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Grow Bags for Easy Raised Beds in your Urban Garden

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Large grow bags — essentially “instant” raised beds — are easy, ready-to-fill planters that have some great benefits for the urban garden. They’re easy to transport, since they fold up compactly, and plants thrive in them.

Check out this post on growing vegetables in pots, too!

grow bags on a driveway with beets and tomato plants

Our former residence—a large lot in town—was steep and shady.

It was not conducive to gardening at all and certainly not a place where we could plant a nice level garden without a whole bunch of work and wall building. I tucked plants into every sunny spot available in my initial attempt at urban gardening, but I was just not content with that. I wanted to GROW THINGS!

The only really sunny spot in the yard was the driveway. And let’s face it: A garden is much more important than having a place to park! (No, really. There were other places to park. Though there might have been a little bit of eye-rolling by some of the other drivers in the household.)

Raised beds on the concrete made perfect sense to me, so I started exploring my options for a creative urban garden. I made a few beds out of banana stumps, and those worked fine but we just weren’t harvesting bananas fast enough to create as many beds as I wanted. Plus, they were destined for the compost pile after just one season.

Related: Small garden ideas: Get the Most Bang for your Buck

black fabric containers full of soil with seedlings

Grow bags

I debated using wood, but knew they’d rot relatively quickly in our humid climate — and that they’d be expensive. But I ended up going in a totally different direction. I got three large grow bags, filled them with good soil, and went to town planting seeds. [My first grow bags were the SmartPot brand.]

grow bags planted with green leaf lettuce and potatoes

And look! They worked beautifully. After fighting our limitations for a couple of years, I finally had a very successful—if small—crop from my driveway garden.

The biggest question I’ve had from people is about the material of the grow bags. The grow bags are made of a BPA-free fabric. And the porosity of the fabric allows for air root pruning. Which is kind of a fancy way of saying that plants grown in these pots don’t get root bound like plants grown in hard-sided containers.

Related: Growing blueberries in containers

sweet potato vine in a container

Reviewing various grow bags

Smart Pots

These grow bags can tend to slouch a bit over time, as you can see above. I’m into my fifth year with these pots, though, and they’re still holding up well. (I have sweet potato vines in them at the moment.) While I opted for large 100 gallon fabric grow bags, Smart Pots come in a variety of sizes. The smaller ones would be great for apartment dwellers or those with limited space for growing food.

ginger growing in a fabric bag

Root Pouch

These reusable fabric bags come in a variety of sizes, from 3 gallons to 30 gallons, and an assortment of colors. So, not quite as large as the Smart Pots I started with, but perfectly suitable for growing vegetables. These grow bags are made with handles, which is awfully handy. It makes them easier to move around as necessary. They don’t slouch like the Smart Pots, thanks to a stiff, hemmed edge. I have both green and brown grow bags from this brand, and while the color has faded, they’re still nice looking after a year in my garden with various crops.

These grow bags seem to be available on a limited basis, but Gardener’s Edge has a nice selection.

lettuce in a fabric container

Geopot

This brand is available at my local hardware store in a black fabric that has hardly faded. Like the Root Pouch, this brand is slouch free. It does not have handles, though. (That’s it in the background in the above image.)

Bloembagz

I love the innovative ways Bloembagz is using fabric for planters, such as their over-the-railing bags that make use of every inch of space. I was excited to give the strawberry grow bag from Bloembagz a try. While it works and the strawberries are doing okay, the light green fabric isn’t super attractive, what with the mildew and moldiness on its exterior. Would this be a problem in drier climates? I don’t know.

moldy grow bag with strawberries

Originally published in August 2014; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

12 comments… add one
  • Cathy Nov 24, 2014, 1:04 pm

    where do you buy smart pots

  • Dianne Koehler Jan 12, 2015, 4:06 am

    have been wondering how well they hold up. now how hot is it where you are. Texas summers can be brutal and for months on end. Also how has the need for frequent watering been as so many porous pots?

  • sheila Jan 18, 2015, 7:18 am

    One year I was so far behind on getting my garden in (had taken cared of my dad in his final battle with cancer) that I just sliced open the potting soil bags and grew out of those in the driveway. I kept the bags upright/vertical for deeper rooted things like tomatoes and laid others bags flat/horizontal for crops with shallow roots. The neighbors did think that was a bit strange but we were prone to that anyway: homeschooling, edible landscaping, homesteading in an urban area back in the 90’s before it became more acceptable. That was one of the best gardens I had or maybe I just had appreciated it more.

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 25, 2015, 10:12 am

      Did you have problems with plastic bits left behind? I’ve seen this method used before and have wondered that.

  • Marianne Jan 30, 2016, 7:22 am

    Aloha. Are the Smart Pots available on-line only? Where in Hawaii are you located? I’m on Maui and have lots of gardening questions!! Currently I’m using anything I can get my hands on to use as pots, I’m that desperate to grow food/herbs!!
    I love your site!! Mahalo for all you do!!

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 30, 2016, 8:25 am

      Aloha! I’m on Hawaii Island. I’ve seen *small Smart Pots at our local Ace Hardware, but had to order the big ones online. Good for you for growing!

  • Marty Gottlieb Feb 22, 2016, 8:59 am

    Hi Kris,

    Although you wrote the Smart Pot article some time ago I just came across it. I also had the same problem, too much shade except for my driveway. At one point I had about 150 Smart Pots in the driveway. So many that I had to park on the road. Then hurricane “Sandy” came along and miraculously, over night, I had lots of unanticipated sun in my back yard. I now grow about the same amount of containers in the back with a deer fence surrounding the entire “Smart Pot” garden. I live in New York state and leave my Smart Pots outside year round. I’ve got a bunch of them going on 12 seasons and they’re in good shape.

    I was glad to see your comment about snails and slugs. We don’t have any snails but lots of slugs. I can’t prove it but I’ve long suspected that slugs don’t like the Smart Pot material. One of these days I hope to get a university study going to see if it’s true.

    Best regards,

    Marty Gottlieb
    Vice President
    High Caliper Growing (Smart Pots)

  • Effie Mar 27, 2017, 2:34 am

    Hello! How can I get them? I like them but I live in Greece

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 27, 2017, 8:28 am

      If I understand it correctly, it looks like they’re available via Amazon International? https://amzn.to/2nFt57i

  • Denise Apr 23, 2017, 2:33 am

    I have tried to grow tomatoes before where I am, but we get heavy rains here a lot, and it knocks the blooms off the plants. How can I prevent this? Should I grow them in a green house?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 27, 2017, 5:30 pm

      If the rain is knocking blossoms off, it seems like *something to keep the rain off the plants will help. Greenhouse? Umbrella?

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