Are plastic containers or cloth pots better for container gardening? Well, both have their pluses and minuses. After a closer examination, you should be able to choose which is better for your situation. While plastic containers have traditionally dominated our industry over the last few years, more and more fabric pots have entered the market-place as of recent. So what we wanted to do is breakdown the differences between the two approaches and weigh-in on our thoughts with all factors involved.
Before you decide which container you are going to use, you need to decide how much medium you need to fill your containers. Here are a couple of conversions that will help:
- 1 cubic yard (cu yd) = 173.569 gal (US dry)
- 1 cubic foot (cu ft) = 6.42851 gal (US dry)
- 1.5 cubic feet = 0.037037 cu yd = 9.64 gal
- 1.8 cubic feet = 0.066666 cu yd = 11.57 gal
- 2.0 cubic feet = 0.074074 cu yd = 12.86 gal
- 3.8 cubic feet = 0.140740 cu yd = 24.43 gal
So now that you have the conversions to determine the size and number of containers you will need, the next step is to determine whether you go with the old standard (plastic) or try something new (fabric). There are positives and negatives to both.
Generic plastic containers are usually relatively cheap, somewhat durable, and re-useable. Obviously, the thicker the plastic and the bigger the container, the more expensive they get. Premium style pots are considerably more than their generic counterparts. Square pots, re-cycled pots, and premium nursery pots are examples of various specialized plastic pots. There is a huge variation in plastic container size, and style. From small 2.25′ starter pots to 25 gallon tree containers. And everything in between. One of the main benefits of plastic containers is that there is a size or dimension for every application. On the downside, plants can get root-bound, and out in the middle of the summer sun, they hold heat and can potentially damage roots.
Over the past several years, air-pruning has come more common place (both in plastics and with cloth). The trend seems to have started with High Caliper and the introduction of their root control bags to our industry as Smart Pots. And from there it has only evolved. It seems like over the past year or so, there has been a number of new cloth bags on the market. And some have some unique features. But in this article we are going to stick with the tried and true. Smart Pots, and Aurora Innovations Root Pots. Both of these companies products have been run through the ringer and meet our rigorous quality standards. And they both represent two ends of the spectrum.
High Caliper was the first on the scene with Smart Pots. They evolved from root control bags which were used in large scale tree farms. When High Caliper found the hydroponics industry, obvious became obvious. Smart Pots are designed for the long haul. You should be able to get five plus seasons out of them…easy. The cloth blocks UV, and is durable and completely breathable. Smart Pots work well for all size plants. They have 400 gallon pots, great for a plug-and-play raised beds. They can do custom designs, and can make almost any shape you can dream up. They even make 3×3 tray liners for hydroponic gardens! These containers are great for people who are in warm environments. Because the roots can breath, the plants will grow better. And plants that are air-pruned do not get pot-bound. Out in the heat of the summer, keeping your root-zone as cool as possible is crucial. The one thing you can’t forget is that with breathable pots, you will need to water more frequently. Make sure you adjust your program accordingly.
Aurora Innovations released their Root Pots not too long after Smart Pot came on the scene. Root Pots are the most economical cloth pot. They are made from 100% recycled material, and they will breakdown over time. With that being said, Root Pots are really a single serving container. Because they are designed to breakdown over time, they just are not as durable as some of the others on the market…but Roots is not trying to make the most durable bag, they are more going for a more environmental, economical option. And they range in size from 1 gallon upwards of 600 gallons.
The theory behind air-pruning and the use of cloth pots to facilitate this is well documented. And it works. Plastic containers are a little more rugged and durable, and sometimes a little easier to move around. But the fabric pots release heat, increase watering frequency and encourage fibrous root development. Just make sure you adjust your waterinf cycle! There are a lot of different fabric container options on the market, but we can say with 100% certainty, both of these products have passed the test, and using fabric containers is something worth looking into…highly recommended.