My Experience With Raised-Bed Gardens Using Fabric Pots

by dustytoes

I don't enjoy having to dig up the grass to begin a garden bed. I have found the perfect way to avoid doing that by using fabric pots.

I'll tell you, I am so happy to have discovered this simple way to start a new garden bed using fabric pots. I began with the small ones, but quickly decided the large size might suit me better. Last year (summer 2013) was my first attempt at growing vegetables in fabric pots, but I have purchased an additional large bag to use this year.

Any gardener will tell you that getting the soil right is absolutely essential to growing a good crop. But what if you live in a house that has no ready made dirt spaces? That means getting out the pitchfork and digging, unless you own a rotatiller I suppose. Which I don't. I also don't have a very large yard.

Using fabric pots is perfect for anyone who doesn't have the manpower, money or know-how to build a raised bed with wood. The most difficult part of using a big fabric bag is filling it with dirt, but if you can use a wheelbarrow, you're all set.

I Am The Gardener

I love the looks of those pretty raised beds made of wood, but I certainly don't know how to build one. Nor do I want to.

garden vegetables I am writing this page as a single, middle-age woman, who does all her own gardening. I've read blogs where the woman is writing about her fantastic, huge garden, when it's obvious that she has a man who did the heavy, dirty work.  She goes out and picks the veggies and it's "hers".  This is not my situation.   From lugging the delivered dirt to the beds each Spring, to weeding, harvesting and the Fall clean up, the jobs are all mine.  I garden because I love it.  I also garden to save money while eating healthy, organic food.  But as a full-time, working mom, I just don't have the time to do as much as I'd like in the yard.  

Setting up a fabric raised bed is easy, and they can be used more than one season.  I have used mine since 2013.  I was hesitant to leave the larger bags filled over the long winter, but it's a lot of work to remove the dirt and put the bag away.  The description of the product says they will last for years.  And sure enough it held up fine through cold and snow of my New England winter.

(Photo: Veggies from my garden.)

The fabric pot is perfect for small backyards, like mine.

They are sturdy and easy to move year to year.
My raised beds have been planted - Spring 2013
My raised beds have been planted - Spring 2013

I grew tomatoes and basil, with radishes around the edge, in the big bag.

My Big Fabric Bed - Summer 2013
My Big Fabric Bed - Summer 2013

The Large Bag at Amazon

This is the bag I am using.
Smart Pots Big Bag Bed Fabric Raised Bed

Do you use fabric pots?

Yes, it's a great way to garden.
Veronica on 08/29/2015

I certainly do and I put a photo on Wizzley ( Preserving the best ) just this week of my rhubarb plants in canvas pots. I have a small garden and I think they are marvellous.

They Come in All Sizes, With and Without Handles

Flowers would look great in them too, outside on a patio or deck. Remeber that water will go through the fabric.
Smart Pots 10-Gallon Smart Pot Soft-S...Smart Pots 15-Gallon Smart Pot Soft-S...

Fabric Pots Are a Smart Move

When I moved into my new home in summer of 2011, I knew the yard was a mess, and gardening is my thing!  So my work was cut out for me.  I went to work planning for planting the following year and watched the placement of the sun so I'd know where to plant things.

After I ripped out some nasty blackberry bushes that had taken over the tiny backyard, I needed to dig down to the dirt to prepare the soil and get rid of the grass.  Using a pitchfork, I managed to create a small patch of dirt to plant a few tomatoes, cucumbers and squash in 2012.

I've been continuously adding garden space along that sunny strip of land, but unless I stay on top of it, the grass grows right back.  Creating all the good dirt space I wanted was going to take me years.  I don't have a wife in the house helping with homework and making supper while I garden!

So the idea of filling a pot with dirt and having a ready made space for planting sounded perfect to me.  Set it in a sunny spot and fill with either bags of dirt, your own compost, or delivered dirt.  It will take a lot of dirt, so I order mine then use the wheelbarrow to fill it.

Here is why I like to garden this way:

  • Set up a garden in the best sunny location- anywhere.  It can be taken down later.
  • No rocks get in the way of digging or planting.
  • The soil warms quicker.
  • It's virtually weed-free.
  • It's easier to get water straight to the roots.
  • Moles and other critters can't get to the roots.  Worms do appear!
  • Access the plants from all sides.

I have cats and they never go up into the bags to do their business, so that is another plus.

My Potatoes

I had grown potatoes before, but my yard is very small, as I've said, so there really isn't any place to easily do so.  

I used two of the smaller bags and planted only 2 potato halves in each as the space was rather small.  And I did end up with a small bowl full of small potatoes.  But bugs kept eating the leaves, and the harvest was not worth the effort in my opinion.  So I'll use the bag to grow something else this year.

What I learned: Use a bigger container - I think mine are the 10 gallon size - or plant them in the ground.  I'll save my smaller fabric bags for something else, like beans which did great.

The Bugs Loved My Potatoes

I would keep these in the ground, as this type of pot is too small to get many.
Potato Plants
Potato Plants

My Beans Did Very Well

I will plant more beans this year. They need post (or the deck rails) to climb.
Green Beans
Green Beans

Yes, to Carrots

I never have any luck with carrots but they did pretty well in a bag. Even with the over-crowding.

Mistakes I Made, and Changes I'll Make This Year

Yes, I made mistakes while planting last year.  Live and learn is a good motto.  I had too many tomato plants (which I blame on the nursery because they sold them in 6-packs!).  And I hate to discard a decent, growing plant.  So I put tomatoes everywhere I could.  And I had too many of them growing in the big bag bed.

In fact I will not plant tomatoes in the fabric beds again.  They are not deep enough to hold a trellis or stakes or cages.  So my advice is to not grow something that will need staking, unless you put the stakes in the ground outside the bed.  Tomatoes get too heavy and will fall over. These bags are only a foot high.  Cherry or grape tomatoes may be okay though.

I am able to drag a small filled bag, but I could not lift one by myself.  

What to plant in a raised bed?

Some vegetables are very well suited to this type of garden bed.

This is my third planting season using the fabric pots.  I decided to leave the large bags filled and standing in the yard over the winter.  They did fine.  In fact, I planted garlic in one of them and it's growing nicely now that Spring is here (see my photo further down the page).  Garlic is planted in Fall where I live and it stays underground until the weather gets nice.  This year, that happened the end of April.

Last summer I planted celery, green and hot peppers, and parsley in one of the large bags.

I put 2 zucchini plants in the other large bag.  Everything grew very nicely.  I even managed to grow a couple of green peppers.  I was picking parsley until the snow covered it.


Ready to Plant - Spring 2014

Spring gardening bags
Spring gardening bags

Each Year I Try Something Different

I love that I can move the fabric pots.  Finding enough sun in my tree filled yard, is my biggest challenge.

This past winter a tree had bent over the yard from heavy snow, and it never righted itselft.  Come spring, the leaves filled out and it completely shaded one of my big bags.  I had to remove the dirt and move the bag to use it for planting.

In fall 2014 I planted garlic bulbs around the edge of one bag and left it up over winter.  Where I live, we plant garlic in October and harvest it the following summer.

As you can see in the photo below, my garlic looks wonderful.  (Tall spiky plants.)  I've never had much luck growing it, but I have high hopes this year.  Apparently it likes the raised bed location.

Garlic is a great choice to grow in raised beds.

Thats garlic in the bed in the back - the tall stalks.
Garlic and Zucchini
Garlic and Zucchini

Zucchini in a raised bed

This is the second growing season that I've grown my zucchini in a raised bed.  It does well, but takes up most of the space with it's huge leaves.

I prefer to plant it in the ground, but in order to rotate my crops I have to use the raised beds.

Mid-Summer 2014

It's hard to see the bag, but it's there under all the growing vegetables.
Large bag filled with veggies
Large bag filled with veggies

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What is your experience with fabric pot gardening?

The first year, I emptied the dirt from my bags and put them away for winter.   I needed the dirt from the big bag to build up the back area of the house.   

The second year I did not empty the dirt and left the big bag and a few smaller ones filled over winter.  They did fine.  In spring I added some nutrients, like bonemeal and compost to stir into the dirt.  Snow did pack the big bag down a bit, but it was fine.

I now live in Florida, which is a completely different way of gardening, but I plan to use my fabric pots here too.

Updated: 12/13/2016, dustytoes
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Please share your gardening experiences.

frankbeswick on 01/17/2015

jptanabe, your defence against groundhogs etc is plastic or nylon netting. Rabbits will burrow under fences, unless you use rabbit wire, which is a bit hard for you to out in, but they cannot burrow into pots. Deer be deterred by netting, but will attack young trees. Hogs are the most difficult. They can rip up netting, but pots that are solid and fixed, and covered with strong netting will provide some defence.

In Britain we have hogs, wild boar to be precise. You cannot handle them without a hunting rifle, as I am sure that you know. I don't know if your ground hogs are as bad as wild boar, but you have wild boar problems in parts of the United States as well.

Lay the netting as a ground, which will deter rabbits, but then ensure that you cover individual beds/pots with netting firmly fixed.

dustytoes on 01/16/2015

@jptanabe I am very happy with the fabric pots. I can't build a fence either. I don't bother to grow things that I'm sure would be eaten - like corn. It's trial and error. This past year all my tomatoes got a disease just as they were turning red! I was so discouraged. They were in the ground, and not in a pot. Live and learn. I now know about wilt and how to deal with it.

jptanabe on 01/16/2015

What a great idea! I'd love to grow more vegetables but the groundhogs, deer, rabbits and who knows what else tend to eat everything except tomatoes I grow in pots on top of buckets by my backdoor! I know a fenced in area would stop them, or at least most of them. But building a fence .... well.

RuthCox on 11/13/2014

I am really intrigued by these fabric bags for planting. I have a small yard and limited sunlight due to trees, but I am definitely going to try this come Spring.

sheilamarie on 08/09/2014

Sounds like a great idea for those with limited garden space.

dustytoes on 08/05/2014

It's a good idea to use the deeper pot for the crops you mention. I'll have to look for them. Thank you for that info.

kimbesa on 08/05/2014

We tried a deeper brand of pot, and first time for anything like these. We had tomatoes and potatoes in them. Because they are deep, we could stake the tomatoes. They have turned out well.

frankbeswick on 05/18/2014

There are about forty of us with plots there.

dustytoes on 05/18/2014

Thanks Frank for that additional info. The allotment sounds like a good idea. I will have to look into the community gardens around my area, but it's nothing like what you describe. It makes sense that you would get something for a structure on the land. Sounds like a good way for property owners to find income to pay their taxes and such on empty land. I certainly understand your being busy.
Other questions I would have (which you may or may not address in your article) are:
1. Do you pay year round even when it's winter and you can't grow anything?
2. Do you need permission and approval to add a structure or building?
3. How do you keep your gardens "safe" if you are not there to keep an eye on them?
4. Is your allotment next to another allotment, or is it one piece of land just for you?

Thanks all for the interesting conversation. Good luck with your garden too WordChazer.

WordChazer on 05/18/2014

Looking forward to reading from you when examination season is over, Frank. I worked one season for a University College and count myself lucky to have survived! I'll stick with audit administration for now, if it's all the same to my bosses... My deadline is in just over one calendar month/six weeks (20 June) so I'm likely to be scarce until then too. After that, boss has promised me TOIL so I shall be sitting at home writing furiously, listing eBays and tidying up the house as if my m-i-l was coming over *ahem*.

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