Clay and plastic planters are a common sight in most gardens but fabric grow bags are becoming a new favorite among gardeners! The first thing most grow-bag-newbies want to know is; are they reusable?
Grow bags are reusable, if they are cleaned and stored properly every year. Bags made from recycled plastic are more durable and last longer, but there are also biodegradable plant-based bags. Be careful not to drag your grow bags on rough surfaces like concrete otherwise you’ll shred the bottom.
Below, I provide instructions for cleaning and storage, along with useful gardening tips. But first, a brief introduction to grow bags …
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What Are Grow Bags?
Grow bags are lightweight fabric planters with handles resembling a shopping bag. They are typically made from hemp, recycled plastic like polypropylene, or a mix of both. It is an inexpensive and portable planting option for growing crops in limited spaces.
Some use the term to refer to a compost bag with DIY cut sections to grow plants directly in it. But more often than not, grow bags are effectively fabric planters with handles. Plus, they are often more pleasing to look at than a crummy black plastic pot.
One fascinating phenomenon that happens to plants in grow bags is called ‘air-pruning’. When the roots develop and reach the side of the planters’ walls, they immediately stop growing. This is caused by the grow bag’s porous fabric surface constantly exposing the outer sides of the soil to air. The roots naturally avoid going above ground and stop when it encounters the airflow created by the breathable cloth bag.
Meanwhile, for plants grown in a clay or plastic pot, the roots never stop growing, and the plant is eventually rootbound. Not in a grow bag, no sirree! Although, this does have the disadvantage of making your tubers grow into an L-shaped if you plant them in a small fabric planter. Upsize the grow bag, and it shouldn’t be much of a problem next time.
How Do You Clean & Store Grow Bags for Future Reuse?
Fabric grow bags are one of the best planters to overwinter since you don’t have to worry about it breaking in the harsh cold. But if you’re not keen on leaving empty planters in the yard, then it’s a good thing they are relatively easy to wash and prepare for storage. Here’s how you can get started:
- Remove the soil entirely. You can discard the potting media in your compost or store it in an airtight container to reuse next spring, provided it’s not infested or infected.
- Scrub off solid chunks of dirt stuck in the grow bag with a brush. You can also use a garden hose fitted with a high-pressure spray nozzle (Amazon link) if you want to go the fun way about it. Be careful of the splashback!
- Soak the grow bag in a large container filled with water, some baking soda, and dishwashing liquid. Use a tablespoon of baking soda and dishwashing liquid in 2-3 gallons of water. If needed, add more water to submerge the bag entirely for at least an hour. Note: Some fabric grow bags are machine washable. However, check first before attempting this; otherwise, you risk damaging the planter or possibly your washer.
- Scrub any stains on the grow bag gently in the soap mixture. Don’t go ham/crazy on this or you risk thinning the fabric material. Gentle brushes with the suds should do the trick.
- Rinse the grow bag with water. You want to get rid of any remaining suds on the fabric planter. Again, be gentle, and don’t scrub a dub dub too much.
- Air-dry the grow bag overnight, preferably under the sun. Please don’t attempt to put it in the dryer as this will shorten its extended use. If you can only dry the planter indoors, give it a few days in a well ventilated area until it no longer feels damp to the touch. Thoroughly drying the fabric helps prevent mold or mildew from developing while in storage. Of course if you plan on using the bag immediately, feel free to use the bag before it dries.
- Fold the grow bag and store it in a cool, dry space. You can keep it in dry storage as long as you’d like or use it immediately.
How many times can you reuse a grow bag?
As a whole, grow bags are reusable for six growing seasons or more, provided they are appropriately taken care of. The fabric’s material may influence its durability and biodegradability. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, or in other words, the most reusable bags, purchase mixed fabric bags made from plant-based materials and recycled plastic.
Gardening Tips for Planting in Grow Bags
There are several ways in which using a fabric planter is different from your average pots and containers. Don’t worry, though! It’s not that big of a leap, and I’ve got you covered. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Water the plants more frequently. Fabric grow bags are porous, even more so than terracotta pots, which means the soil dries out really fast. This also applies to fertilizing but be careful not to overdo it. If you live in a hot climate, you may even need to water daily. I’d recommend using a drip irrigation system with an automatic timer (Amazon link) to help you out with this. Note: Do a trial and error run using the knuckle test or a moisture meter (Amazon link) to see whether your plants need daily watering. Not all plants are the same, and some can handle going without water for a bit while others don’t. Compared to overwatering, underwatering is easily fixable.
- Do not place your fabric grow bags on rough surfaces like decks and driveways. This is primarily to avoid dragging them across the gravelly or abrasive areas, which will scrape the bottom and shorten a grow bag’s longevity. Or, if you must, place them on a dolly or wagon to quickly move them around if you can’t carry them. Note: Place a liner or bricks on the bottom to prevent staining if you’re placing the planter on decks.
- Pick the right grow bag size depending on your plants. For example, shallow-rooted plants like leafy greens will be perfect in a small bag. But root crops like carrots and potatoes will do better in a large or extra large bag. Note: The larger the size, the harder it may be to carry them around because of the soil’s weight.
- Keep them in one spot to avoid lugging them around chasing the sun.
- Purchase quality grow bags with woven in or well attached handles, not poorly sewn on handles. One of the messiest and most frustrating things that can happen is to have the handles rip right off a grow bag like velcro when you go to pick it up. Dirt gets everywhere and you’ll have to spend 15-30min on cleaning up. Not to mention if you can’t salvage the bag, you’ll have to buy a new bag and start from square one in your planting journey. This may not be a problem if you intend to maintain the grow bag in just one spot. But I highly encourage you to get the ones with secure, woven in or heavily sewn in handles just in case.
- Use black heavy-duty landscape fabric grow bags. Its dark color helps retain heat to keep your plants’ roots warm if you’re overwintering them. But if you don’t like the standard black bag, there are several colored options to choose from. Note: Root crops don’t like too much light, so don’t use thin, colored fabric planters to err on the side of caution.
- Mulch the topsoil to keep moisture in and suppress weeds. Organic mulch like shredded leaves, tree bark, and newspapers are excellent options. They are also beneficial in replenishing the soil when they break down.
- Utilize cages and trellis as support for climbing plants like tomatoes and strawberries. You can insert them in the grow bags or train the plant to grow on an external structure in an espalier (google it, it’s pretty cool!) style.
- Grow a different plant in the grow bags each season if you are going to keep the soil. This method is essential for crops like tomatoes to prevent the same pests and diseases from attacking your plant. In some cases, you can reuse the same growing bag with soil to grow quick salad greens before winter hits after uprooting the previous plant. If you are reusing overwintered soil, here’s an article on revitalizing them for your new plants in spring.
How do you reuse tomato grow bags?
Plant leafy greens in tomato grow bags after harvesting the fruits. They are fast-growing and not prone to pests and diseases afflicting tomato plants. But never regrow tomatoes or any plants from the nightshade family in the same soil or grow bags twice if you are reusing the potting mix.
Overall, fabric grow bags may just be the best new planter on the block! Best of all, just like other planters, they are reusable. It’s a personal choice for each gardener, some love decorative pots and aging terracotta’s look like me. Even if you like the look of grow bags you may still consider pots or a “food table” because you don’t need to water as often. Happy planting!