Using plastic bags as cheap grow bags (A. SCHRADER / Willem)

Last year I published a message on “Cheap grow bags“, containing some of my ideas about using plastic bags as very cheap containers :

More and more advertisements on so-called grow bags are found on the internet. These are plastic bags, used as containers, filled with a quality substrate (potting soil with a good mineral and organic content). One recommends to purchase these grow bags in a green center or nursery. Of course, there is always a price tag on each of these grow bags.

However, we all know that numerous simple plastic bags (white, blue, black, etc.), used everywhere on all continents as shopping bags, constitute a heavy burden on the environment. Generally, these bags are thrown in the garbage bins, but in many developing countries they are simply littered and fly around in the streets. You will find many of them hanging in the trees as if it were huge blue, white and black flowers.

Here is my idea : why don’t we use them as cheap grow bags? We can easily fill them up with soil (possibly improved with some animal manure), close them tightly and cut some small holes (slits) for drainage in the bottom part. Seedlings or seeds can be put in small holes on top of the bag (number to be decided in function of the adult plant’s dimensions).

For climbing plants (like tomatoes, peas or beans) a cage or deepee can be put over the bag.

All kinds of vegetables, or even young trees can be grown on such cheap plastic bags. One can even imagine that school children use this system in the school yard, creating a school garden even on a concrete surface, thus helping to get rid of all that plastic in the streets or the environment. The kids would thus help to keep the environment cleaner, growing vegetables at school to supplement their lunches with vitamins and mineral elements.

Therefore, cheap plastic grow bags can be used as a simple didactic tool to create a sort of school garden in the school yard or along the wall of the classrooms. Millions of plastic bags all over the world would not be littered anymore, but taken to school to create productive gardens. Vegetables and young trees can thus be grown with a minimum of water, because the soil in the grow bags will be kept moistened for a longer time (less evaporation).

Young fruit trees, grown by the kids at school in those cheap grow bags, could be taken home at the end of the school year and planted close to their house. It suffices to dig a plant pit, put the plastic grow bag with the young tree in the pit, cut the bag open at 4 sides, bend the plastic completely open and fold the plastic under the rootball, fill up the plant pit with local soil, water the plant pit thoroughly and let the roots grow out.

The young fruit tree will continue its growth and we get rid of the buried plastic. Isn’t that nice ?

I wonder if you will set up an experiment with a couple of plastic grow bags. I am looking forward to read your comments and, hopefully, nice results (with some pictures?).


Last week I received an interesting comment from Alfred SCHRADER :

> Author : Al Schrader

> Comment:
> Yeah, it works great.
> I’m growing beets right in the bag.

> Al

Today, Al added :”So far the results are unbelievable. But I’ve only been doing it for a month. The bag holds moisture, but the small holes allow the beets to “breathe”. Instead of requiring several gallons of water per week, only a few ounces per month are needed, because the bag almost eliminates evaporation losses. And the small opening with only the beet tops exposed limits weeds to almost zero. This could work very well in desert areas. Al “.


This short comment shows how promising the use of very simple plastic shopping bags for growing food crops or young trees can be for rural people in the drylands. I really do hope that this method will be applied at the largest scale in the future, not only because of its value as contribution to food security, but also because it will invite people not to litter those shopping bags anymore (pollution of the environment) ! Food production with a minimum of water and protection of the environment in one single action. Don’t you think this is a “best practice” ?  And why shouldn’t the schools give the example ?

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

4 thoughts on “Using plastic bags as cheap grow bags (A. SCHRADER / Willem)”

  1. I am rather cross I did not think of that myself! lol
    How obvious and simple…well done!
    Also another way to use those sometimes NOT charity bags that come through the door…I guess dustbin liners would do too…
    So pleased I read this as very disappointed in ever increasing prices of Grow bags. My son works at Homebase and we get 20% off but our branch have run out…I shall be more prepared next year…unless this rather nifty way works.
    Thank you 🙂

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