You were excited when you started container gardening to grow edible plants. But you find that some of your plants are not growing well. So how can you fix this problem?

Your potted plants are not growing because they are not getting the required sunlight, nutrients, water, or temperature. You may be underwatering or overwatering the potted plants which is a common gardener problem. The plants may be not growing due to attack from pests or diseases.

Let’s look at these problems in more detail so you understand what’s going on with your plants. I’ll also give you suggestions on how you can improve your plant’s growth so keep reading.

1. Your potted plants are getting insufficient water

The most common problem that will cause your potted plants to grow slowly is not getting the required water.

This can happen when you are giving your plants less water. But it can also happen if you’re giving the plants too much water.

If your plant gets less water, we call the problem underwatering. The roots can’t get sufficient moisture to extract nutrients from the soil and send it to the plant. This will slow down the growth of the plant.

holy basil wilting
My holy basil plant that was wilting due to underwatering

You may feel like giving your plant a lot of water to protect it from dehydration. But that can cause the problem of overwatering.

The soil gets soaked with water so the roots can’t get oxygen and are suffocated. They won’t be able to get the nutrients and moisture from the soil to the plant. And this will also stunt their growth.

The plants are being overwatered. This is the most common cause and soil which contains excess moisture can result in a plant developing drought stress.. Often this results in wilting, yellowing leaves or stunted growth and if left unresolved, can cause other big issues like root rot – which will eventually kill your plant. Each plant has specific watering requirements but most houseplants will require watering no more than once per week. Consider adding drainage holes to your container plant pots as a solution to waterlogged soil. – Thomas O’Rourke, Gardener (


The simplest solution to prevent both underwatering and overwatering is to check on your plant soil every day.

Stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil and observe if the soil sticks to it. If the finger comes out dry, it means the plant and soil need good watering.

If the finger comes out with some soil sticking to it, there is sufficient moisture in the soil and you can avoid watering it until the next check.

2. Potted plants are not getting enough sunlight

If your potted plants are not getting the right amount of sunlight they will grow tall and leggy as they grow towards the light. And then their growth will slow down.

I recommend you learn more about the plant you are trying to grow. This will help you understand how much sunlight the plant needs.

Some plants need full sunlight which means 6-8 hours. Some need partial sunlight and will do fine with 4-6 hours. And some plants would prefer to grow in the shade.

If the sun-loving plants get too much shade or the shade-loving plants get too much sun the plants will not grow well.


I already told you but find out the sunlight needs of your plant before you start growing them. Then place the potted plant in the right location so they get the required sunlight.

The good thing about potted plants is you can move them to the right location with ease.

If the potted plant needs full sunlight put it in a location that will get unrestricted light. Avoid placing it in a location that is obstructed by tall plants, walls, or fences.

If the potted plant is one that will grow in the shade, you need to do the opposite and grow it in the company of taller plants. Or grow it near a wall or fence that gets plenty of shade.

3. Potted plants are not getting the right temperature

Your potted plants need the correct temperature or they won’t grow well. Your plants could be warm-season or cool-season and need to be grown in that weather.

I recommend that you learn more about your plants before growing them. You need to know if your plants prefer to grow in the warm season or cool season.

If the plants need warm temperatures but it’s too cold they will not grow well. And the same will happen if the plants need cool temperatures and you grow them in the warm season.

Potted plants can cook in extreme heat, common in paved areas / urban heat island issue. – Shane Pliska, President (


If the potted plants need warm temperatures you need to grow them during the warm season of spring and summer.

If the potted plants need cool temperatures you need to grow them during the cool seasons of fall. You can even grow these plants in winter as long as the temperatures don’t fall below 40 degrees.

4. Insufficient nutrients for your potted plants

Your potted plants need nutrients especially if you’re growing edible plants. If they don’t get enough the plants’ growth will be stunted.

Edible plants that produce fruit such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants need many nutrients to grow well.

eggplant grown in container
Eggplant growing in container at the BMC Horticulture show

The nutrients you need to look at include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants need nitrogen to grow good foliage. They need phosphorus for the good development of roots, flowers, and fruits. And potassium is good for the overall health and development of the plants.


When you start seeds or grow seedlings, you can add compost and slow-release nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer to the potting soil. These will provide sufficient nutrients as the seedlings grow.

organic fertilizer
Organic fertilizer I use for my plants

Once the seedlings have grown, you can keep adding this compost and fertilizer to the potting soil every 2-4 weeks.

When the plants have started developing flowers and fruits, it’s best to use an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen. This helps the plant focus on developing fruits and flowers and less on the foliage.

5. The container is too small for the plant

It’s important that the plant get the required space in the container you’re growing it in. If the container is too small for the plant, it will stunt the growth.

The plant roots need to get plenty of space in the potting soil to grow well. They will need to get the required nutrients, moisture, and oxygen from the available soil in the pot.

If the plant grows larger than the pot, the roots will become root-bound. This means they will circle in the pot itself. They won’t get the required nutrients and moisture from the soil.

The water you provide to the potting soil will drain out fast because the roots take up more space than the soil itself.

There can be several issues. Poor soil, drainage, lighting, or the pot itself. First check if the pot is correct for your plant. Does your plant need cool roots and you have it on a sunny balcony in a concrete container? – Ja-ne, author of Sassy Food (


I recommend you grow the plant in a pot that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant itself. Once the plant has outgrown the pot, you need to transplant it to a larger one.

I would also suggest you check the spacing needed for the plants before growing them. You don’t want two of the plants growing close to each other in the pot. They may compete with each other for nutrients and resources causing a slowdown in their growth.

6. The potted plant is growing in poor soil

If the potting soil is poor it may contain a lot of clay or sand that will either cause overwatering or underwatering. The soil may not contain the required nutrients for the plants.

The soil may compact due to being heavy and it will cause a lack of moisture, nutrients, and oxygen to reach the roots.

Also, your soil needs to be just right for container gardening, you can’t just use soil from your garden. Choose distinct potting mix or potting soil that is lightweight and formulated for containers. A slow release fertilizer like lobster shell will also go a long way to aiding the process. – Leslie Vincent, Gardening Expert (


I recommend using good potting soil for your potted plants. Don’t directly use garden soil as it contains all the issues I mentioned.

You can create your own potting soil for cheap by mixing 1/3rd garden soil with 1/3rd compost and 1/3rd coco coir. If you have the budget you could even create a mix with 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part peat moss, and 1 part compost.

7. Pests have infested the potted plants

If pests attack your potted plants there will be fewer nutrients available to the plant. This will slow down the growth of the plant and may even kill it.

Several types of pests can attack your plant so you need to be aware of those based on the plant you’re growing.

Pests speak disaster. Insects don’t just inhibit the growth of your plants, but they feed on leaves, fruits, and branches and damage them. – Ryan Smith, Garden Pest Expert (


Check on your potted plants every day as part of your routine. I would suggest you do this when watering the plants.

Ensure to inspect the plant well and check under the leaves as some pests prefer to hide there.

If you see some insects on the plant, determine whether these are pests or beneficial insects. If there are few pests, you may not need to take any action as nature takes care of them by attracting beneficial insects.

If there is a large infestation you need to get rid of the pests or they will damage your plants. The best option is to pick the pests by hand and dump them in soapy water.

If the pests are tiny you can use organic pesticides such as neem oil, horticultural oil, vinegar, diatomaceous earth depending on the type of pests.

organic neem oil
Organic neem oil I use on my plants

8. Potted plants are suffering from a disease

Another problem your potted plants may have is the infection of disease. This can also cause stunted growth of the plant as it affects the foliage and roots of the plant.

Several diseases including fungal, bacterial, or viral can infect the potted plant. And you have to take the required action as necessary.


The most important factor is to keep your plant away from stress so it’s healthy. That reduces the chances of disease significantly.

The next best solution is to prevent as many diseases as possible. You can avoid fungal diseases by preventing a humid environment near the plant. Make sure to water only the base of the plant and avoid splashing water on the foliage.

Keep sufficient distance between plants so they don’t crowd each other out. Prune the leaves and allow plenty of space between the foliage so air can flow freely.

Use seed varieties of plants that have been treated for protection from some of the bacterial and viral diseases.

Make sure to inspect your plants every day when you’re watering them for signs of disease. Once you know something is odd, get help from an expert, some online groups, or mobile apps to identify the disease.

The simplest thing to do is cut off the infected parts of the plant such as leaves and branches. If it’s a fungal disease, you can use a fungicide to get rid of the problem.

There’s no known solution for many bacterial and viral diseases so you may not be able to do much except allow the plant to grow and die naturally.

9. Your seedlings suffered a transplant shock

It’s best to start some plants from seeds because they grow better and you may need to do so if you have a short growing season. But when you transplant the plant into the pot, it may suffer transplant shock that stunts its growth.

The seedling has been growing in a comfortable environment protected from the change in weather, wind, rain, or harsh sunlight. Moving it to the outdoors stresses it out and can cause a slowdown in growth as it adjusts.


I suggest you harden the seedling before moving it outdoors. This means you need to familiarize the plant with the environment outside.

The simplest way to do this is to keep the plant outside for a couple of hours every day and bring it back inside. Ensure you keep it in a location where the weather is calm without heavy winds, rain, or harsh sunlight.

Keep doing this every day for a week and the plant will be ready to be transplanted to the pot outdoors.

10. You need patience when growing plants

You need to be patient when growing plants because they take time to grow. Sometimes there will be nothing wrong with your plants. You need to be patient and let them grow.

You should check the seed packet or seedling tag to understand how much time the plant will take to grow and mature.

This would be the time in an ideal condition, but the plant could take a little longer so you need to be patient.

11. Plants have matured and stopped growing

The plants that you grow will reach maturity at some stage. This means they no longer will grow any further. This is normal and there is nothing to worry about.

Whether you grow annual or perennial plants they will grow to maturity during the growing season. At the end of the season, the annuals will die while the perennials will become dormant.

There’s nothing to do but let the plants live their normal lifecycle. You need to grow new annuals in the next growing season. And the perennial plants will start growing again when the weather warms up in the next growing season.

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