Try Soil Bag Planting for No-Dig Beds

comments (33) March 14th, 2009

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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Fastest gardening method in town.Click To Enlarge

Fastest gardening method in town.

Photo: Chris McLaughlin

Is anyone out there in a hurry? Are you working three jobs, have seven children, or on your way to a fire? This no-dig planting method is the fastest way to a vegetable garden – a soil bag can be planted in under 60 seconds (I clocked it). Planting directly into a bag of topsoil is also easy and convenient.

At first glance, this may look like a less-than-organic approach, what with the plastic and all. However, there are a few of great reasons to try this method yourself. The first reason being the one that I mentioned above. You may have the desire to grow fresh veggies or herbs but keep looking hopelessly at the calendar wondering where the heck you’re going to find the time to create suitable bed for them.

Another great reason is if you feel intimidated by the whole idea of figuring out the size and structure of a garden bed. After all, it seems like every garden book you pick up has a different formula for amending the hardpan soil that describes your yard so perfectly. Inside those manuals are also numerous ways to construct raised garden beds; it’s enough to confuse anyone. Perhaps you are allergic to tools. Whatever the intimidating factor is – planting soil bags are the answer.

A third reason is when the perfect spot in your yard seems beyond all hope at the moment. You may have this perfectly brilliant spot in your yard for veggies, but what passes for dirt in that spot really gives soil a bad name. Drop a couple of soil bags there and plant to your little heart’s desire; it’s that easy.

Here’s how you do it:

Get a bag of topsoil and with a pair of scissors, make slices into the back of the bag for drainage. Then lay the soil bag on its back (sliced-hole-side down) in the area that you want to make your veggie bed. Use your scissors to cut a big rectangle shape of plastic off of the top of the soil bag. At this point, you simply make some holes into the soil and place your plants into them – then water.

You can also start seeds in the bags this way instead of using little plant starts if you’d like. During the growing season, feel free to mulch the soil bag beds with compost, grass clippings, and the like. The plants will benefit from a little spoiling and it’ll help your bed in the long run. If you want to hide the soil bags for aesthetic or deceptive reasons, mulch the bags with enough straw or hay to cover them.

If you want to plant tomatoes this way, then use one bag per tomato plant to get the best results. Otherwise, you can put several pepper plants in one bag, etc.

At the end of the growing season, pull the plastic out of the bedding area and arrange the soil (and the added amendments). This will be the beginning of enhancing any lousy soil that was underneath the bags to begin with. In the picture, I used a rather large bag of soil for my Lemon Boy tomato plant, but there’s no rhyme or reason for this – it’s just what we had handy.

* The tomato plant in the picture was planted as an example. We just happened to have it on the lawn when we planted it. We have it sitting in an all-rock area at this point to grow in a place that otherwise would have been useless in our yard.

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posted in: soil, easy planting, soil bag planting, fast planting

Comments (33)

timonrooster writes: great one
Posted: 3:41 am on August 20th
charisbaker writes: useful information
Posted: 2:02 am on August 20th
DonnaCox writes: nice one
Posted: 2:13 am on July 26th
Lawnrick Lewis writes: Hey.
so the whole busy schedule person who keeps looking at the calendar wondering when they will ever get time to plant/grow one single thing happens to fit my description .That was a year ago before I discovered soil bags .No pruning ,no digging ,no seeking weed control measures ,I don't even have to worry about cutworms with the soilbags .
The use of soilbags has made my gardening work so easy such that I feel guilty since all I have to do is sit and watch them grow (lol).
It literally reduces all the work you have to go through in the garden .I would recommend it for people with busy schedules ,people who don't have much time to look after a garden ,those who live in apartments ,those with poor soil in their areas,those who have limited garden space and those who have a thing against digging ,tilling the soil,removing weeds and adding fertilizers.

This could be a good way to also help teach your child at home how to garden .

Soilbags are a lifesaver ,the harvest you will get will leave you in owe .My cherry tomatoes are the best
Posted: 3:34 am on February 8th
chgocelt writes: Some have mentioned planting in straw bales. I was interested in trying one a couple years ago, until I read that mice love to nest in them. That did it for me. Anyone experience this? I live on a small suburban lot. People in the country with plenty of land who keep these far from their home may not be bothered by this.
Posted: 3:48 pm on April 17th
CherOhkee54 writes: I would like to see photos of a garden that has successfully been grown in bags of soil. You know, mature already producing plants. Not photos of potted plants that were just placed into the bag. The soil is lousy where I live. I don't have the physical ability to do the work it takes to make the soil good. Soil bag gardening sound like a wonderful thing, but does it really work? I should mention that I live in Southern California and over past several years our summers have become much, much hotter than ever. We are also experiencing humid weather which is something that we NEVER had until the late 1990's.
Posted: 4:45 pm on January 27th
Kath245 writes: I just found something that is perfect for this. At home depot they have a brand called Lakeland Natural and Organic that comes in bricks, 1 ft high by 2 ft long, instead of the normal flat bags. This makes a nice neat raised bed. My plan is to arrange them end to end, and then after I cut the holes, wrap with landscape cloth. The black cloth looks neater than the bare bag and will keep weeds out too. I have a friend who does this with strawberries, and the beds are usually good for at least 2 or 3 years.
Posted: 8:37 pm on May 15th
toolz writes: I did this along with some jalepeno plants, but I built a little table for them to sit on, we have rabbits.
I just built it about 2 foot off the gound that way we can move it when I want to mow and the animals can't get to it.
I just made the boards on the table out of treated boards and spaced them about 2 inches apart so the water would drain thru WORKS GREAT!!!
Posted: 1:38 pm on April 28th
high writes: On the soil bag planting, I live in West Texas and the stickers are impossible to control. What can I do to keep them from growing through the holes in the bottom?
Posted: 12:30 pm on March 23rd
Homegrownmamma writes: Could you stack 1 cu bag together to make 3 cu where i live 3cu bag are rare! ? I am starting a garden in the spring of next yr for the first time and need ideas on creative inexpensive ideas!
Posted: 10:15 am on September 1st
plays_in_dirt writes: I like it, for all the reasons you mentioned, and not only that, you can drag it to another location if need be.
Posted: 10:27 pm on March 25th
capheind writes: FYI you might want to pick the bag, based on the plants you intend to grow, Luckily most hardware stores sell several different types of soil. Your going to want the squatter "brick" shaped bags for things like tomatoes, as well as longer root vegetables (carrots), the flat ones you find at Osh are fine for herbs though. You also might try not opening the top all the way, and simply creating individual openings for each plant, in some climates this can prevent excessive water loss, although you might find (in moister climates) that it turns the bag into a fungus farm.
Posted: 2:07 am on March 25th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: MizBj: This particular bag is 3 cubic feet. It'll work beautifully - the roots just go whatever direction they need to to reach soil. I haven't even used this big of a bag before and it was terrific.

This bag is sitting on top of river rock this year - just like a patio.

I don't know about all of the root crops, though. I haven't tried potatoes this way because it seems rather hard to hill up after they start growing. I have done peppers tomatoes, herbs, etc.

I would imagine veggies like radishes or carrots would do well - it would be fun to try.

Whatever you'd like to try, go for it and let us know what worked well for you - better yet, post pictures of it in the gallery!
Posted: 2:37 pm on March 24th
MizBj writes: i have a question to this type of gardening in a bag. I love the idea, I just want to know if the top soil bag is deep enough for planting? It seems to be rather shallow. Can you provide a little more detail on this type of gardening?
I live in a mobile home park that has numerous restrictions on planting and gardening. The area I want to use is bare, concrete hard and surrounded by very low shrubs. I think gardening in bags would be quite suitable. I just need to know if hte flat soil bags are deep enough for vegetable roots. Thanks for any help that can be provided.
Posted: 8:02 pm on March 23rd
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: rosegirl7: To be sure about what you're dealing with, I would take one that's been obviously affected down to a (reputable) local nursery for some ideas on what problems are normally seen for gladiolus' in your area.

Could be Fusarium wilt? Glads are often affected by this fungal disease. Unfortunately, if it is...the best plan is to get rid of them.

In fact, try planting something else there in it's place. If you really want to grow glads, try a different place in the yard with brand new corms.

Posted: 2:52 am on March 21st
rosegirl7 writes: Great idea!

Does anyone out there know why my glads are wilting? They pop up every Spring looking healthy and straight as babies then as they grow they wilt and lay on the ground. It's not for lack of water. They are well watered. I have also fed them this year and so I am really confused as to why they do this every year! (The soil is Georgia clay with top soil)Thanks...
Posted: 1:33 am on March 21st
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: Vawildflowers -

It really doesn't make any difference. I have used whatever I have around. If you did want to just use topsoil, you can add compost on top during the growing season, etc.

gardenshare -

No worries. The roots just grow all around inside there with no problem at all. I have had a few stragglers come out the bottom (where we made the cuts for drainage), but it really works out fine.

If this were a shrub or perennial (which, technically, tomatoes are, but I digress), this wouldn't be suitable for the rest of it's life. But for the growing season for tomatoes - works beautifully.

Posted: 11:49 pm on March 20th
Vawildflowers writes: I'm confused! The article says to use topsoil but the picture shows what appears to be garden soil. Does it matter? Thank you!
Posted: 9:24 pm on March 20th
gardenshare writes: Question: what happens when the roots of the plants reach the bottom of the plastic? Won't they be too confined in such a small space?
Posted: 8:25 pm on March 20th
daizie writes: I read about this before and this year I want to try this.
My ground is slate and hard as a rock. This will give me good dirt, soft dirt, and I like the newspapers underneath.
I always have a lot of them.
Posted: 5:51 pm on March 20th
margameri writes: For many years English gardeners have used GroBags for planting this way. The soil is a specially prepared mixture for growing. I keep looking for them here - better than topsoil.
Posted: 2:13 pm on March 20th
margameri writes: For many years English gardeners have used GroBags for planting this way. The soil is a specially prepared mixture for growing. I keep looking for them here - better than topsoil.
Posted: 2:07 pm on March 20th
BethanyCooper writes: So grateful! So so grateful! I have trees, beautiful, old, greedy, shadow-casting trees taking up the best parts of my yard . . . despair set it at the thought of chopping them down, husband started threatening dire consequences, felt walls closing in . . . hurray for Chris! Love the newspaper-grass-killer amendment.
Posted: 12:12 pm on March 20th
badlandskid writes: I did something similar with small bags of peatmoss last year for potatoes. Peat moss has been recommended over soil for container gardening so this seemed like a good idea. The yield was not as much as I expected. Of course peat moss needs fertilizer which I used (manure tea). This peat moss bag idea works well for strawberries. I made two large peat moss bags into typical strawberry pots by standing them on end and cutting several slices into the corners and scooping out enough peat moss that I could then push back the plastic above the slice .This indentation created a pouch so planting the strawberries was easy. I then covered them with t-shirt material in a shade of terra cotta. I got this idea from a nursery on the west coast that had a wall of peat moss bags held in place by wire fencing. It was planted with petunias and by summer was a solid wall of blooms. You can do something similar with a stack of old tires too. Cut away some of the tire so there is more planting area exposed. I found that idea by googling and will try it this year. You can build quite a high wall for a vertical garden. We have no soil except hardpan where I am in this trailer park made out of a backfilled garbage dump.
I think this year I will try putting small bags of soil( I bought some at 87cents at the end of last years season) on top of bags of peat moss so the height is where I like it. I want to also create a raised bed for raspberries so will insulate bags of peat moss (plus some soil mixed in) with rigid foam insulation sheets to protect the roots as we get real winter here. I will fence this in with something like a closely spaced picket fence for esthetics. Keep thinking outside the box. I really groove on these ideas!
Posted: 12:09 pm on March 20th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: mainegardener - the Smart Pot idea! Another super-cool and fast way to garden.

(BTW, the plastic bag doesn't break down in the soil.)

Chris McLaughlin
Posted: 10:33 am on March 20th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: LizG -

Just to be clear, the tomato plant in the picture was planted as an example. We just happened to have it on the lawn when we planted it. We have it sitting in an all-rock area at this point to grow in a place that otherwise would have been useless in our yard.

Sally 529-

You're on the same wave-length as me! Straw bale planting is a terrific no-dig garden idea and one I was going to write about next. But you did a terrific job explaining it. :D

Chris McLaughlin

Posted: 10:25 am on March 20th
deelberger writes: I love this idea! I had my first garden last year (just a small patch in the yard that my husband gave up so I could grow some tomatoes, green onions, lettuce & parsley. It was pretty much a disaster. While we were digging up the area, my husband came across a 5 gallon bucket that had been filled with cement with a metal pipe in the middle of it. We bought this house from his ex-wife and she had the tendency to bury things, such as the large above-ground pool, pieces of black top and obviously, this cement filled bucket, among other things. The soil wasn't the most nutrient-filled, so we bought about 10 bags of good planting soil from our local nursery to made a good solid bed for the plantings. We bought nice healthy tomato plants, green onions, lettuce & parsley and had high hopes for all of them. We were able to enjoy all but the tomatoes. The plants started off very well. We had bought so many starters that we ended up giving about 5 of them away to a friend of ours. I tended to my garden diligently and all seemed to be going well. The tomato plants were flowering like crazy and then the fruit started to emerge. When the plants reached about 2 feet high, that's when the trouble started. The new leaves would come in all curled up and gnarly looking. Of course, I took pictures and posted them online and got so many different answers, which only added to my confusion. We tried many different remedies that were recommended by the 'professionals' at our local nursery, but none worked. We ended up with about 5 tomatoes (and not very good or large ones either). We had 10 tomato plants, so that's not a good ratio. What made it even worse was the fact that the 5 we'd given away to our friend, who did nothing but throw the plants into a hole in the ground, had tons of tomatoes and his plants looked gorgeous! I'm not sure what happened, if we did something drastically wrong, or if the soil wasn't good, etc. I've been contemplating not even having a garden this year, but this idea of planting directly into the bag of soil has made up my mind...I'm going to try it. Hopefully, we'll have an abundance of tomatoes this year!

Thanks for sharing and keep these fresh new ideas coming!

(Sorry my post is so long)

Posted: 10:21 am on March 20th
mainegardener writes: I love this idea, but would also suggest "Smart Pots," ( which are a fabric container. To plant, you only need one more step, which would be pouring the potting soil into the smart bag. They come in all different sizes and are pretty inexpensive. They let the roots breathe and are made of recycled materials.

I know that some plastic (pvc) leaches lead when exposed to the sun, (garden hoses, for example, but that's a whole other story). I'm not sure if the plastic from the soil would break down.
Posted: 9:44 am on March 20th
Sally529 writes: You're all missing the boat! Try straw bale gardening - its amazing. I've grown 5 bushels of beautiful organic tomatoes in 11 straw bales, plus cucumbers, potatoes, flowers, herbs. I learned about it from a news article and decided to try it in an un-mowed field. My bro in law uses it to grow peppers, tomatoes, cukes, beans and fences the bales with low white fencing in his suburban backyard so they look like little individual raised beds

Here's a link for preparing the bales which takes about 2 weeks to start them composting internally and then cooling off. Then you make a hole in the bale with a wooden handle, push in several handfuls of potting soil to hold baby roots while they get started and after that, you fertilize and water. I had NO insects, no viruses, no black spot.
I never had to spray for any kind of insect or plant disease because the bales keep the plants elevated off the ground.
Some Ariope spiders took up residence and kept any intruders at bay.

At season end, you can just scatter your bales to compost naturally and clean up is nothing. If the bales are really baled tight and in good shape I have used them 2 yrs. My dad has a 1/2 acre garden and I don't have the time he puts in with hoeing and mulching. With bales you don't do anything except water and fertilize. The one thing I would add to the articles on straw bale gardening is that even tho I have a ready free water source, to save watering time I create a 'saucer' under the bales by using landscape pins to pin up a piece of black plastic bag under each bale. I use organic fertilizers and compost on my bales altho the author does not garden organically.

if the links don't work try searching on straw bale gardening

Posted: 8:57 am on March 20th
LizGS writes: Three weeks from now, when the grass starts to grow, what are you going to do? You really can't leave that bag as in the picture (what are you going to do, weedwhack around it?), and if you just throw some mulch on top of the grass it will grow through (grass is determined stuff). But the solution is pretty simple, too: before you put your bag of dirt down, put down a layer of 6-8-10 pages of newsprint all over the grass where your bed will be. Then put your bag of dirt down, then mulch all the gaps. By the fall, you'll have killed your grass and made the dirt below much softer. I recommend "Weedfree Gardening" by Lee Reich, for more on this sort of approach.
Posted: 8:01 am on March 20th
CathyDesigner writes: I'm a big fan of container gardens and this certainly makes one think of another creative method for the impatient gardener. Keep sharing these unique ideas!
Posted: 6:50 am on March 20th
NorthVanGirl writes: What a great idea for starting gardeners, for wannabe gardeners, or even for people like me!

I also have recently tried to "hang" my tomato plants upside down.
Posted: 4:06 am on March 20th
gardenorganic writes: A very interesting post. Just freshly baked for those in a hurry. Thnx
Posted: 2:46 pm on March 14th
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