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Container Gardening

Pros and Cons of Fabric Grow Bags for Vegetables

Some gardeners love fabric grow bags; others don’t. Here’s how to find out if they’re right for you.

In some universe, there’s an older version of me sitting in a rocking chair on a big farmhouse porch, looking in disbelief at the latest gardening catalog. I can hear myself now: “Fabric grow bags? What’s with all these newfangled things. Back in my day we just put seeds in the dirt.” Meanwhile, I now have a collection of grow bags, and I particularly love the Smart Pots because they hold moisture well and have sturdy handles for moving.

These “newfangled” things actually have a lot of benefits for gardeners, as it turns out. But what exactly are fabric grow bags? They’re also known as fabric pots, and they are pretty much what you think they are: fabric bags that you can grow plants in. They can be small, one-gallon containers, and you can get large, 200-gallon containers.

 

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How to make the right choice about fabric grow bags

Look up any gardening guide, and you’ll see that almost all plants need “well-drained soil.” That’s especially true in container gardening, where there’s limited space for too much water to go. One of the big advantages that many fabric grow bags offer is excellent drainage. This drainage also leads to healthier root systems.

Without getting too sciency, the porousness of fabric grow bags leads to dryer soil near the edges of the container, where there is more contact with the air. When the plant’s roots reach that drier soil and the air, they stop growing, so you don’t end up with root bound plants. That’s the claim to fame for these bags, but what other advantages do they offer?

The pros of fabric grow bags

  1. The breathable fabric allows heat to escape, keeping the soil cool on hot summer days.
  2. Fabric grow bags are easy to store. Simply clean them and fold them up when you aren’t using them and they can fit into compact storage spaces.
  3. They’re versatile. Built-in handles make them easy to move.
  4. They don’t require construction. Larger fabric grow bags can easily be used as a raised bed without the need for the tools to build one.
  5. Transplanting is simple and easy. Because fabric grow bags are so easy to move, you can start your seeds indoors. Then when the time comes to transplant them, you can just pick up the entire bag and “plant” it outdoors.

The cons of fabric grow bags

One of the big advantages to using fabric grow bags is that they drain quickly and easily. That also happens to be one of the big disadvantages. Because there is so much exposure to the air, the soil can dry out much faster than it does in a terra cotta, wood, or stone container. This means your plants will use more water, which means you’ll need to water them more often. Here are more of the disadvantages.

  1. They aren’t always eco-friendly. Surprisingly, a large number of fabric grow bags are not biodegradable. They’re made with polypropylene, which is a petroleum-based thermoplastic.
  2. They won’t protect your plants when it’s cold. Just like the porousness of the material allows water to evaporate, it also allows heat to escape. This means you really need to pay attention to the weather if your plants are outdoors in early spring or late fall.
  3. They don’t last as long as other containers. While a stone container could last for decades you may only get four or five growing seasons from all but the best fabric grow bags.
  4. Large grow bags aren’t easy to move. Try picking up and moving a 50-gallon container full of soil. You’ll see what I mean.
  5. Fabric grow bags are not very stylish. Yes, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most of the bags are pretty drab. You certainly won’t get the variety of shapes and colors you get with ceramic planters.

Are fabric grow bags right for you in your garden? They definitely offer some advantages over container gardening. Ultimately, however, it depends on how you want to work with your vegetables. An attentive gardener could have great results with or without using these containers.

Have you used fabric pots in your garden? What would you say are the pros and cons of using them? I’d love to get your opinion in the comments below.

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By Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is Senior Editor & Producer for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. She is responsible for generating all daily content and managing distribution across web, email, and social. In her producer role, she plans, edits, and deploys all video content for guides, magazine issues, and daily tips. As a best-selling cookbook author, Amanda cooks using ingredients from her outdoor gardens in the summer and from her indoor hydroponic garden in the winter.

26 replies on “Pros and Cons of Fabric Grow Bags for Vegetables”

I have used them for several years now for potatoes. I will have to try them for other crops and flowers. I did not have any problems with cons, with the bags it was all pros.

The only thing to remember is that the plants in the grow bags will need a bit of fertilizing depending on the plants you grow in them. I’ve used mine for years and if you clean them they will last a long time. Don’t use the plastic ones though…

Thanks for the nice article. I will share it with our networks. I have been a proponent of grow bags for several years now as a tool to encourage gardening in Chicago as a way to mitigate soil quality and contamination issues. Our coalition Chicago Grows Food has distributed thousands of grow bags to students primarily in the public school system and this year we installed about 50 home garden systems utilizing mostly 5 gallon grow bags as the standard. Others that wanted raised beds were supplied with 100 gallon grow bags. We supplied soil, seedlings and/or seeds and organic fertilizer delivered to the site. We also host workshops and are available for technical assistance. We are already planning to expand the program next year with our overarching goal being to expand the home gardening and community garden networks in Chicago. Our coalition includes several organizations in Chicago anyone wanting more information, etc please email me.

I’m going to use one to grow a sacrificial pumpkin in to draw off squash vine borers. Lost all my zucchini this year. If I grow in the bag I won’t have to also use up valuable garden space. It will also contain the over wintering larvae of the pests which I can kill off .

I used them this year for extra veggies that take up room. It was a benefit. I grew squash, canary melons, Korean melons, watermelons, 2 tomato plants and potatoes. I was very pleased with the results!

I love this idea. Where can you buy these bags? You said you can reuse them. Do you empty them out when growing is finished and was them?

You can buy them online, or at any gardening or at Home Depot / Lowes. At the end of the season, you empty them out and give them a light clean to get off any pathogens. That way you can keep replanting potatoes, for example, in the same bag every year without worrying about crop rotation.

I’m using bags for most everything including orange and lemon trees, tomatoes, onions, fig trees, cukes, radishes, mint, hydrangeas, hibiscus, radishes and chives. Avocado trees failed. Potatoes failed. Ground her is mostly sand with very little actual dirt so raised beds and grow bags are my only choice.

Yes! Use 7 year landscape fabric. I buy a 3’x50′ roll and get 14 bags, 12×12 finished. Cut 18″ square, use 2 pieces for front and back. Sew both sides, so you have a loop. Sew the bottom and turn diwn about an inch on the top, top stitch in place. Box the corners and turn right-side out. Make sure to use UV resistant thread

This is the first year I have used grow bags. My garden is on my large balcony and have grown 7 tomatoes plants, 3 cukes and have carrots and parsley. I have no complaints so far, the produce were abundant and grew very large. Watering wasn’t a problem, neither was keeping the soil moist, but not too wet.

I’m growing a variety of plants in bags on my patio. I like the bags better than the 5 gallon buckets. The plants are thriving and if I had to move, I can take my garden with me!

this is my first year using grow bags. so far the pros, no additions to the soil no rototiller no digging or crawling in my garden area no worry of over watering and now no limited space , sat in a chair while planting , easier using a good potting soil no PH testing, great mobility.
cons, none so far.
the bags allow me to have more plants and better variety. I am not limited to the size of my garden.
the sides of my is rock. so I’ve placed 2×4’s parallel on the rock and put the bags on them.
the only thing i have done was to raise the bags off of the ground so the fabric does not sit in the water unless there is any problem with the fabric rotting.

So, so, so easy, right? You all are making me want to ditch by raised beds entirely and just grow in bags, ha!

I’ve started using them to keep the mint and some other herbs like chives contained. Allows me to keep them in the keyhole garden, but I don’t have to worry about mint runners taking over. And at the end of the season, I can bring them inside or move them all to one bed and cover with a greenhouse top and keep growing a little longer in our winter time.

I love, love, love the idea of using them for things like mint. I love mint, but it’s such a bully in the garden, really needs to learn some manners 😉

I have an entire garden on my deck in grow bags. It is working beautifully! I have potatoes, peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, and onions. I am very happy with the results!

That’s awesome to hear! I feel like they’re a bit of a hidden gem, they work really well for just about anything!

I used fabric bags for tomatoes last summer. It was great because I could make a garden in a sunny spot by the driveway without digging. I started my plants from seed in Jiffy pots, then put each one in its own 7 gallon fabric pot after the frost date and had a fantastic harvest all summer long.

That’s great to hear! I haven’t tried tomatoes in them, but I’m sure they appreciate the drainage!

I had good, not great, results using them for the first time this summer for cucs and tomatoes. Question though, how do you determine the best size and how high should you fill each bag? I bought 5 gallons, which I think is good, but I filled them only halfway.

I fill mine to the top! 5 gallon bags are better for lettuces, 7 gallons are what I’d use for tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc. For root veggies like carrots, they just need to be at least 12″ tall.

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