How to Grow Leaf Lettuce in a Reusable Grocery Bag
A Grow Bag Alternative for a Healthy, Green Garden
It's easy to grow leaf lettuce in plastic reusable grocery bags as DIY grow bags, which can be inexpensively purchased at most markets. These flat-bottomed bags also can be used to grow other vegetables and flowers. Even some root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, can grow successfully in reusable grocery bags.
Leaf lettuce is a great container gardening vegetable because its short roots mean it can grow anywhere that has good drainage, even in a shallow container. However, lettuce likes to be kept moist, and it is easier to keep your plants moist in a deep container that holds more soil. An upright reusable grocery bag fits the bill perfectly, serving as a fabric grow bag with plenty of space for maturing plants. One advantage of a grocery-bag garden is it's light and can easily be moved around a deck or patio to take advantage of sun patterns.
You can grow leaf lettuce in grow bags from seed or from purchased seedlings. But note that plastic grocery bags are not well-suited for head lettuce, as the plants can be quite large and the bag can become top-heavy with the weight. Start with a sunny spot. Most leaf lettuce likes mild temperatures, though you can find some varieties that are somewhat heat-tolerant (e.g., Black Seeded Simpson, Simpson Elite, Green Star, or Tropicana).
Grow Bag Options
Fabric grow bags are not a necessary component of gardening, but they do offer great advantages to growing plants in pots. The fabric allows air and water to flow through the entire container to encourage a healthy root system with proper drainage.
There are several different types of grow bags to choose from. Fabric grow bags and reusable fabric grocery bags make an excellent option. You can also make a homemade grow bag by reusing burlap sacks around your home. Some budget grow bags are made of plastic, which does not offer proper drainage or air circulation. Overall, fabric grow bags made from materials like burlap, canvas, or a felt-type fabric are a better choice than plastic.
In either case, it's important to choose a grow bag that suits your plant's mature size. Species like potatoes require significantly more space than tomatoes, while tomatoes need extra vertical support. Keep your plant's specific needs in mind when choosing your grow bag.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Utility knife
- Gardening gloves
- Garden hose or watering can
- 1 reusable plastic grocery bag
- All-purpose potting mix
- 8 leaf lettuce seedlings
- Plastic window screening (optional)
How to Grow Leaf Lettuce in a Reusable Grocery Bag
Cut Drainage Holes
Prepare your grow bag by cutting small drainage holes in the bottom before adding soil. Don’t be shy―cut a bunch. Drainage is key because lettuce doesn't respond well to sitting in soggy soil.
If you wish, add a layer of window screening over the bottom of the bag to prevent potting mix from falling through the holes. This is most important if you will be moving your container around. To measure the screen, put the bag on top of it and then cut around the outline of the bag. The piece of screen doesn’t have to be sized perfectly―just big enough to cover the holes. You can also use newspaper or coffee filters to cover the holes.
Add Potting Mix
Fill the grow bag with an all-purpose potting mix up to about 1 inch from the top of the bag. Pick up the bag by the handles, and gently tap it on the ground a few times to help settle the soil. Add more soil if necessary.
If your potting soil doesn’t have fertilizer already added, mix in a slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer, following label instructions. Organic fertilizers are a good choice, as they don't burn plants the way synthetic fertilizers can. High-nitrogen fertilizers are the best choice for leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, because nitrogen stimulates green leaf growth. Make sure to blend in the fertilizer thoroughly.
Separate the Lettuce Seedlings
Take your seedlings, and gently remove them from their nursery containers. If you have to pull them out, don’t pull on the plant stem, which is delicate. Instead grab the soil plug, and pull on that.
If the lettuce is root bound, meaning it has dense and tightly packed roots, gently tear apart the roots to prevent them from growing in a circle and eventually strangling the plant.
Plant the Lettuce
Dig holes in the potting soil deep enough to allow each seedling to sit at the same level as it was in its nursery container. Don't plant too deeply. Set each seedling in a hole, and pack the soil gently around the base.
Because lettuce has a quick growing season, you can plant the seedlings fairly close together without having to worry about the plants outcompeting each other. A typical reusable grocery back can hold as many as eight lettuce plants or a combination of lettuce and other plants.
Immediately after planting, water generously using a garden hose on a gentle spray or a watering can. Keep watering until the water runs out the bottom of the grow bag.
As your container garden grows, check the soil at least once a day to determine its moisture level. To check, stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry at your fingertip, then it's time to water again until the water runs out of the bottom of the bag. It is better to give lettuce plants a good soaking less often than to give them frequent small sips.
How often you will have to water depends on the kind of potting soil you used and how dry and hot the weather is. Also, if it's windy, your plants will dry out more quickly. In most cases, the container will need watering at least twice a week. And in very hot, dry weather, daily watering might be necessary.
It's easiest to place your grow bags in a spot that can tolerate water draining from the bag (like a grassy area in your yard or the garden). However, if your grow bags are located on a patio, wood deck, or even indoors, you can put a standard drainage pan below them to catch excess water.
Care for Your Vegetable Container Garden
To care for lettuce plants, make sure they don’t get too hot and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Feed lettuce regularly with a liquid, high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as diluted fish emulsion, following label instructions.
Begin harvesting lettuce as soon as the leaves are sufficient in size. You can pick off the outer leaves, letting the inside leaves continue to grow. Or you can cut off the whole plant about an inch above the soil and let it regrow.
Are grow bags or pots better?
Grow bags are a great option to allow your plants plenty of drainage, aeration in the soil, and cooler temperatures during the height of the growing season. Your plants may grow healthier and larger in grow bags than in pots.
What are the disadvantages of grow bags?
A disadvantage of grow bags is that they don't retain as much water as pots, so similar to plants in woven hanging baskets, your plants in grow bags will require waterings more often. Large grow bags are also heavy, and in general, all grow bags will not last for as many growing seasons as a standard pot.
How many times can you reuse a grow bag?
Grow bags can be used for several years. Eventually, the container material may start to break down from holding water and heavy soil, developing small holes in the bottom. Clean and store your grow bags in a cool, dry place outside of the growing season. After the first few years of use, begin checking the bottoms of your grow bags for signs of damage.
Should I put holes in the bottom of my grow bag?
Yes. Like most plants in grow bags or other container materials, lettuce does best with plenty of drainage holes. This prevents water from sitting in the soil and causing the roots to rot.