There are a lot of different places you can grow plants. Nearly anything can be a planter, but not all types of planters work for all plants.
Options like grow bags and plant pots seem nearly identical from the outside, but there are huge differences you should consider before you plant or transplant anything!
Which works best for vegetables?
How long do they last?
Which is best for growing outside?
You’ll find the answers to those questions and way more in this guide.
Pros & Cons
Here’s a quick overview of the good and bad for both plant pots and grow bags:
Plant Pot Advantages
- Wide variety of styles, types of pots
- Cheap and durable pots available
- Great for long-term planting
- Protective against environmental changes
- Good structural support in larger sizes
- More sustainable options available (clay, terracotta, recycled materials, etc.)
Plant Pot Disadvantages
- Prone to root binding
- Needs occasional re-potting
- Often heavier, more difficult to move
- Can be brittle
- Soil can become compact from poor drainage
Grow Bag Advantages
- Nearly impossible to overwater
- Breathable, allowing air pruning of roots
- Lightweight, easy to move around [depending on the size]
- Wide range of sizes
- Works well as lining for larger decorative pots
- Ideal for renters, mobile gardens, balcony gardens
Grow Bag Disadvantages
- Dry out quickly in hot climates
- Can grow mold if placed or stored incorrectly
- Less durable, won’t last as long as good pots
- Limited options for aesthetics
- Requires more watering than pots
- Can lean or fall over
Now that you’ve got a general idea, here’s a closer look at how grow bags and plant pots compare in their most important features.
Grow bags and plant pots are available in similar sizes. The main difference is that plant pots are far more supportive in larger sizes, making it a little more practical to use pots if you need a large capacity.
Grow Bag Sizes
Grow bags are usually sold according to their size in gallons, with an accompanying height and width measurement. They are usually circular, so the width is given as the diameter.
With grow bags, there’s a lot of flexibility in small sizes and less so in larger sizes. You can easily find 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10 gallon grow bags. From 10 gallons on, larger grow bags are usually listed in increments of 5 or 10 gallons (i.e. 15, 20, 25, or 50 gallon sizes).
Beyond the capacity of the bags, grow bags are also measured by height. Most grow bags have a standardized height and diameter that scales up as you get a larger bag.
However, there are specialty bags available that are built for specific applications.
Tall grow bags – many people start trees in tall, slender grow bags that allow the saplings to develop an appropriate root structure before they’re transferred somewhere else.
Wide grow bags – plants with shallow roots are more efficiently grown in wide, shallow grow bags that don’t need as much soil to fill up.
Non-circular grow bags
Square and rectangular grow bags are also available. These are measured the same way as the round bags, but with separate length and width measurements rather than the diameter.
Plant Pot Sizes
Plant pots do not have standardized sizing. They are available in an enormous variety of sizes, shapes, and styles that are often hard to classify.
Usually, when you’re purchasing a plant pot you are provided with the top and bottom diameter (or length and width for non-circular containers) as well as the height of the pot. From there, you can calculate the approximate capacity of the pot using a plant pot calculator.
If you have to move around regularly, or if you have to rotate plants regularly, portability is a big consideration.
In terms of portability, grow bags take the win for small to medium sizes. They weigh less than plant pots and often have convenient handles to help you carry them around more easily.
Once you start looking at the larger container sizes, plant pots have some advantages over grow bags.
Grow bags are thinner since they’re made of flexible materials, meaning they won’t add a lot of extra weight when you need to move them. Because soil weighs so much by itself, any weight reduction helps a lot.
Plant pots are usually heavier, making them a little more awkward to move around when they’re full.
Larger-sized containers need a solid structure to support the weight of the dirt inside. Once your containers reach 20+ gallons, the problem grow bags have is structural.
The materials used to make grow bags are sturdy and flexible, but fabric can’t handle the weight of the contents in a large grow bag. This is where plant pots excel.
Related: Types of Grow Bags
Plant pots are made from stronger materials. Larger plant pots are usually made from clay, terracotta, concrete, ceramic, or hardened plastic that’s thick enough to hold up the dirt, roots, and plants inside.
Depending on what you’re growing, plant pots and grow bags have different benefits.
Plant pots hold in more moisture, which can help you if you want to water less. The downside of this is that you can accidentally overwater some plants if there’s not enough drainage on the bottom of the pot.
Certain plant pots can dry out more quickly than others. Unglazed clay and terracotta pots tend to allow the soil to dry more quickly.
Grow bags are completely different to plant pots in the way they retain moisture. One of the huge benefits of grow bags is that they DON’T hold in moisture. Instead, they drain water out really quickly, so it’s nearly impossible to overwater your plants.
If you’re growing moisture-loving plants, pots might be the best choice. For plants that like to keep their roots dry, such as succulents or tomatoes, grow bags can be an excellent choice to keep you from overwatering.
Because grow bags drain water more quickly and allow more air into the dirt throughout the container, they allow a process called “air pruning” to take place.
Air pruning is when plants encounter the edge of a container that has access to dry air. The air makes the tips of the roots dry out, causing them to stop growing near the edges of the container and to instead create more fibrous roots within the dirt itself.
Related: What Is Air Pruning?
If the plant doesn’t encounter dry air at the edge of the container, it will grow roots along the edges and create root balls over time.
Plants are a long-term commitment.
How well do grow bags and plant pots hold up over the months or years?
This question doesn’t have a simple answer (does it ever?).
In general, plant pots made from non-plastic materials hold up better than grow bags.
Here’s a quick run-through about the durability of some of the main types of grow bags and plant pots:
- Plastic pots last for 5+ years, but they don’t hold up well to intense sunlight
- Clay, terracotta, and other stone pots can last so long that your grandkids will inherit them, but they are more prone to chipping
- Polypropylene grow bags last 4-6 years with proper maintenance
- Felt grow bags can last 6-8 years with proper maintenance
- Canvas grow bags can last 4-6 years, but they don’t hold up well to overwatering and moisture
If you’re really interested in the nitty gritty about the pros and cons of each type of pot or grow bag, I’ve got you covered. Check out these articles:
Depending on what you’re using the containers for, the cost-effectiveness will vary.
The tradeoff is usually cost versus longevity.
If you need a lot of small containers for seedling starters, small grow bags are most likely to be the cheaper option. Since they’ll only be in use for a short time each year, you can wash and reuse them for a few seasons, just as you would with small plastic pots.
For long-term decorative plant pots, sturdy non-plastic plant pots are likely to last longer. Whereas grow bags may need to be replaced every few years or seasons, plant pots are likely to last for years until the plant either outgrows the pot or the pot is broken by accident.
Plastic plant pots are cheaper than other types of pots, but they’re generally not as long-lasting.
For seasonal gardening, grow bags could be a cheaper option. If they’re well maintained, they can last for many seasons, just like temporary plant pots.
Ideal Uses for Plant Pots
- Decorative planting, indoor and outdoor
- Growing small-medium sized trees and bushes
- Long-term gardening, such as for herbs, chili peppers, or pineapples
- Growing under harsh/varied weather conditions
- Long-term container growing, especially for woody plants
Ideal Uses for Grow Bags
- Seasonal growing, especially for root vegetables and greens (like lettuce!)
- Space-saving gardens, like growing in a mobile home or indoor garden
- Useful when weight is a problem, such as on a balcony
- Good for renters, easy to relocate
- Growing tree saplings
You don’t need a green thumb to be an awesome gardener. What you need is the right information to give your plants the best chance at success.
Hopefully, this guide can help you choose the right place so you’ll give your garden everything it needs right from the start!