Everything about Grow Bags - Grow Bags Gardening
If one wishes to grow a garden inside their home, but find containers heavy or messy, plant growing bags are a good option for them. These are fabric or plastic bags in which one can grow plants.
They are perfect for home gardens, terrace gardens, small yard gardens, or balconies, where one wants to save space yet wants to grow a hearty garden. They are a great choice also because they can be re-used and create very little waste.
Published: December 11, 2020.
Fabric Grow Bags
Fabric grow bags are also known as fabric pots or fabric planters and are made of thick breathable fabric. This sturdy, breathable fabric used for making fabric planters is known as polypropylene. It can withstand the heavy use of gardening supplies such as water, fertilizers, etc. more efficiently than regular fabric. The fabric planters, therefore, have excellent drainage.
The material also doesn’t retain heat or water. It’s soft and allows root pruning and prevents root rot. One can fill a grow bag with any growing medium, ranging from soil to soilless objects such as wood chips, bark, composted green waste, peat, or a mixture of any of these objects.
Jute is another material used for making fabric grow bags. Jute also works well as it’s very much sustainable, fast-drying, breathable, and affordable.
One can get fabric grow bags in various heights and widths so that they can accommodate various sizes and numbers of plants. When grow bags are arranged outdoors in a series in a rectangular shape they look like a raised bed.
However, they have an advantage over a raised bed that they don’t require any construction and can be arranged in various shapes as per one’s liking. Thus one can change the arrangements as per the changing weather and light conditions. When not in use, grow bags can just be folded and stored away, unlike traditional containers which occupy a much larger space.
Benefits of Fabric Grow Bags
Since fabric planters are made of breathable materials, they provide improved drainage and aeration. This is a major advantage over most plant containers. A container can become non-aerated at a certain stage and in that condition, the roots of the plant grow out till they reach the container’s walls. When this happens, the roots send a message to the plant to grow more roots which further causes a root-bound plant.
These roots continue to grow in a circular fashion around the pot. This results in the smothering of the plant with a mass of roots that fill up the container.
Since fabric grow bags are well-aerated and well-drained, such a condition cannot occur.
Roots Become Healthier
As mentioned earlier, the condition of root bounding doesn’t occur with grow bags. This is because when the roots reach the wall of the grow bag, they sense the drier soil and its exposure to the air, and thus they understand that they have reached their growth limit. They are burned off which is called “air-pruning”, which further causes the plant to create new healthy roots that branch off the original roots. This eliminates girdling roots and overgrowth of roots that damage the plant’s structure.
On the other hand, in plastic pots, the roots may grow in circles searching for more water and nutrients and get entangled which increases the risk of issues like water stagnation and oxygenation issues because they become constricted and less able to absorb water and nutrients. Further, the stem of the plant too becomes constricted which leads to tissue damage and further inability to absorb water and nutrients.
Fabric grow bags encourages a more fibrous root system i.e. several small root tips that enable plants to absorb more water and nutrients. On the other hand, plastic pots promote a few large roots that are dominant and encircle the pot and restrict nutrient uptake.
Better Control of Temperature
Plastic pots can get quite hot during the summer and under direct sunlight. As they are not breathable, all the heat is trapped by them and the plant may get cooked. Fabric grow bags, on the other hand, being breathable, release excess heat from all their sides, and regulate temperature.
Easy to Move
Fabric grow bags are obviously much lighter than pots. Plus they have built-in handles. Thus the user can move them easily.
If stored properly in the offseason, fabric grow bags last much longer than plastic containers. The longevity depends on a few factors like the material used, quality, and care.
For example, cardboard versions typically last around a year, while recycled plastic grow bags last for around 5 years.
High-quality grow bags have reinforced seams and stitched handles. Such grow bags last through season after season.
The life of the fabric planters also depends on how the users care for them. Proper care may extend their life for a year or even more. For example, if one drags the bag from place to place, obviously it cannot last long. On the other hand, if they use handles to move it and gently lift and place it down again, its life can extend. Washing properly with one’s standard garden hose so as to remove all the salt and chemicals is also important.
Typically, fabric planters last from 3 to 5 years, but this can be extended up to 7-8 years with proper care and storage.
If one doesn’t look for long term use and maintenance, they can choose paper grocery bags or cardboard which don’t have to be cleaned and last for around a year.
Obviously, since their material is natural, fabric grow bags are more eco-friendly than plastic containers.
Disadvantages of Fabric Grow Bags
Need for Frequent Watering
This is a major disadvantage of fabric grow bags, however their benefits certainly outweigh it. Since the porous material of the grow bag cannot hold in excess water, the grower needs to water their plant more frequently. However, this also reduces the risk of root rot due to excess water.
Some other disadvantages are:
- One may have to replace fabric grow bags more often and this adds to the cost.
- They don’t look as nice as clay containers.
- Not all grow bags last long.
- Not all of them are environment-friendly.
- Large grow bags like 20+ gallons, are hard to move.
How to Use Fabric Grow Bags?
Are Drainage Holes Needed?
If the fabric planter is made of breathable fabric, drainage holes are not needed as this material allows water to escape naturally and the plants’ roots are protected from root rot.
However, if the material is such that it won’t allow water to escape, the user needs to make drainage holes in the bag if they are not made by the manufacturer.
The soil to be used in fabric grow bags should ideally be a mix of 1/3 compost mixture, 1/3 moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. Such a mixture is very important for gardening with fabric grow bags and retains moisture.
Growers can even mulch their grow bags with wood chips. This will keep the topsoil moist and plants will grow better with mulch.
The soil mixture can be reused year after year without any problem. The wood chips should be just removed, bags should be emptied and 10%-20% new compost should be added and mixed up well.
Watering should be done very carefully, whether it’s an outdoor garden or a terrace/balcony/indoor garden with grow bags, as excess water can pool up promoting fungus or mold growth while too little water can cause plants to dry out.
Fabric grow bags dry out much faster than pots owing to the superior aeration and drainage their material offers. Soaking the plant in a grow bag can be extremely challenging as the water will ooze out right away.
A traditional pot needs comparatively less watering, but it also carries the risk of overwatering.
A drip watering system can supply constant moisture to grow bag plants, especially a pipe drip system.
Just like a container, a fabric grow bag also contains only a limited amount of soil. Hence if one plants a heavy-feeder plant in it, it should be fertilized well with things like compost teas, worm castings, and bone meal. For minerals, one can add eggshells and Epsom salt.
How to Choose the Best Fabric Grow Bag?
Here are a few factors that one should look for while buying fabric planters.
Types of Fabric Grow Bags
There are certain types of fabric grow bags to suit the crop one wants to grow in them.
For example, if the grower wants to grow potatoes, they should pick specially designed bags with side openings that make harvest easy.
For growing strawberries, one should choose bags with side pockets to create a stacked formation.
Some grow bags are even designed for growing mushrooms. These have an injector port that can be used to add grain and other nutrients needed by mushrooms to grow.
Choosing the Right Size
The size of a fabric grow bag should be selected according to the plant to be grown. For example, for a single plant or a couple of plants like peas, pepper, or lettuce, a 3-gallon fabric grow bag is perfect, whereas a 5-gallon bag can accommodate almost anything like tomatoes, pepper, small fruiting and flowering plants, stevia, herbs, etc.
If one intends to grow their entire garden in one single bag, a 10-gallon bag is perfect. In this big bag, one can grow plants like potatoes or tomatoes surrounded by basil, and even spinach and other leafy greens.
One can even buy a 100-gallon grow bag which offers a larger planting area quite similar to a raised bed. In this bag, the grower can grow a great variety of plants.
Although it’s fabric, the material of fabric grow bags vary quite a lot. It varies from recycled to biodegradable. Besides polypropylene, materials like jute and burlap are also used for making fabric grow bags. Fabric planters made from biodegradable materials can even be planted directly into the ground, but then they cannot be reused.
Some fabric grow bags are just designed for holding plants, while some others come with additional components, such as handles, zippers, Velcro straps, etc. The grower should choose features that they’d really need.
For example, if they want to move their plants frequently, they should choose fabric planters with handles.
They should also note that some features may even affect the performance of the fabric planter. For example, Velcro straps may cause clogging of soil.
Chemically Treated Fabric Grow Bags
Growers should also note that some bags receive certain chemical treatments that make them more resistant to elements; however, they can also affect the quality of the soil in the planter, because the material contains traces of the chemicals that could percolate the soil or even kill beneficial organisms in the soil. In any case, the grower should choose fabric planters that are made from 100% BPA-free material.
Growers should consider the safety of the grow bag they are buying. The safest options are the bags that are made from BPA-free materials and are rated food safe.
Polypropylene is produced like other plastics and not all of its versions are safe to use as a grow bag. In addition to BPA and lead, plastic and these types of grow bags may contain other chemicals.
Other fabric planters may not last as long or be as beneficial to the plants as polypropylene materials but still, they can be healthier in the long run. Jute bags, especially if they are sturdy and UV stabilized, can keep plants safe from harsh sunlight and last for more than 5 years. Paper grocery bags and cardboard can also work well as healthy grow bags when the grower needs a temporary solution.
Paper upon wearing out works as a fertilizer and provides nutrients to the plants. In short, one should not assume that all grow bags are safe and shouldn’t just grab a set of them. They should properly check if the material and its safety.
Most grow bags come in black color. However, this is not the best option for delicate plants that easily get their roots scorched, because black color tends to absorb more heat than lighter colors. One can get more desirable options like white, tan, or green.
Plastic Grow Bags
Grow bags are also made from plastic. Obviously, they are less beneficial than fabric grow bags, but when it comes to growing a home/terrace/balcony garden due to lack of space, plastic grow bags are also an option and one should know about it.
Benefits of Plastic Grow Bags
Plastic grow bags are one of the most economical grow bags. They are not rigid and hence are lightweight, thus reduce shipping costs too.
Plastic grow bags are extremely durable too. Thus unlike a clay, ceramic, or glass container which creates a mess to clean up when it drops down and is smashed, plastic grow bags aren’t broken. They remain intact without creating a mess to clean up.
One can just fold and store hundreds of plastic grow bags in a small space. So, they are much easier to store than rigid plastic planters.
Less Maintenance than Fabric Grow Bags
Fabric grow bags are certainly more preferable than plastic grow bags but the plastic grow bags have one major advantage over fabric grow bags and it’s that they can last much longer with much less maintenance. Since fabric material is more biodegradable, it undergoes wear and tear with garden supplies much quicker than plastic which doesn’t need a lot of maintenance to make it last longer.
Less Frequent Watering
Another advantage of plastic grow bags over fabric planters is that they require much less watering as the soil inside them doesn’t dry out quickly.
But this may even lead to standing water and root rot; so, one should be careful with watering.
Since they are lightweight, plastic grow bags can be easily moved according to the changing indoor light and weather conditions.
Disadvantages of Plastic Grow Bags
Retain Heat and Moisture
Since they are made of plastic, plastic grow bags retain heat and moisture which can be harmful for the plant. Especially in the summer and/or under direct sunlight, the plastic traps the heat and gets quite hot and the plant can be cooked.
A plastic grow bag may also retain moisture if it has no sufficient drainage holes. This may cause standing water and thereby root rot.
Can Cause Root Bound Plants
Just like a plastic pot, in a plastic grow bag too, when the roots of the plant grow out till they reach the bag’s walls, they tend to grow more in search of food and nutrients. This causes a root-bound plant because roots keep growing and encircling the plastic grow bag. This results in the smothering of the plant with a mass of roots that fill up the plastic grow bag.
Obviously, both fabric and plastic grow bags have their pros and cons, so be sure to choose according to your own needs and preferences.
Grow bags are a good alternative to rigid containers as they are lightweight and affordable, and occupy less space. Those who love gardening but are short of space can use grow bags to grow a garden inside their home or in the balcony.
Grow bags can be moved more easily than pots to convenient locations according to changing light conditions as they are usually provided with handles. All in all, for aspiring gardeners who lack space, the option of grow bags is worth considering.