. They will eat up the pests that attempt to invade your container garden. Some such insects are ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.

When you see some insects on your container plants, don’t panic and try to kill them. You need to first understand whether the insects are beneficial or not.

If they are the friendly ones, just let them be on your plants doing their work and protecting them.

You can encourage beneficial insects to your container garden by growing native plants. And flowering plants that attract such insects by their fragrance.

You can consider bees as beneficial as well. Though they don’t eat up the pests in the garden, they help in pollinating your container plants.

8. Check your plants every day for pests

One drawback of growing plants in containers is you need to water then often. That’s because the plant’s roots can’t spread out in search of nutrients and moisture.

So every day you need to go out into your container garden and check each container soil if it needs watering.

The advantage of doing this is you can also inspect the plant as part of this. Every day check the condition of your plants. Look at the leaves, stem, and foliage for any signs of pests and diseases.

You could even lift some plants out of their containers and check the roots for signs of root rot or lack of space.

The faster you know your plants have pest and disease problems, the easier it is to find a solution.

Read more:

9. Use a floating row cover to keep pests away

I found that one of the easiest ways to keep many pests out of your containers is to place a barrier. A floating row cover is one such solution you can use.

This is a fine fabric made from material like plastic or polyester. It remains permeable to air, water, and light but does not allow insects to enter.

It can prevent insects like aphids, caterpillars, and beetles from reaching your container plants.

Make sure you don’t place the row cover too tight over the plant but allow plenty of space. Do fix the bottom to the container or ground so that insects can’t crawl from underneath.

You need to take away the row cover when your plants reach the flowering stage to allow pollinators to the flowers.

10. Keep your hands and garden tools clean

garden tools
Gardening tools on display at HortiPro Exhibition

The easiest way pests and diseases can reach your container plants is by transmission from other plants.

Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water before tending your container garden plants. You also want to sterilize the garden tools like pruners before using them.

You can use something like rubbing alcohol to clean the tools before and after using them on your plants.

11. Don’t splash water on your plants’ foliage

An easy way for fungal diseases to reach your container plants is when the foliage is moist. You need to be careful when watering your plants and avoid splashing water on the foliage.

The best time to water your plants is in the morning. This ensures the plants will get the required moisture from the soil before the sunlight evaporates the excess water.

If you’re watering the container plants in the evening, make sure to avoid splashing water on the foliage. You can wipe off the excess water if you do find it on your plants.

12. Use mulch to cover your container soil

Mulch is the organic material like wood chips, grass clippings, moss, or dried leaves you can place in your containers.

The layer of mulch helps the soil to retain moisture and reduces the rate of evaporation. It helps prevent weed seeds from growing in the containers.

And it prevents pests and diseases that might be present in the soil from reaching the foliage of your container plants.

13. Scare away the large pests from your containers

You may also find that large pests like rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and birds are damaging your container plants.

You can avoid this problem by trying to scare them away. You can scare birds away by hanging strips of fabric or wind chimes.

Small animals are easily scared by human hair, animal hair, garlic, or chili powder. You can move the containers closer to the area with frequent human activity as well.

Another solution is to plant some inedible plants that pests don’t enjoy nibbling on.

14. Move the containers out of reach from pests

You can move the containers to a height to keep them out of reach of small crawling pests as well as those that can’t fly high enough. This will also deter large pests like rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons.

You can either move the containers to a tall platform or you can use hanging baskets for your container garden.

How to get rid of pests in the container garden?

The best way to protect your container plants is to prevent pests from reaching them. But there will be a situation where your plants may get infested. You can follow certain procedures to get rid of such pests.

Monitor your plants for pests every day

The best way to help your plants with a pest problem is to identify it as soon as possible and figure out a solution.

You need to monitor your plants every day to see whether a pest problem has started. You can do this as part of your watering schedule in the morning or evening.

Be thorough when you inspect your plants’ leaves, stem, soil, and roots to check if there are any observable problems. Check underneath the leaves as well as many pests prefer to live there.

Identify the pests that may have infested

The next step is to identify what is the pest that is causing a problem to the plants. Ensure that those are not beneficial insects in your plants. You want them to stay there as they will protect your plants.

Use Google search to know more about your plants and the kind of pests that may affect them. If you cannot figure out what the pests are you can take help from your local extension service or a garden center.

Take a picture or sample of the pests and they will identify it for you. They will also provide solutions on what you need to do to get rid of the pests.

Pick the pests off your container plants

The simplest solution that works for larger pests like slugs, caterpillars, and beetles is to pick them off the leaves and soil.

You can throw them in a bucket of soapy water and that will get rid of them.

If the insects are smaller, you can even squish them with your fingers. You can wear gloves if you don’t like to do this with your hands.

If a particular branch or leaf is infested, you can cut it off and dispose of it.

Wash off the insects that are very small

If the insects are very small and don’t fly around, you can wash them off your plants with a spray of water.

Aphids are one such pest you can get rid of by splashing water on the leaves. You can use a spraying-can filled with water to know such insects onto the soil.

Ants farming aphids on my pepper plants
Ants farming aphids on my pepper plants

Use traps for enticing the pests

You can use yellow sticky traps to lure flying pests into them and then get rid of the collected ones.

You can use sharp material like diatomaceous earth or crushed eggshells in your container soil. This cuts the bodies of soft-bodied pests like slugs and kills them.

You can also use a tray of beer that attracts slugs and other pests and drowns them in it.

Use an organic spray on the leaves and soil

An organic pesticide can help you get rid of small pests in your garden. This includes insecticidal soap, garlic spray, hot pepper spray, neem oil, and horticultural oil.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions of diluting some of these sprays and using them.

Read more:

What are the harmful pests in the container garden?

Here is a list of some of the pests you may find in your container garden and the plants they can infest.

PestAffected Plants
AphidsSquash, cucumber, lettuce, chard, bok choy
Mexican bean beetlesbeans
CutwormMost plants
Flea beetleCruciferous plants like cabbage, bok choy
Cabbage looperCruciferous plants like cabbage, bok choy
ThripsOnions, beans, carrots, squash, roses
Colorado potato beetleBelladonna, eggplant, tomato, potatoes, nightshade
CaterpillarCabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, dogwood, spicebush
WhitefliesMost crops including tomatoes, capsicum, citrus
Cucumber beetlesCucumber, squash, snake gourd, pumpkin, watermelon
Spider mitesStrawberries, tomatoes, melons, beans, eggplant
LeafhoppersBeans, corn, lettuce, beets, potato
Cabbage wormBroccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, turnips
Japanese beetleRoses, beans, grapes, raspberries
EarwigClover, dahlia, zinnia, lettuce, cauliflower
Leaf minerPeas, swiss chard, beets, citrus, daffodils
Squash vine borerSquash, zucchini, pumpkin, gourds
MealybugOrnamentals, avocados, rosemary, citrus, cactus
SlugsBasil, beans, cabbage, dahlia, lettuce

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