Grow bags let gardeners grow in fresh soil, year-round, producing crops faster and get this, you don’t even need a garden to garden. How’s that? Because with the right know-how, grow bags can be used for gardening indoors, then moved outdoors or even put onto balconies.
When you’re done growing fruits, vegetables and salad greens, pack up your bags and put them into storage. Grow bags take up very little space and can typically be stacked. Then, when you’re ready to re-use them, simply refill them with a good soil mix and you’ll be good to grow again.
Learn the ins and outs of grow bags to start producing your own quality crops for less…
Discover What’s Involved in Grow Bag Gardening
Grow bags get their name because a variety of plants can be grown in bags that are filled with potting soil. It’s a growing technique that’s been around since the ’70s, originally used by commercial farmers as an alternative to greenhouse growing, then gained momentum with home gardeners due to the versatile nature of grow bag gardening.
It’s similar to container gardening, but instead of plastic containers, you’re growing in bags.
Different types of bags are available, as are different sizes. The best type of grow bag for many a plant is the fabric type as it’s the better draining of them all, preventing water rot in the roots of plants.
Fabric grow bags also allows for extra aeration helping the plants to develop strong roots. That is provided you use fabric grow bags and not plastic containers. These grow bags from Amazon are the ones I use (pictured above).
Some gardeners use the term container gardening when discussing grow bag gardening. Container gardening is different because of how the roots react.
In plastic containers, there is no aeration because the container is completely sealed. With the lack of air, when the roots reach the walls of the container, the plant keeps on producing roots, causing the plant to become root bound, which then results in a massive amount of roots continuing to spiral around at the bottom of the soil doing nothing.
Eventually, the roots die off. That doesn’t happen in grow bags because there’s aeration.
The extra oxygen causes air-pruning, which keeps the plants producing new healthy roots that don’t die. It’s the effect on plant roots that make grow bag gardening so versatile that any type of smaller vegetables including tomatoes, spring onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, potatoes and over a dozen herbs can be successfully grown in bags.
As you can grow potatoes in bags, it’s possible to grow an entire meal in an upstairs apartment, even without a balcony.
Benefits of Grow Bags
The benefits of grow bags are exponential. Especially if you have limited garden space or live in an upstairs apartment as you can use these indoors, and easily move them outdoors, pack them away when not in use, or use them year-round.
They can be used to grow healthy veggies, flavorsome strawberries, herbs and other salad foods regardless of space limitations, or being reliant on good garden soil.
You don’t even need a garden to grow with grow bags. Lay them along the windowsill or on the floor if you need or want to.
Pest-free gardening is another huge upside, with the exception of nibbling critters such as gophers that can and will chew right through these.
For regular pests such as mites, mealybug and other pests prone to attacking editable plants, these are much more resistant because you aren’t using traditional garden soil that’s more exposed to insects because the soil is compacted within the grow bag.
The only way for insects to get in are through the drainage holes or from the top. They can’t penetrate from underneath the bag. Especially if you put them on your decking, patio or a slabbed area where there’s no ground soil around for insects to crawl up from.
Portability is something renters will love because most grow bags come with handles, letting you move them around with ease. When you’re leaving, pack up the garden and go.
Decorating Around Grow Bags
While grow bags are available in different colors, there are various items you can use to frame around your grow bags, making a more attractive addition to gardens, patios or decking.
Some options include:
While grow bags can be used on the ground, just like you’d do with a traditional garden, you can buy frames with two or three tiers, letting you grow more in the same space just with a little more height.
Grow bags don’t need too much space as they can be as narrow as 27-inches, which can grow three plants. You can use tiered frames to stack grow bags growing different types of fruits, vegetables or salad leaves, all at one time.
With the same design as a traditional garden trough, you can find grow bag troughs wide enough to accommodate a grow bag on the bottom with poles either side and a bar across the top that can help you move your plants any time you want or need to.
Troughs are an ideal solution for easier maneuvering of grow bags around the garden, letting you move them into the area of your garden with the most amount of light, or if you want to grow them indoors but on occasion, put them outside when the weather’s good.
Trough planters are available with or without the handles.
Wicker surrounds are just as they sound, a wicker surround that goes around your grow bag. These are ideal for adding a little bit more decoration around grow bags and look superb on patios given the wood on wood effect.
How to Use Grow Bags
The first thing is to decide on the type of grow bag you want to use. Options are plastic or fabric. Plastic needs less watering, whereas fabric grow bags allow for better drainage and aeration so they need watered more frequently.
As for sizing, the size you’ll need is determined by the size of plant you plan to grow. If you want to grow a tree, you’ll need a 50-gallon sized grow bag. Although that is dependent on the type of tree you’re growing. Some react differently with roots that do circle, which impacts the growth quality.
There’s a handy chart on Boot Strap Farmer showing the various sizes and best use cases for them: https://www.bootstrapfarmer.com/products/grow-bags.
Generally, grow bags under two gallons are suited to plants with a diameter less than 8” and growing no taller than 9.5”, while 5 and 8 gallon grow bags are better suited to potato growing.
It should be noted that when you’re buying your grow bags, it shouldn’t be assumed that the bigger bags can grow anything. While you can grow anything in any size of bag, if you’re using a large bag to grow small plants, you’d be using more soil than you need, so the cost of growing would be unnecessarily increased.
For shallow roots, use shallow grow bags. For deeper roots, go larger.
The Best Soil to Use with Grow Bags
The soil should be the same type used for any type of container garden, however for fabric grow bags, a better soil mix is one you prepare yourself using one-third moss, one-third compost mixture (such as mushroom compost), and the other third with vermiculite to help with water retention.
Use enough of the mix to fill the bag up leaving just two inches from the top.
Once the soil is filled up, take the bag by the handles, lift it up, shake it around and then use your hands to loosen the mixture gently.
Once the soil is loose, the base of the grow bag needs to have drainage holes in it. Some already have these, while others don’t. If yours doesn’t, just use a pair of sharp scissors to pierce small holes about a half inch apart.
Once that’s done, your grow bag is as ready to use as any garden. Just take whatever plants you’re growing and plant them into the soil.
The Pros and Cons of Using Grow Bags
As with most things, there’s advantages and disadvantages, some more than others depending on your situation, the space available and the time you have to tend to your plants. With grow bag gardening, there’s few downsides and plenty of advantages.
- Grow bags are easy to move around (provided you buy the grow bags with carry handles).
- They are more durable than plastic, as a quality grow bag will withstand extreme temperatures without cracking.
- With most grow bags, you can expect to get at least three seasons of use, sometimes longer.
- Increasing competition between manufactures due to the popularity of grow bag gardening has led to improvements in quality.
- You can use these temporarily to test different growing conditions around your garden before deciding on a permanent area.
- Great for renters planning to buy a home as you can take your garden with you.
- Better drainage and aeration with fabric grow bags.
- A major time saver because you just fill with soil and you’re good to go. No soil preparation to deal with, other than aerating it before planting.
- If you have pests roaming your area such as gophers, they’ll chew through grow bags.
- The quality of bags differ greatly by brand so it pays to take the time to check the reviews online to see if any previous customers have found the bags lacking in quality, such as the handles falling off.
- More frequent watering is needed with fabric grow bags.
- With increased watering, there comes the problem of increasing insect attraction – mainly mosquitoes – and since these are mostly used for growing food plants, there’s limited safe insect control products.
What Size of Grow Bags to Use?
The size of grow bags you’ll need is determined by what you’ll be growing. But, finding the right size is made easier because in general, most bags sized under 50 gallons are for small rooted plants. 50 gallons are for tree-like plants that you expect to grow with deep roots.
With that being said, grow bags bought as instant planters that come with the soil ready to drop your plants in can be stacked. Just open the top of the first bag, then with the next one you open the top and bottom and flip it over to give you more soil for planting.
Check out doubling up instant planter grow bags for tomatoes on the ground without grass. Watch how it’s done:
Smaller sized grow bags often have the clue in the name such as salad grow bags. 4-gallon grow bags tend to better for growing tomatoes, however it does depend on the type.
If you’re growing baby tomatoes in a grow bag, such as the Terenzo tomato that only grows to about 16-20” in height, a 1-gallon grow bag would be sufficient.
The original intent of grow bags was to grow tomatoes, without the headache of ground soil impacting the harvest. Tomatoes are a plant you can grow very easily with grow bags, but you can also grow much more.
So much more, in fact, you can harvest enough salad greens, including lettuce, spring onions, potatoes, and a variety of herbs that you could find yourself growing enough food plants to serve up quite a few nutritious meals.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
Monday 16th of May 2022
Venturing into the world garden grow bags and have a question on the type of soil. "a better soil mix is one you prepare yourself using one-third moss, one-third compost mixture and the other third vermiculite" Do you mean peat moss? Would potting soil mix work? What about garden soil mixed with compost? I am using woven fabric bags (overestimated my needs with 25 gallon!) and growing a variety of veggies. Thanks.
Tuesday 17th of May 2022
Hi Jim, You can definitely use potting soil or a container mix. You will just want to make sure that it has good drainage, but without drying out too fast since the grow bags will allow the soil to dry out quicker than a standard pot.
Happy Planting! Lisa
Monday 21st of February 2022
What size of bag would you recommend for dwarft lemon and kumquat trees?
Tuesday 22nd of February 2022
Hi Suzanne, Depending on the size of your trees, you would want somewhere between 2 and 10 gallons for them.
Happy Planting! Lisa
Tuesday 15th of June 2021
Great article. I want to grow plants plants press and need proper guideline . it really helps me a lot when I start gardening and want to choose a different kind of plants in a limited place as mentioned in my article
Thursday 17th of June 2021
I'm so glad you found this helpful!
Donna J Talent
Wednesday 22nd of July 2020
Can I place a grow bag in a larger decorative planter?
Friday 12th of June 2020
I wonder if you have to pierce holes in the grow bag, it seems like it’s draining enough? Is that just with certain types of bags?
Desiree Lee Hertzog
Monday 6th of June 2022
@Heather, I use grow bags and I can tell you I do not puncture the bags I use 30 gal 50 gal and 100 gal bags I get way more products from mr veggies too I had started my own little stand selling homemade pepper jelly, salsa, tomato gravy and veggies pickles you name it because we had that much . this is the best purchase I have made no more in ground planting for me highly reccoment bag planting