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Plant Containers: Traditional Pots Vs. Grow Bags

Trying to figure out what type of container to use for your plants and medium? Well, you’re in luck! High Times Cultivation Editor Nico Escondido answers all of your grow questions in his weekly Nico’s Nuggets column, and today’s piece is all about traditional pots vs. grow bags.

The Question: Do You Recommend Traditonal Pots Or Grow Bags?

Thanks to you and High Times for years of great grow advice! Quick question on plant containers—do you recommend using traditional pots or grow bags to hold plants and medium? I know there are advantages to each type, but I am leaning towards bag culture. Any thoughts are appreciated and keep up the good work!

The Answer: The Advantages & Disadvantages Of Grow Bags

Thanks for reading HighTimes.com and writing into the mailbag with a question.

Fabric pots are a top choice of growers, offering breathability and great drainage.

First, let’s explain to our readers a little bit about bag culture. Bag culture can be defined simply as growing a plant out of a bag, the same way one would utilize a plant container or a pot. But bag culture can also be defined as a method for extending or expanding the volume of media available to a plant’s root structure. In the latter scenario, an already-potted plant would be placed inside or on top of a bag filled with new grow media. The original pot would have holes in the bottom or several slits made in it so that the roots can grow down and out of the container into the extended medium of the bag. Because of these aspects, container bags are a preferred method for many greenhouse and indoor growers looking to expand root zone volume.

However, whereas bag culture can be an add-on in this way, this is not the only use for grow bags. Grow bags can be your initial, stand-alone container for individual plants or for multiple plant sites within a garden or hydroponic system.

There are many advantages of using bags as containers, including the fact that they are generally cheaper than pots—to the extent that they can be disposable with little monetary loss—though, they then have to be replaced, rather than being reused or recycled like pots can be.

Perhaps the biggest advantage, however, comes with fabric grow bags, which are more durable than plastic bags and much more breathable than plastic containers or bags. This is an especially important consideration as many new growers underestimate the importance of getting air—specifically, oxygen—to the root zone. While the green parts of the plants (above ground) breath in CO2, roots actually breath O2, which is integral to their growth and development. It is for this primary advantage that many commercial growers chose fabric grow bags, as the size of the root structure is directly proportional to the yield of the plant.

All of that being said, grow bags have a few drawbacks.

Sometimes drainage is less than ideal and additional holes need to be made at the bottom of the bags to aid in drainage. Additionally, grow bags may not be as durable as pots, lacking the structural strength that other more solid containers can provide. This can be especially true in heavy rain outdoors or in heavy-flow hydro systems. The larger bags can also be much more difficult to move because of the lack of sturdiness and the weaker fabric handles are prone to tearing with bags over 20 gallons. (Note: Fabric grow bags come in a variety of sizes ranging from 1-gallon to 200+ gallon bags for outdoor use.)

Huge fabric containers like this can grow large outdoor trees above ground.

Overall, for indoor table systems that require less mobility, fabric bags provide an excellent option for growers. The same can be said for large-scale outdoor operations where plants are grown to tree-size and will remain in a permanent location. But for systems that are high-impact or require frequent plant movement, sturdier containers might be the better option.

How to choose which to use.

Pros And Cons Of Using Grow Bags For Gardening

Whether wishing to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or looking to add vibrant color through annual flowers, the pros to gardening in grow bags are undeniable. Increasingly popular in recent years, grow bags are an invaluable asset to those gardening in small or less than optimal spaces. In addition to their versatility, grow bags offer gardeners a quick and easy way to establish lush, healthy landscapes.

While it’s difficult to downplay the pros to gardening in grow bags, there are some cons of using grow bags that must be considered too. The fabric grow bags are, by nature, soft but should we necessarily go “soft” on the valid concerns and questions they raise?

Pros to Gardening in Grow Bags

(Tonya’s viewpoint) Fabric pots can be found in the gardens of both professional growers and home gardeners. Their ease of use, in addition to accessibility, are just a few reasons to use grow bags. Though there are many types, it is best to select bags comprised of breathable and strong fabrics. These bags allow for durability, as well as contribute to better overall plant health.

Can be used anywhere. Many gardeners begin using grow bags when wishing to expand their home garden space. In fact, one of the biggest grow bag advantages is being able to grow plants in places which were previously considered unusable, such as in rented yards or even small apartment balconies.

Can use in areas with bad soil. Growers with heavy soils may specifically choose these bags as a means by which they are able to grow more successful crops of root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. If your soil isn’t quite up to par, using a grow bag can fix that. Much like a raised bed or container, you can grow plants in a looser, healthier soil.

Ease of use. The ease of which grow bags are assembled make them a viable and cost-effective option for many people. Without the need to remove grass or prepare beds with the use of tools, even novice gardeners are able to create impressive vegetable gardens and displays filled with annual flowering plants.

Bags are breathable. Additional pros to gardening in grow bags relate to factors that can directly impact the health of the plants grown. High quality fabric grow bags allow for excellent drainage, so issues related to overwatering are alleviated. Frequent problems that occur with other containers, such as root rot, are not a common cause for concern when using grow bags.

Plants produce heathier root growth. Improved overall root health is one of the main grow bag advantages. As the plant roots become established in the bag, their sensitivity to heat and moisture naturally begin the process of “air pruning.” Simply, this process allows the plant to create a more robust root system.

Grow Bag Gardening Downsides

(Shelley’s viewpoint) No one can really argue that using grow bags is all bad, BUT before you run out and buy them, it’s a good idea to know some of the downsides that you’ll be facing. This way you can make a more informed decision. These may include:

Durability. Grow bags do not last quite as long as hard-bodied containers. It seems that the general consensus is that fabric pots last 2-3 growing seasons, with some suggesting that they might last as long as 4-6 seasons. This, of course, will vary with the environmental conditions the bags are subjected to and the overall quality of the bag you purchase.

Cost. If grow bags do not last as long as other container options, you will want to ensure that they are more cost effective, as you will be replacing them more often. And the cost savings may not really compute for you. The cost of grow bags can vary depending on the growing capacity of the bag and the manufacturer/retailer. A five-gallon bag, for example, can start around $6 on up. If you’re replacing the grow bag every 2-3 years, this will add up over time.

Aesthetics. Grow bags aren’t as pretty or chic as a ceramic or terra cotta pots. The bags are typically a solid color (oftentimes black or gray) and do not come in patterns or designer motifs. Hard bodied pots, in contrast, have more flair. They are more shapely (funnel, cone-shaped, etc.) and typically have some character to them with glazes or paints applied to the surface and textural interest with ridges and raised shapes. A grow bag, on the other hand, looks just like, well, a bag or sack.

Environmental concerns. The grow bags that are available on the market aren’t all eco-friendly, as they are not all biodegradable. Many are formed with poly plastics that don’t break down. This becomes a concern when the grow bags need to be discarded and replaced.

Very water consumptive. Grow bags require more watering than traditional pots do and this is one of the biggest grow bag gardening downsides if you don’t have a lot of extra time on your hands. Grow bags are porous, meaning excess water will wick out of them rather quickly. This is an advantage in that the risk of over-watering your plants is very slim; however, it is a con of using grow bags for they will dry out quickly and you will need to water more frequently.

Mobility. While grow bags seem to be touted for their mobility, this is not always the case. Grow bags are available in 1 to 200+ gallon size bags. Any bags over 20 gallons may be difficult to move once they are planted because they do not have sturdy walls or structural strength like traditional pots and, in some cases, have weak fabric handles prone to tearing.

How Grow Bag Advantages Compare Overall to Their Drawbacks

Though there are several reasons to use grow bags, their use may not be needed in all gardens. Grow bags can be a good alternative but they are not necessarily the best option for everyone when you weigh the disadvantages of grow bags. They are short lived, not-so-pretty growing vessels that may nickel and dime you over the long term while demanding more of your time when it comes to watering. That being said, in some situations, well-maintained fabric pots allow for greater flexibility, and their ease of use and quick installation make the prospect of creating beautiful gardens more attainable.

Pros And Cons Of Using Grow Bags For Gardening Whether wishing to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or looking to add vibrant color through annual flowers, the pros to gardening in grow bags