by Erin Marissa Russell
Ready to learn about the best vegetables you can grow in buckets? We’ve compiled a list of plants you can count on to grow successfully in a garden made of five-gallon buckets. In addition to telling you which plants will grow best in your bucket garden, we’ll tell you how many plants of each type a five-gallon bucket will hold. And at the end of this article, you’ll find tips just for growing plants in five-gallon buckets.
Here’s our list of recommended vegetables to grow in five-gallon buckets along with instructions about how many of each plant type you can fit into each five-gallon bucket. Do not try to add in any more plants, as they will not have room to grow healthy and strong if overcrowded.
Arugula: Sprinkle arugula seeds across the surface of the soil in the five-gallon bucket.
Beans: Plant one bush bean plant or two to three vining bean plants per five-gallon bucket.
Broccoli: Plant one broccoli plant per five-gallon bucket.
Carrots: Plant 10 carrot plants per five-gallon bucket.
Cauliflower: Plant one cauliflower plant per five-gallon bucket.
Collard Greens: Plant two to three collard green plants per five-gallon bucket.
Cucumbers (bush types): Plant one or two bush-type cucumber plants per five-gallon bucket.
Eggplants: Plant one eggplant plant per five-gallon bucket.
Garlic: Plant garlic seeds spaced five to six inches apart in a five-gallon bucket.
Green Onions: Plant several green onion plants per five-gallon bucket.
Kale: Plant one kale plant per five-gallon bucket.
Lettuces and Salad Greens: Plant up to four lettuce plants per five-gallon bucket.
Melons: Plant one melon plant per five-gallon bucket.
Microgreens: Sprinkle microgreen seeds across the surface of the soil in a five-gallon bucket.
Onions: Plant three to five onion plants per five-gallon bucket.
Peas (dwarf or bush varieties): Plant pea seeds spaced two inches apart in a five-gallon bucket.
Peppers: Plant one pepper plant per five-gallon bucket.
Potatoes: Plant one potato plant per five-gallon bucket.
Radishes: Plant 10 radish plants per five-gallon bucket.
Spinach: Sprinkle spinach seeds across the surface of the soil in a five-gallon bucket.
Swiss chard: Plant three to four Swiss chard plants per five-gallon bucket.
Tomatillos: Plant one tomatillo plant per five-gallon bucket.
Tomatoes (cherry, dwarf, or determinate varieties): Plant one tomato plant per five-gallon bucket.
Winter squash: Plant one winter squash plant per five-gallon bucket.
Zucchini: Plant one zucchini plant per five-gallon bucket.
Tips for Growing Vegetables in Buckets
Make sure the buckets you’ll use are safe for gardening.
When it comes to buckets being safe for your soil and plants, they’re not all created equal. If you’re repurposing used buckets, it’s important that your buckets were never used to hold any substance that can harm your plants. (You don’t need to worry about this if you’re purchasing brand new 5-gallon buckets to use in the garden.)
For example, you shouldn’t use buckets that were originally used to hold asphalt, chemical pesticides, pool chemicals, or tar. Even buckets that have held pesticide or herbicide you use in the garden are not safe for gardening because it is impossible to gauge the dosage of these substances that remains residually in the bucket. Just like too much fertilizer can kill your plants, so can the residual pesticide or herbicide in a bucket.
Buckets that were used to hold clay-based cat litter or any food grade materials are safe to repurpose for gardening. You can often find food grade buckets that were used to hold food at restaurants. Many of their supplies come in five-gallon buckets, and the restaurant will probably be happy to save some for you.
White or light-colored buckets are better than dark colors for summer plants.
For summer gardens, look for white buckets if you can find them, though any light color will do. Like with clothing, black or dark-colored buckets will soak up the heat. Dark colors don’t reflect light away like lighter colors do. We recommend white or light buckets in places that get hot for summertime plantings. Black or dark-colored buckets can be helpful if you want to hold onto the heat, like you do in the spring, fall, or winter seasons in cooler regions.
Add holes to the bottom of each bucket for drainage.
Don’t be fooled by old wives’ tales about using broken pottery or gravel in the bottom of containers to help with drainage. There’s no substitute for drainage holes in the bottom of planters when it comes to providing enough drainage. Use a drill with a half-inch bit to make three to five drainage holes in each bucket you will use for gardening.
If you push down with the drill, it can cause the buckets to crack. Gently allow the drill to do the work for you to avoid cracking the bucket.
If you do not have a drill, you can use a hammer and nail to punch holes in your bucket. Because these holes will be smaller than they would be if you made them with a half-inch drill bit, you will need to create more holes if you use this method. A hole every three inches will allow for plenty of drainage.
Get your plants off to a good start with the right soil.
Soil is one of the most important parts of growing strong, healthy plants. For one thing, you should never use soil from your outdoor garden or topsoil from your yard. Not only do these soils not have enough nutrients for your plants—they have a tendency to become compacted, damaging roots and ultimately harming the plants.
Instead, mix up your own soil for vegetable gardening. You’ll need one part of each of the following ingredients: compost, peat moss, and potting soil. Simply measure out equal amounts of each of the three components and use a spade or fork to mix the soil thoroughly. Then you can fill up your five-gallon buckets with the soil blend you’ve made. Just leave a bit of room in the container if you’ll be adding young plants instead of seeds.
Depend on stakes or tomato cages to support plants that need it.
If you’ll be growing tomatoes, vining cucumbers, or pole beans, give your plants the support they need with stakes or tomato cages. These plants rely on staking to help them be productive and grow to their full mature size. Staking also helps hold vegetables up off the ground so they can ripen correctly on the vine.
Make sure plants growing in buckets get enough water.
As with all container plants, ones you grow in buckets will need more hydration from you than plants growing in the ground. The moisture is used up more quickly in the contained environment of the bucket. Also, container plants are more exposed to the elements, like temperature, which can cause water to evaporate. This just means you’ll need to keep a closer eye on your bucket garden and perhaps water it more frequently than the rest of your garden.
Give each of your buckets a deep watering each time you water. A few deep waterings will keep your plants happier than more frequent shallow waterings. To give a deep watering, continue adding water until the moisture flows out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket.
Do allow the soil to dry out in between watering sessions. There’s a simple test you can perform to see whether it’s time to water your plants. Just stick your finger into the soil in a bucket. If the soil feels moist or clings to your skin, it’s not yet time to water your plants again.
Gardening in buckets has so many advantages. For one thing, a bucket garden is portable enough to move around the yard easily to follow the sun or if plants need to come inside. Gardening in buckets is also a great solution for gardeners who live in places with caliche or other poor soils or who simply prefer to grow on the patio or deck. By raising plants off the ground, the bucket garden also protects plants from rabbit damage. Whatever your reason for growing a bucket garden, you’re sure to be successful with any of the plants we’ve listed as long as you follow the provided tips.
When planting your vegetables in buckets, you can choose from a variety of options such as basil, beets, oregano, green beans, and more. Some plants, like green beans, may require a trellis for support as they grow. Additionally, you can grow herbs like thyme alongside your vegetables to add flavor to your harvest. Regularly check your garden for weeds and remove them to ensure your plants can fully absorb the essential nutrients they need. And it doesn’t just have to be vegetables, you can always consider growing annuals or perennials in a bucket garden too.