PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
May 12, 2017

This project uses recycled 5-gallon buckets to grow a great container garden. Five-gallon buckets make terrific containers for a huge number of vegetables. Not only do they hold just enough potting soil for roots to thrive, but they don’t take up a lot of room on a crowded patio or deck. Each bucket is home to one vegetable plant and perhaps two or three smaller herbs or annual flowers. Using 5-gallon buckets, you can grow as many different vegetables as you’d like. They’re easy to move around the deck or patio to maximize sunlight exposure, and come fall, the plants can readily be protected from early frosts by simply tossing a bed sheet over them. Here’s how to build a 5-gallon-bucket garden.

Pick The Right Buckets

When selecting buckets for your 5-gallon-bucket garden, try to avoid any that were used to store questionable materials, such as pool chemicals, tar, asphalt, pesticides or herbicides. Instead, look for buckets that were used for food-grade materials or clay-based kitty litter, or ones that were simply used for odd jobs around the house.

Pick The Right Vegetables

After you have your collection of buckets, focus on selecting the correct vegetable varieties. Seek out smaller-statured vegetable varieties for you 5-gallon-bucket garden whenever possible. Determinate or genetically dwarf tomato varieties perform the best in these buckets, as do bush-type cucumbers and winter squash. For this project, I used a pickling cucumber, but other good veggie choices garden include eggplants, tomatillos, ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa), pole beans (as long as you use a trellis to support them), zucchini, cabbage, peppers, broccoli and chard. You can also grow a broad range of salad greens in 5-gallon buckets.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 plastic, 5-gallon bucket for each plant
  • roll of burlap (if you’d like to cover the bucket)
  • jute or plastic twine
  • enough 50/50 potting soil/compost blend to fill all the buckets
  • 1 feature plant for each bucket
  • 2 to 3 “filler” plants for each bucket
  • cordless drill with 1/2-inch drill bit
  • scissors
  • eye protection (for drilling)

Step 1

Jessica Walliser

Flip over each of the buckets and use the drill with bit to create three to five drainage holes in the bottom of each bucket. Do not push too hard on the drill as it may crack the bucket. Let the bit and drill do the work.

Step 2

Jessica Walliser

If you’d like to cover your buckets with decorative burlap, this is best done before the containers are filled. To do it, cut a piece of burlap slightly wider and longer than the bucket’s exterior. Fold and wrap the burlap around the bucket, tucking in any loose edges to keep them from fraying. Use two pieces of jute or plastic twine to fasten the burlap around the bucket, one toward the top and one toward the bottom.

Step 3

Jessica Walliser

Fill the bucket with the potting soil and compost blend to within 1 inch of the bucket’s upper rim.

Step 4

Jessica Walliser

Plant one larger, feature plant in the bucket, then add two or three smaller plants. For this project, I used a pickling cucumber as my feature plant and a thyme plant and nasturtium as the fillers. Water them in well.

Step 5

Repeat the process for each of your 5-gallon buckets, and then arrange the planted buckets with the plants that will grow tallest toward the back of the collection and those with trailing or low plants toward the front to maximize sunlight exposure and air circulation.

Jessica Walliser

If you’d like to add a splash of color to your 5-gallon-bucket garden, you can also paint the buckets with funky patterns or flowers using a spray or liquid paint formulated specifically for use on plastics. Clean the exterior of the buckets with an ammonia-based cleaner before painting. To prevent damage to any plants, allow the paint to fully dry prior to planting the buckets.


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