by Erin Marissa Russell
No space to build a garden? No problem! How about just growing your herbs in a 5 gallon bucket? Turns out that you can grow quite a few herbs successfully using this method, as well as a large number of vegetables.
Here are some of our favorite herbs to grow in buckets. Give this method a try this season and see for yourself how easy it can really be.
Basil can get to some serious heights when grown in five-gallon buckets either indoors or out. Give it plenty of direct sunlight in the garden or from a kitchen window. Your investment of time and energy will be rewarded with plants full of delicious and aromatic leaves that you can use in Italian or Thai cooking. Don’t be alarmed if basil wilts in the heat. If it recovers after sunset with a watering, the plant is only reacting to the high temperature. (It’s a very dramatic herb.)
Chives are delicious snipped into herb butter, sprinkled onto corn on the cob, or diced over a baked potato. They’re easy to grow in five-gallon buckets, too. They’ll perform best in full sunlight (at least six hours each day), but if needed they can tolerate some shade.
Too much heat and sun isn’t good for cilantro, so find it a space in the garden where it will get partial shade. Cilantro is a standard in Mexican cooking as well as Indian and Asian cooking.
Dill is delicious in sauces like lemon butter, sprinkled over new potatoes, or used to accent fish. Find it a place in the garden where it will get full sunlight (at least six hours of direct sunshine per day).
Marjoram is a tender perennial, though it’s most often grown as an annual. It’s a classic part of Greek and Italian food and can be used however you’d use oregano. Just add one third more marjoram than you would use oregano in the recipe.
Oregano is great when added to Italian dishes like bruschetta, pasta, or pizza. It’s also a perennial, so with the proper care it will come back year after year.
Rosemary is one of the most delicious herbs you can grow. It’s great roasted with potatoes or other veggies, kneaded into bread, or even tucked under chicken skin. It likes its soil a bit drier with a bit more drainage than other herbs do. Find rosemary a spot with full sun, between six and eight hours of direct sunlight each day.
Thyme is delicious used in meat marinades or herb butter. It does best with eight hours of sunlight but will get by on six. Make sure to water thyme on a consistent schedule, but be careful not to give it too much water.
Tips for Growing Herbs in Buckets
Check buckets to make sure they’re safe for your herbs.
Most of us just stockpile buckets from wherever we can get them, without considering how their past lives can affect our plants. It’s imperative that you check incoming buckets to make sure whatever they were used to hold can’t harm your herbs. Of course, brand new buckets are exempt from this checkpoint.
On the list of banned substances: asphalt, chemical pesticides, pool chemicals, and tar. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a pesticide or herbicide bucket is okay to reuse because you used these substances in the garden. There’s no way to tell how much your plants would get if you reused the buckets, so it could be a harmful dose.
It is safe to use buckets in the garden that originally held clay-based cat litter or food-grade materials. If you’re having trouble sourcing safe buckets, check with your local restaurants. Lots of the supplies restaurants use are delivered in five-gallon buckets, and these will be safe to use with your plants.
Choose light colors over dark colors for protection from the heat.
Just like a black T-shirt soaks up the sun while a white T-shirt deflects it, dark-colored buckets will heat up the soil in the summertime. You’ll want to use white or light-colored buckets if you live somewhere that has hot temperatures during the summer. On the other hand, if you live somewhere cold or are planting a winter garden, you can use dark colored buckets or black ones to keep the heat in.
Drill holes in your buckets to allow water to drain out.
There’s no substitute for drainage holes to let moisture out and prevent rot, so don’t try to use broken pottery or rocks in the bottom of the bucket. You’ll need a drill with a half-inch bit. Make between three and five holes in the bottom of each of your buckets.
It’s easy to crack the buckets when you’re doing this if you push down too hard with the drill. Just hold the drill gently against the surface of the bucket, and the drill will guide itself through. This way the buckets won’t get cracked.
If you’re working without a drill, you can still make the drainage holes you need. Just use a hammer and nail instead to punch the holes in the bottom of each bucket. However, you’ll need more than the three to five holes you’d create with a drill because holes made with a hammer and nail will be smaller. Punch one hole every three inches to make sure your plants get plenty of drainage.
Protect herbs from inclement weather.
If you have the indoor space, you can even keep your annual herbs alive year-round. You’ll need to check into the safe temperatures for each herb you grow, or you can simply protect them before the first forecasted frost in your area.
You can move your herbs indoors or to a semi-protected spot like a patio or shed. Without moving them, you can cover them with blankets or a tablecloth to give them a bit of protection. Or you can use a floating row cover. If plants are the right size, you can cover them with another bucket or another container turned upside down.
But the wonderful thing about your five-gallon bucket garden is how portable it is. If at all possible, you should take advantage of that portability when protecting your herbs from cold weather.
Give your herbs the right amount of water.
All plants growing in containers need more water than plants growing in the ground. Your herbs growing in five-gallon buckets are no different. They lose more water to evaporation from the wind and sunshine. Your bucket garden will probably need more attention from you when it comes to moisture than the rest of your plants.
Whenever you water your bucket garden, make sure each bucket gets a deep watering. Shallow waterings at a more frequent pace just don’t satisfy your plants the way deep waterings do. You also won’t need to water as frequently when you water deeply. You know you have given a deep watering when the moisture runs out from the bucket’s drainage holes.
You’ll want to let the soil in your buckets dry out before you water them again. It’s easy to tell whether your soil has dried out or not. Simply insert a finger into the soil in one of your buckets. If the dirt feels moist or sticks to your skin, there is still moisture in the container and the herbs don’t need water yet.
There are so many herbs that will flourish in a five-gallon bucket garden, but we’ve presented our favorites in this list. We know you’ll find the best herbs to grow in buckets in your garden.