Use Grow Bags for better yields in small space

grow bagIn all the years that I’ve been gardening, I’ve always looked for the next Better Idea that would make gardening easier and more enjoyable. And I think I’ve found just the thing. I use grow bags for better yields in the small space of my patio garden.

I’ve experimented with building wooden raised beds, growing on a trellis, up a twine frame, in coffee cans, in the ground and in wooden planters I built. My conclusion: gardening is still a heck of a lot of work. But it’s satisfying work, because nothing can beat the experience of seeing something you planted grow to maturity, producing abundant crops or beautiful flowers.
 
 
Grow bags are a Better Idea
Grow bags are a Better Idea. These are fabric bags available in several sizes that fit a variety of plants. Man, even nurseries use these puppies!

History
The idea of a grow basket that holds soil to grow plants isn’t new. Archaeologists have discovered containers that were used to grow flowers or vegetables way back when.

Besides pots made of clay, woven bags and baskets were used for Greek townhouse rooftop gardens. These gardens had brick enclosures into which a woven basket could be inserted. This method was also very popular in ancient Egypt, called “basket gardening.”

Grow bags come in two different styles: flat and vertical
Brit methodThrifty Brit gardeners came up with a Better Idea. They laid down potting soil bags flat, cut holes in the bag at spaced intervals, planted their seedlings and enclosed them in a bottomless pots for protection. As the plant grows, its roots zig-zag throughout the bag, producing a crop.

While the Brit method is OK, it’s not for me. I prefer to grow things vertically. The Brit method takes up a lot of space. I’m limited to the amount of space on our apartment deck. Many of you living in condos are too.

The Brit method has some other problems. Watering a plant grown in this type of grow bag is a roll of the dice. Plastic bags retain water and heat when directly exposed to the sun. What happens inside is that the potting soil turns into a mushy mess.

These bags can only be used once because the soil becomes depleted. For smaller rooted plants, they can serve you well. But with plants that need a lot of room and soil depth for good growth, the resulting plants are stunted and not as healthy or productive as they could be. Since the root system of a plant expands, root binding becomes another problem.

Pots have long been the mainstay
For years, we gardeners have been content to grow our plants in pots of all kinds. Terracotta, glazed ceramic and plastic are the most common, but all have drawbacks of some sort.

terracotta
 
Terracotta
Terracotta gets to be darned heavy to lug around, especially when you have to haul them up stairs after buying them at a Bog Box Home Store. Been there. Done that. Won’t do it again.

I’ve had a couple of monster terracotta pots that tilted the scales at 30+ pounds. Add soil and water and you really got something that will strain your average plant stand and you when you reposition it. And while terracotta pots are tall enough in theory, to grow vigorous root diggers like tomatoes, the sloped angled interior restricts the actual volume. Not to mention that they break if dropped. Nor will they withstand cracking in winter.

Some plants especially tomatoes, require 18-24” deep pots to grow well. When you buy a terracotta pot that big, it may require a fork lift to transport it from your car to garden.
glazed ceramic
 
Glazed ceramic 
Closely related to terracotta are glazed ceramic pots. While they are pretty, aesthetically pleasing and can add style to your garden, they are more expensive than plain terracotta.

And they’re heavy.

So for a pot to be big enough to grow a healthy tomato, it can weigh even more than terracotta and be a heck of a lot more expensive. We’re talking nearly $100 a pop at a Big box Store.

That’s too much pop for me.

platic pots
 
Plastic 
Then there are the plastic pots. Plastic is far lighter, more affordable, durable, lightweight, more colorful and a lot easier to handle. These also add a touch of style to your garden.

Some plastic pots have near straight interior walls so they hold more soil and hence you can grow a deeper rooting plant. If you need to move one, it’s easier too.

But plastic has a big disadvantage. They are very susceptible to the sun’s UV rays which can transform durable plastic into a weakened shell that will crack or break when you move it.

So terracotta is a heavyweight, closely followed by glazed ceramic and plastic is deeper but not as durable. So what’s a good alternative? Glad you asked.

grow bagGrow bags
I’ve been researching grow bags and really like what I see.

One of the best things I like about these bags is they have square bottoms which means once loaded with soil and plant, they ain’t going anywhere.

You can grow plants vertically, use wooden or plastic stakes and metal or plastic cages for support. You can buy the bags based on the size of plants you’ll grow, so you won’t be stuck with an under performing, root-bound plant.

Grow Bag Advantages
For apartment and condo dwellers, grow bags are lightweight alternatives with attached handles useful when moving a plant. But they have several more important advantages over the other pots.

Porous Fabric allows plants to breathe
The bags are made of porous fabric. The fabric allows roots to grow unrestricted in the bag but then stop when exposed to air. It’s call air pruning.

When the roots hit air, this sends a signal to the plant which then shoots out a network of fibrous roots from the ones already in place. Instead of circling endlessly around the bag, roots spread horizontally. What good is this? The roots have far more surface area to suck up nutrients in the soil. Root-binding just simply doesn’t happen, resulting in healthier plants.

Easy Drainage
Most grow bags don’t need drainage holes since the fabric “breathes,” allowing excess moisture to escape through the porous fabric. Because of this increased air flow, more moisture is lost to the air requiring more watering, preventing pooling of water at the roots which is what happens when you over water a plant in a rigid pot. Pooling can kill a plant dead.

Some manufacturers place drainage holes in the bottom of their bags. Either way you will need an adequate sized plant saucer to capture the draining water or it will stain your deck or patio. If you use the bags on the ground, this isn’t a problem.

Storage is easy
At the end of your growing season the bags can be washed, folded and put away for the next one. Or you can keep them through the winter, depending upon the intensity of your winter weather.

Or simply toss them and save yourself the trouble because the bags aren’t as expensive as pots.

The pots I’m using now aren’t cutting it
I’ve convinced that the pots that I’m currently using on my patio garden are simply too small. Even though I have large terracotta pots, their sloping sides, decrease the amount of soil I can add. I’m switching to grow Bags for better yields in the future.

The plastic pots I have are deeper and lack sloping sides, But plastic is easily damaged by the suns rays here in Southern California and the plastic becomes brittle and breaks easily. That means replacement every year. Not to mention storage space is at a premium. Plastic pots also require a lot of potting soil too.

Choosing the right size grow bag is easy
If you’re experienced gardener, you already know that plants will be stunted if stuffed into too small a pot and are susceptible to diseases and root rot. Getting the right grow bag will insure your success unless you have a killer thumb. If you do, well, try woodworking.

thumb

So here’s a green rule of thumb for choosing the right grow bag size.

 

8 gallon
chili pepper summer squash zucchini indeterminate tomato cucumber artichoke Veggie combos

7 gallon
broccoli cauliflower cabbage eggplant small peppers determinate tomato

5 gallon
herbs cabbage collards spinach head lettuce arugula

3 gallon
herbs strawberry leaf lettuce

2 gallon
herbs succulents
One thing I’ve noticed is that the bags allow you to grow more of what ever you plant.

Take a look at this how-to video by Larry Hall that shows you how to plant using the right amounts of soil and amendments in a bag

 

And here’s a video that demonstrates using  grow Bags for better yields  for all the types of plants you can grow using Smart Pots. I don’t see that there’s an upper limit.

 

Here’s a selection of Smart Pots

This video sums up the advantages of using the bags in your garden

Not happy with how bags look? Check this link More grow bags to choose from.

Try these ideas to hide your black Grow Bags.
My wife isn’t sold on the idea of grow bags, because they look like black pots. The bags also come in white which is what nurseries use, but I don’t like the way they look.

No matter which size or color bag you use, you’ll need plant saucers to place underneath your bags to catch the excess water so it won’t stain your deck. Since the grow bags will wick up any pooled water, it’s a good idea to empty the sauces about an hour after you water your plants. That’s not really a challenge if you’re an avid patio or deck gardener. You already know that having a patio or deck garden in an upper apartment or condo can result in your neighbor objecting to raindrops falling on her head.

Hide ’em
One solution which I’m considering is to buy a plastic pot big enough to hold the bag so it can fit inside and remain hidden to my wife’s eyes. *Sigh* Everything is a compromise. But I have to agree with her. I’m the gung-ho gardener really to get my hands and arms and most everything else dirty and love it. She isn’t.

Check out the tubs
So buying a plastic pot disguises the bag. But you can also use plastic tubs which are deep enough to hide the grow bag inside and don’t look too shabby. And no matter what type of plastic or ornamental tub or pot you use, drill drain holes in the bottom to let excess water from the smart pot drain away. Check these.


Or these

Use raised bed squares
If you have the space you can make or buy a square foot garden raised bed square and place your grow bags inside it. Works well in small yards, decks or apartment patios.

The advantage a raised bed frame has is that it still looks neat but holds several bags that should be enough for the average patio or upper deck gardener. This way you can use grow Bags for better yields in a small space.

Instead of loading up the beds with a ton of soil and amendments you pop in grow bags instead. This way you’ll use less soil and the bags will be disguised.

But come season’s end you can remove, wash and store the bags for next season. Or change your drop depending upon the climate in which you live.

Let me know what solutions you come up with.