A boon for gardeners with limited space
Grow bags are great news for gardeners with little (or no space) to plant into proper beds but there are pitfalls you need to be aware of – here are my top tips for getting your money’s worth and the biggest crops out of soil in sacks.
I’m planting mine (under glass) earlier than usual as I planned a holiday at the worst time of year for gardeners (missing Chelsea and the busiest planting season) as I want to make them easy to look after for long-suffering daughter Vanessa.
One point to note here – if you want to use peat-free grow bags, good luck in finding them – there is plenty of peat-free compost about, so perhaps stick to growing in pots, or use peat-free in ring culture pots.
- You get what you pay for: Don’t be fooled by bargain basement grow bags, especially when
sold at ‘non-gardening’ stores – it’s likely the compost will be bulked out with filler, they will be small and need more frequent watering and feeding.
- Buy the biggest you can find: Usually labelled as ‘extra large’ with a capacity of 50-55 litres, compared with 25-33 litres. The dimensions of grow bags (length x width) are usually standard, as they are made to fit into one-size drip-proof trays – it’s the depth that changes. This extra depth means a better root system can develop and those times when you invariably forget to water won’t be so critical.
- Do you need actual ‘tomato bags’?: That’s your choice and you’ll buy generic bags more cheaply if cost is an issue. However, in-soil food is tailored towards fruiting crops that need a lot of potash.
- Check how long they will feed plants for: Most of the market leaders for tomato bags will feed for about six weeks with a high potash feeder.
- Do they have moisture-retentive particles?: Not necessary if you’re regular with watering
but a life-saver for the plants if you have a life!
- Use ring culture pots: These are basically large plant pots with no bottom (you can make your own) that sit on top of the grow bag, giving an extra area for root run. You can also buy a host of grow pots (with an outer ‘moat’ to deliver water slowly direct to the lower roots and ‘plant haloes’ some of which have supports for canes built in (see below). I always use a combination of the two – I like ordinary ring culture pots – they’re cheap, plastic ones last forever and they hold more soil than the ‘moat’ varieties.
- Cane support: A must for indeterminate (cordon) varieties, which are one long stem and must be tied into a stake. If you’re using a grow bag flat with no ring culture pot on top, this can be a problem, as there is no depth of soil to keep the canes upright. Solution – ring culture pots (put the canes in first, then the plant) or devices like Crown Garden Products Grow Bag Frame, http://www.crowngardenproducts.com.
- Get a tight fit: When using ring culture pots, don’t plonk them on the top and hope for the
best. Standard plastic pots have a 0.5cm inward rim at the bottom – mark on the bag where this line is then cut out the hole. As it’s smaller than the outside, push and twist the pot into the grow bag hole (easier than it sounds, as it’s quite stretchy). You then have a relatively watertight seal so water can seep slowly into the soil. Pots with moats often have ‘teeth’ that mark out the pot shape.
- Mini-greenhouses: Most are built with grow bags in mind but I use the bare frames to support my cordon plants and canes – it’s a cheap and easy way to stop them from keeling over.
- Be creative: The Grow Bag Frame mentioned above uses the grow bag edge on, meaning it can be lifted and carried with ease. Look at turning bags on their side and planting in the top (useful for other plants or if you don’t want to invest in ring culture pots, etc). The soil depth means canes will be held securely.