Many gardeners, including me, love using grow bags due to their portability and ease of use. But while we may know how to care for our cell trays or plastic pots, many aren’t sure of the best way to care for these fabric pots.
Let’s change that! With this article, I’ll introduce you to ways to care for and extend the utility and functionality of your grow bags in the upcoming seasons and years. With surprisingly little effort, you can keep reusing these bags for years to come!
What Are Grow Bags?
Available in various materials, these versatile containers are great for easy and portable growing.
In its simplest form, a grow bag is exactly what it sounds like – a bag that you grow things in.
However, while it may have originated from people planting directly into commercial bags of soil, there are many different iterations now. Our Epic Grow Bags are made from BPA-free, non-woven recycled PET felt, and we provide lined or unlined versions; the lined version we produce helps retain more water in hotter weather, whereas unlined styles are the more common option produced across the gardening industry.
Other manufacturers use various materials, from multiple types of plastic, cloth, or even DIY variants made from burlap or canvas.
While most industry-standard bags can be cared for with these instructions, natural-fiber fabric pots have different needs. They don’t last as long and will break down in the environment. There are very few ways to extend their lifespan, even with perfect maintenance. For these natural-fiber grow bags only, I recommend composting them once they’ve reached the end of their use period; this allows them to decompose harmlessly.
With that understanding, let’s explore ways you can maintain your other grow bags and make them last!
Mold, Stains, And Mildew During The Growing Season
Clean fabric pots with a soft brush and baking soda solution during the growing season.
With use and exposure to moisture and the outdoors comes a wide array of possible issues, but some of the most common are molds, mildew, or hard water scale stains. Dirt stains are also possible on light-colored material, although they often aren’t obvious on brown or black fabric.
There’s an easy solution for a quick clean-up during the growing season while your fabric pots are in use: give it a quick scrub-down with a soft-bristled brush. To do this, you’ll need:
- A soft-bristled brush – avoid anything with wire or hard, rigid plastic bristles and stick with flexible plastic bristles or flexible natural fibers
- A bucket of warm water
- Baking soda (1.5 tablespoons per gallon of water)
Place your bag on a surface where you can easily access it from all sides, like a table. Stir some baking soda into the water to fully dissolve it; this creates your cleaning agent. Dip your brush into the baking soda water, then lightly scrub the pot’s surface. This should remove most mold or mildew. Any crystallized minerals from hard water will be removed from the side of your in-use bag, but it may take a more thorough cleaning at the end of the season to reduce hard water stains or soil staining.
To spare yourself from the in-season inconvenience of cleaning the exterior of your grow bag, elevating the bag above the ground can help. Setting it atop pavers or a plant stand allows the fabric to dry out between watering, reducing the risk of mold or mildew build-up. By elevating it, you increase the airflow on all sides of the bag to ensure it dries properly.
Cleaning With A Washing Machine
Wash with a cold-water cycle and air-dry to prevent damage.
Those persistent dirt or hard water stains that you couldn’t eliminate during the growing season can be easily fixed at the end of the season – and for those of us with a washing machine, it’s a very simple process!
First, empty the soil from the grow bag. Use a hose to blast off as much clinging soil as possible, then allow the bag to fully dry in the sun for 24 hours (or longer if the weather is cool). Once it has fully dried, use that soft-bristled brush again, but this time, use it dry and brush off as much excess dirt as you can.
Once you remove any obvious soil from the bag, pop it into your washing machine on a cold-water cycle. If you can use a heavy-soil setting on the machine, choose that. An organic detergent that’s gentle on the fabric is usually the best option for removing the stains and accumulated mineral deposits that cause whitish discoloration.
It’s important to do a cold water or unheated water cycle to prevent severe stretching or warping of the fabric. Be sure you don’t wash it on hot or medium cycles!
Once it’s done in the washing machine, remove it. While it’s still wet, use your hands to shape it back into its pre-wash shape, opening it up fully. Place it in a sunny location to dry, or if desired, hang the bag up by its handles to allow full air circulation while it dries. If desired, you can use a conventional pot or bucket to ensure it dries in the proper shape for easy use.
Avoid putting grow bags in the dryer. The combination of hot air and the movement of the drier can cause permanent damage to the fabric, and you may experience holes, warping, or other deterioration of the fabric.
If using a lined bag, it’s even more important to not expose it to hot water in the washer or hot air in the dryer. This is because the inner liner is a thin material that can become damaged by heat; it’s protected against the sun’s heat from the UV-resistant felt, but hot water or direct hot air may cause the fabric to warp. Please use cold water and keep it out of the dryer!
Cleaning By Hand
Hand wash by soaking in soapy water, scrubbing, rinsing, and air-drying.
If you don’t have a washing machine, don’t despair! You can hand-wash for easy grow bag care, too.
Find a large container that can hold warm water. Add about a tablespoon of organic dish soap to your water. Prepare them as you would for the washing machine, and brush off all surface soil. Then, submerge your bag in the soapy water. Allow it to soak fully submerged for 30-60 minutes, then use your soft-bristled brush to scrub any stains. Thoroughly rinse in cool, clean water, then air-dry as described for machine-washing!
Ways To Extend Use
Prolong bag lifespan: shield from sun and moisture, protect from wind, bring indoors in winter, and store properly.
Let’s go over some techniques you can use to prolong the lifespan of your grow bags. These methods can be applied during the growing season and after to ensure that your bags remain in tip-top shape.
- Protect them from sun and moisture: While our bags are UV-resistant, not all types are. Keeping the bag and the roots protected from the elements helps the fabric pot last longer and ensures the plant within is happy, too! Position them where the sun reaches the plant but not the bag. Keep them elevated and out of puddles to reduce damage from constant moisture exposure. If you want to add a decorative touch, place your bags inside slatted containers that block some direct sunlight but offer a rustic look; just ensure they still have full airflow.
- Protect them from wind and chilly weather: If your area doesn’t experience hard freezes, group your grow bags close together in the winter so they can act as insulation from chilly wind to each other. Place your most sensitive overwintering plants in the group’s center to offer extra protection!
- Bring them indoors in the winter in cold areas: If you’re in an area that experiences freezing conditions, bringing your grow bags inside is best. This prevents the damp fabric from freezing solid and potential damage. Any overwintering plants will appreciate it, too!
- Store them properly: When you’re not actively using your grow bags, empty them and clean them thoroughly. Once fully dry, fold them up and store them in a cool, shady location out of direct sunlight, like a garage or shed.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you plan to start a new crop or plant in them immediately, temporarily storing the soil in your grow bags is fine. But if it takes a few months to use them again, it may be best to empty and clean them, let them fully dry, and store them.
Inside the containers, you should only put soil, preferably a good potting blend that’s moisture-retentive, as they are prone to drying out quickly. However, a 2-3” deep gravel bed underneath your grow bag can effectively keep it out of standing water. Remember that leaving them in standing water can promote mold or mildew development!
These portable growing containers are great for herbs, ornamentals, and keeping edibles near your kitchen! Keep your grow bags in great shape by performing regular maintenance, and you’ll have eco-friendly, portable growing options for your garden projects in the years ahead.