Quick and Easy Bag Gardening

You can get started on bag gardening in no time with this season-by-season, no-dig planting plan.

| April/May 2010

Topsoil bags

Topsoil and other soil amendments are sold by weight or volume. For this garden plan, use 40-pound bags, which cover a 2-by-3-foot space and provide ample room for the roots of most vegetables.


If your yard has at least a 20-by-28-foot space that gets full or almost full sun, you can grow enough vegetables to have fresh food all season with surprisingly little effort. Go ahead and dig beds if you’re lucky enough to have naturally fertile, well-drained soil, but don’t let soil flaws stop you from starting a food garden. Instead, use this quick and simple bag gardening technique. This method is almost too easy to believe, but it absolutely works! Gardening in bags of topsoil lets you get a garden going today, and offers these additional benefits:

  • In the course of a season, the topsoil bags will smother the grass underneath them, so you won’t have to dig up and remove the grass sod.
  • The bags eliminate aggravation from seedling-killing cutworms, which are caterpillars commonly found in soil where lawn grass has been growing.
  • Bag gardens have few (if any) weeds, because bagged soils and planting mixes are pasteurized to kill weed seeds.
  • You can eventually gather up the plastic bags and dig their contents into permanent beds, or just lay down a new batch of bags. 

What Can I Grow?

Whether you dig right in or start with bags, you can’t go wrong with the following selection of 25 easy-to-grow crops. In addition to plenty of fresh veggies to put on the table and to store, this garden plan will also produce a year’s supply of several tasty herbs, which will attract droves of pollinators and other beneficial insects.

If you’re new to food gardening, your biggest challenge may be planting crops at the right times. A food garden should be planted in phases, so that every crop gets the type of weather it prefers. The following season-by-season instructions for our easy food garden (download the plan) show how seasonal planting sequences work. You’ll also get a few labor-saving tips — such as letting pole beans twine up tall sunflowers.

Early Spring

1. Prepare your site. You can dig beds in the traditional way, or you can plant most of this garden in bags. If you’re using bags, you will need about 25 40-pound bags to cover the five main beds. See Bed 3 for guidance on how to arrange the bags when starting your garden. Definitely dig the squash bed and the circular bed, mixing in a 2-inch layer of good compost as you work.

2. Use a utility knife to cut out a large, rectangular window on the upper surface of each bag. Leave the sides and 2 inches of each top edge intact, resembling a picture frame. The 2-inch rim of plastic will keep the soil from spilling and help retain moisture. Lightly dust the surface of the soil inside the bags with organic fertilizer and mix it in with a trowel. (Skip this if the bag’s label says fertilizer has been added.) Stab each bag through at least a dozen times with a screwdriver or a big knife to create plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. Plant roots will use these holes to grow down into the soil below the bags.


1. Plant onions, beets and early lettuce. About four weeks before your last frost, plant onion seedlings in Bed 1. (To find the average last spring frost for your location, see Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average Last Spring Frost Date.) Water well to settle the soil around the roots. Sow beet seeds half-an-inch deep and 2 inches apart. Sow some early lettuce in Bed 3.

3/4/2015 9:44:32 AM

I have barn cats that us my garden to do their "business" I have not planted in my garden for many years now because I don't know how to get the soil clean and sanitary. Can you tell me how to get it clean and fresh again. After it is sanitary I will fence it so the cats can't get in. Thank you for helping me. Betty Shahan

jenny white
2/28/2012 1:33:48 AM

Great Idea: Also check out "Square Foot Gardening" which relies on 4x4 boxes full of a custom soil mix. No weeds. no fertilizer. Cool stuff.

kris l
3/23/2011 7:56:18 AM

I love this idea for starting new bed areas. I wonder if this idea could be used for flower beds?

barbara pleasant_3
5/25/2010 9:22:34 AM

Susanne in Zone 4 Minnesota asks: In what direction do I face the plants? Should the rows run north-south or east-west? How far apart should the garden beds be to avoid shade from tomatoes or pole beans? My answer: Ideally, a vegetable garden should face south or southwest, because a garden is a solar system. The 2-foot-wide walkways in the garden plan are adequate to prevent excessive shading from the tomatoes, but all of the beds were laid out with spatial, seasonal, and visual appeal variables in mind. If you feel overwhelmed, scale back on space. In my book from which this plan is adapted, Starter Vegetable Gardens, two simpler planting plans come before this one. The first year it starts with three beds, with three more added in the second year. I think gardening is more fun when you let your garden grow with your experience.

russell meyers
5/21/2010 11:35:05 PM

This is an awesome idea!! My soil is really poor and I've been working on it for the past year to improve it, with some success in some places and not much in others. This would accomplish multiple goals for my yard and garden!

anthony s burdge_1
5/4/2010 11:06:17 AM

Wanted to let you all know how much Mother Earth News and this article inspired us when the issue arrived at our home. Check out our article here of what we did to begin growing food with limited space: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2940752/learning_to_grow_food.html?cat=32

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