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Posts Tagged ‘hanging planters’

Rotten News About Cheap Planters

The reusable shopping bags available at the grocery store in Lewisburg are dramatically more biodegradable than the flimsy plastic bags they put your groceries in if you don’t have your own bags. I’d expect the environmentally responsible reusable bag to be nearly indestructible… and I’d build the “decays in ultraviolet light” formulation into the flimsy bags the store practically gives away.

Your Small Kitchen Garden is about growing food in limited space. In that spirit, I’ve posted a few articles about container gardening and I’ve shared some experiments I’ve done with very inexpensive planters. My favorite of all small kitchen garden planters this year was the reusable shopping bag that has become a symbol of the green movement.

You find these shopping bags in many grocery and department stores. Where I live, you can buy a reusable shopping bag at a grocery store for 99 cents, or at Walmart for about 60 cents.

I have some sad news: Those low-cost, ultra-strong, reusable shopping bags may be particularly sensitive to ultraviolet light. Mine are.

Advantages to Shopping Bag Container Gardening

I like those reusable shopping bags for several reasons:

  • A shopping bag is very inexpensive for a planter of its size
  • A shopping bag is quite large; it will hold about five gallons of soil.
  • A shopping bag is easy to modify; you can cut holes in it with little effort
  • A shopping bag has built-in handles by which you can hang it easily.
  • A shopping bag is lightweight but still strong enough to hold many pounds of soil and water.
  • A shopping bag is permeable; excess water soaks through and drips away.

My friend, Kerry Michaels, who produces a blog about container gardening was also taken by the notion of using reusable grocery bags as planters. By mid-July, she had written several posts about her experiences with them (see Unusual Container Garden for her latest), and was happy with their performance.

After about six weeks of hanging in the sun, the reusable bags I used as planters developed obvious thin spots.

The Sad Truth about Shopping Bag Planters

My shopping bag planters are disintegrating. I noticed nearly two months ago that thin spots were developing in the fabric. More recently, whole sections of the bags have simply crumbled away; there are very large holes in my hanging shopping bag planters. On the other hand, the planters that sit on my deck look as fresh as the day I bought them.

I suspect that the deck planters are breaking down just as the hanging ones are, but the deck planters aren’t stretched by the weight of their load so the degraded fabrics isn’t cracking and crumbling as it does on the hanging planters.

After about three months in the sun, my hanging planter reusable shopping bags are a bit scary. Will they make it through the growing season or will the fabric decay so much that the bags tear loose from their handles and plummet to the lawn? I would not want such planters hanging on a balcony over a sidewalk.

Should you use Grocery Bags as Planters?

Given the bags’ apparent sensitivity to light, they aren’t ideal candidates for planters. But I must point out a few “other hands:”

1. The bags I purchased may have a different formulation from bags you can buy. Kerry Michaels hasn’t reported problems with her reusable grocery bags, so I hold out hope that many brands of these bags are not vulnerable to ultraviolet light. (It’s a slap in the faces of environmentally-responsible shoppers that the once-and-done flimsy plastic bags at the local grocery store may be so much less biodegradable than the hefty, reusable bags for which shoppers pay extra.)

I love the look of sweet potato vines growing from a reusable grocery bag planter on my deck. The greens and subtle purples in the leaves are gorgeous, and the bag adds a slightly humorous touch. Perhaps the sweet potato leaves have protected the bag from serious sun damage. I hope to be able to plant in this bag again next season.

2. Reusable grocery bags are still crazy inexpensive. A five-gallon nursery bag—a bag made of heavy black plastic—costs about 90 cents. I’m willing to bet a lot of those bags enjoy only one growing season before going in the trash.

3. If the grocery bag is light-sensitive, it can make a great planter in situations where the planter itself sits in the shade. For container gardening, this isn’t a bad practice anyway: if your containers get full, direct sunlight, the soil temperature inside can rise enough to kill roots. As well, direct sunlight makes the soil in a planter dry out quickly. Ideally, (at least during the summer) the planter remains in the shade and just the stems and leaves of the plants rise into sunlight.

So, I’ll continue to use grocery bags as planters. To that end, I’ll shop around the grocery chains and department stores nearby in hopes of finding a bag that doesn’t crumble to dust when hanging in direct sunlight. If all I find are light-sensitive, I’ll reserve them as deck planters, or come up with ways to hang them so the bags themselves don’t receive direct sunlight.


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Carrot Planter & Tomato Planter Updates

Who knew? Carrots grow extensive networks of thin roots before they grow the tap roots of which Bugs Bunny is so fond.

When I decided to experiment with growing a small kitchen garden in ultra-cheap planters, I hoped to come up with a few space-saving ideas that would be easy on my budget. I had no idea I’d learn something cool about carrots along the way: carrots make a lot of roots!

On May 1, I described how I modified a two-liter soda bottle, filled it with soil, and planted eleven carrot seeds in it. Seven weeks later, the carrot plants are growing well; their tops are beautifully lacy-green. You can read about it here: Small Kitchen Garden Carrots in Containers.

What’s Going Down?

In my fortyish years of growing carrots in a garden, to me these plants have always been green fluffy greens that grow atop orange shoulders just showing above the soil. At harvest, I’ve found smooth orange tap roots of various lengths, tapers, and diameters. One season, I left carrots in the ground well into winter. Along the way, flowers emerged much like those of Queen Anne’s Lace (carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace are closely related), and the plants put up a second wave of foliage. When I excavated these very mature carrots, I found many small roots growing from the plants’ tap roots. These mature carrots looked hairy, and somehow much less appetizing than younger, smooth-skinned carrots.

But you know what’s cool? Before a tap root forms, a carrot plant puts out a huge network of tiny roots. Who knew? You can see these roots through the clear side of the soda bottle planter in which my carrots are growing. The roots have been visible for about four weeks, and orange carrot shoulders have yet to appear at the bases of the foliage.

This upside down tomato plant supports the observation that roots want to grow down. When I planted the seedling, its root ball topped out about two-thirds of the way up inside the planter. A week later, though many roots are visible through the plastic, none appear above the root ball.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that the plant would need roots to get established before it built up its winter food supply in a tap root. Still, I’d never thought of this, so creating my silly soda bottle planter led to the pleasant surprise.

About Upside Down Tomatoes

When I wrote about growing tomatoes in upside down planters I predicted that roots would immediately start growing down from the root ball of the newly-planted seedling. Eventually, I guessed, an upside down tomato plant would become pot-bound even if there were many inches of soil available above the root ball in the container.

I don’t know whether I’m right about this, but I can report that all the root growth in the first week has been downward. How do I know? I followed instructions at (once you’re on the site, look in the left margin for the link to IPlanter Modified) for creating an upside down planter in a three-liter soda bottle. I set a tomato seedling in my planter and hung it up last week. Already, new roots have grown from the root ball out to the sides of the planter, and then down along the sides. No visible roots have grown upward. This may change as the plant becomes pot-bound, but I don’t expect it to.


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