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How to Grow Vegetables in 5 Gallon Buckets

By Deborah Stephenson ; Updated September 21, 2017
Flowers in a 5-gallon bucket
bucket of flowers image by Allyson Ricketts from Fotolia.com

Five-gallon buckets are the perfect size for growing vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and others, and the best part about them is that they are usually free for the asking. Most restaurants and deli stores use them for pickles or cake icings, and toss them in the trash when they are empty. If you collect 5-gallon buckets for your container garden, you can grow more vegetables and save space in the landfill as well.

Clean the bucket thoroughly. Salt and other residues could harm your vegetables. If you have several buckets, take them to the local car wash for a power wash and rinse.

Drill three or four drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket, near its edge, using a 1/4 inch drill bit.

Throw rocks into the bucket to cover the bottom. This will help with drainage.

Fill the bucket to about 6 inches from the top with good quality potting soil. Add a few inches of well-rotted compost on top of that.

Insert a bamboo cane or wooden stake near the center of the pot if the vegetable you are planting will need to be staked. Push it all the way to the bottom for maximum strength; plants can exert tremendous force on a garden stake. Alternatively, attach a tomato cage to the sides of the bucket after you plant the seedling.

Dig out a small hole in the center of the pot for your seedling plant using a garden trowel. Make the hole slightly wider and deeper than the seedling's pot.

Pop the plant into the hole so that it sits slightly lower than the level it occupied in its original pot. Firm the soil around the stem.

Water the soil around the plant to force air bubbles away from rootlets and help seat the plant firmly in the soil. If necessary, add a bit more compost to the top of the pot around the plant, so that the soil level is 1 inch from the top of the rim.

Water the plant well, but do not drench the soil. Check regularly, and water any time the soil feels dry 2 inches below the surface.

Place buckets in a sunny location. Most vegetables like a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. In very warm climates, you may need to provide partial shade during the hottest hours.

Feed the plant with dilute aged compost or manure tea once each week, in addition to regular watering, to maintain nutrient levels.


Things You Will Need

  • 5-gallon buckets
  • Drill
  • Drill bit, 1/4 inch
  • Assorted rocks
  • Potting soil
  • Compost
  • Vegetable seedlings
  • Trowel
  • Stakes or cages


  • Avoid using ordinary garden soil in your containers. It is heavy--which will make moving the pots difficult if you need to relocate them for any reason--and it compacts easily, which can prevent good root growth.
  • Many old-time gardeners add Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to vegetable containers for the minerals it contains. Horticulturist Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center says that this practice may have serious unintended consequences--including possible water pollution by this highly soluble chemical. She advises that Epsom salts should only be applied to intensively cultivated soils known to lack magnesium.


  • You can use a drill bit larger than 1/4 inch to make drainage holes, but do not make the holes too big or dirt will leach out when you water your plants.