Many growers who opt for containers have switched to using grow bags (often referred to as Smart Pots) as an alternative to plastic pots.
Many grow bags are made of sturdy, breathable fabric with durable stitching. They come in a variety of sizes, and some have handles that make it easier to move around heavy plants.
Because root development, and thus plant size, is restricted in any container, be sure to select grow bags for final plantings that are big enough to accommodate the size of the mature plant you want.
Patrick Scroggins of In and Out Ag Services in Medford said many growers use 100- to 200-gallon bags to grow individual plants, “but they will grow into trees” at heights of 20 feet. Some growers use these larger bags for multiple, smaller plants. Grow bags between 20-30 gallons will suffice for growers who want to keep individual plants less than 10 feet tall, Scroggins said.
Most grow bags are black, but light-colored bags reflect the sun’s heat better. However, even dark-colored fabric reflects several degrees more heat than traditional plastic pots. Because the containers stay cooler, the roots grow better during hot summers.
The porous fabric of grow bags prevents the soil from becoming too wet, which is a common cause of disease and poor yield. The porosity of the bags also allows more air to reach the plant’s root zone, and this added oxygen helps keep plants vigorous.
The downside of using porous bags is that plants will probably need to be watered more often, which increases the risk of overwatering. Also, some fabric bags don’t drain well, so holes might need to be made in the bottom and sides.
Another big benefit of using grow bags has to do with air pruning. This means when the plant roots reach the edge of the bag, they make contact with air, and this triggers a natural pruning process. The result is that plant roots branch out and grow stronger, rather than girdling the bottom of the container. A healthy root system is more effective in drawing moisture and nutrients from the soil, and this significantly increases the plant’s health and yield.
Cost is another factor to consider when choosing plant containers. Grow bags are typically less expensive than plastic containers. Fabric bags are washable and reusable, and they flatten for easy storage. On the other hand, traditional plastic pots usually last longer (but they also last longer in landfills when they are discarded).
Grows bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic pots. Some grow bags are even made from biodegradable materials; for example, Root Pouches are made from 100-percent recycled materials that will break down in landfills. Making degradable grow bags from recycled materials requires no new fossil fuels and leaves a smaller carbon footprint; however, degradable grow bags may have a shorter life span than other fabric bags, particularly when exposed to sunlight.
Some growers like using coconut coir bags. Lucas Olsen of The Factory in Ashland uses one-gallon bags from Charcoir for his indoor grows. They come in many sizes and are compacted for shipping and storage.
“We just have to hydrate them and plant right into them, which is a huge labor savings,” Olsen said. “No pots to wash, and the bags are biodegradable, so we just toss it all into the compost.”
Olsen has also used Planet Natural’s Roots Organics 707 mix, which comes in ready-to-use 30-gallon grow bags with 20 gallons of potting soil. Growers need only cut holes in the bag and plant directly into it. Although Roots Organics bags are not biodegradable, they (and the soil that comes in them) are especially good for light-deprived and full-season growing, Olsen said.
There are many kinds of containers and grow bags to choose from when it comes to growing plants. The best strategy is to experiment in order to learn the kind that is best for your growing needs and conditions.