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Container gardening is a great option for many growers. Home gardeners can have a container garden on a balcony, patio, driveway, but grow bags are also great for use in the commercial greenhouse.
Container growing can present some challenges. There are things that are true for any container garden, and there are things that are unique to grow bags.
Why grow in grow bags?
Grow bags are made of breathable fabric which means superior drainage and aeration. It is the aeration that makes them superior to other garden containers. If a container has no aeration and the roots reach the walls of the container, they give a signal to the plant to make more roots, resulting in a root bound plant. Eventually the plant just kills itself with a mass of roots going round and round in the container.
Root bounding will not happen in a grow bag. If a root reaches the wall of the bag, it will be “air pruned” off, causing the plant to constantly produce new and healthy branching roots.
Soil for grow bags
The soil is the heart of any growing process. For the soil mix in grow bags, we suggest to use a modified "Mel’s Mix" which can be found in the "Square Foot Gardening" book. It is a good mixture for any gardening, as well as container gardening. The mix is 1/3 soil medium, 1/3 compost mixture, and 1/3 vermiculite. This mix preserves moisture which is very important for grow bags, as they can dry out quickly if in full sun.
We recomment to mulch grow bags with wood chips. It helps to keep the soil moist on top and plants just grow better with mulch, even in containers.
You can reuse this soil mixture year after year. Remove the wood chips mulch, empty all the bags, add about 10-20% new compost, mix it up well, and use it again.
Watering grow bags
Watering is always a challenge in container gardening. Too much water and the plant's roots sit in water for longer durations than desired, and with too little water the roots dry out. It also depends on what the container is made of. Grow bags can dry out much faster than pots. The drainage and aeration of the grow bag leads to more frequent watering needs. It is difficult to over-water a grow bag, as the excess water will come right out.
Two things can be helpful.
Install a drip system, so the grow bags can get a constant moisture supply as needed. Change the schedule throughaout the season to match condititions as needed.
Self watering system
Placing a container underneath the grow bags provides extra moisture that can be wicked up. Any container could work for this as long as it is large enough for the grow bag to sit in, but if the container is too deep, an overflow is recommended. Remember that most of the roots need to be in air.
Fertilizing grow bags
Since containers do not contain very much soil, heavy feeder plants will need to have a good source of plant-available nutrients. If you are using a soil-less grow medium, mix in worm castings, rock dust minerals, and other sources of nutrients that sustain good soil biology, just as needed in the field.