Many people don’t have access to large plots of land to grow a garden, and a lot of people have to make do with a balcony or porch. However, if you don’t have a lot of space and you still want to experience picking fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden, you can try growing a 5 gallon bucket garden.
You may be surprised at how many fruits and vegetables you can grow in these buckets, and you’re not limited to smaller plants either. Depending on your climate zone, you may even have time to plant two gardens each season to maximize your yields. Whether you want one or two garden cycles a year, we’ll break down everything you need to know about setting up and maintaining a 5 gallon bucket garden below, and we’ll also highlight some of the best fruits and vegetable plants you can grow in them.
Why Grow Food In 5 Gallon Bucket Garden
5 gallon buckets are very versatile as they are deep enough to accommodate your plant’s roots and narrow enough to put several of them in small spaces, like on a balcony or patio. Additionally, five gallon buckets are lightweight enough to make them easy to move inside or to a sheltered location if bad weather threatens your plants.
If you know where to look, these buckets are also free. You can try local eateries, like delis, bakeries, and restaurants to see if they have any buckets you can have. As a bonus, any buckets you get from eateries are food-safe, so you get the reassurance that you can grow your own plants here without a problem.
Gardening with 5-Gallon Buckets – The Set Up
Since not everyone has a plot of land suitable for a garden, this is one way you can grow your own food without taking up a huge amount of space. You can use five gallon buckets for a range of plants, including fruits and vegetables. However, the setup process is key, and you’ll need to do the following to get your garden off to a strong start:
Items You Will Need:
- 5-Gallon Buckets that are food grade and BPA-Free
- Drill with a 1/2-inch drill bit
- Gravel or small rocks
- Plants, seeds, or seedlings
- Potting Soil
Step One: Purchase or Locate Your 5-Gallon Buckets
You can buy your five gallon buckets online, or you can drive around and ask any businesses if they have them available. You do want to make sure that any buckets you get are food-grade and BPA-free. You also don’t have to have lids on them.
Step Two: Drill Four Drainage Holes in the Bottom
Get your drill and ½-inch drill bit and make four holes in the bottom of each of your buckets. These holes are what will allow the excess water to drain out so you don’t drown your plants. There isn’t any specific spacing you have to worry about when you drill them.
Step Three: Drill Additional Holes Around the Sides
Roughly one or two inches from the bottom of the bucket, drill four holes around the sides of the bucket, and try to space them as evenly as possible. These holes will help with air circulation around the roots. Once you get all of the holes drilled, you may need to use pliers to break off the remaining plastic residue.
Step Four: Place Gravel or Small Rocks in the Bottom of the Buckets
If you go to get gravel and you can’t find any small quantities, you can usually find small rocks marketed as marble chips. You’ll want to add two or three inches of gravel to each bucket to help with drainage. Just make sure that whatever gravel or small rocks you pick, they’re not small enough to clog your drainage holes.
Step Five: Level Out the Gravel or Small Rocks
Once you get all of the gravel or rocks into the bottom of your bucket, carefully level them out as much as possible. This will be the foundation for your soil to sit on.
Step Six: Buy Quality Potting Soil
There are many types of potting soil out there, but you want a nutrient-rich one designed especially for fruits and vegetables. If you can find container-specific soil, pick this as it comes formulated to support plant growth in any sized container.
Step Seven: Fill the Buckets with the Potting Soil
Carefully layer the soil into your five gallon buckets, making sure that you don’t press it down to create a very dense, solid growing environment for your fruits and vegetables. Gently shaking the bucket can help keep the soil semi-loose.
Step 8: Plant Your Fruits and Vegetables
You’re now ready to plant your fruits and vegetables into your buckets. Once you get them in, carefully water and make sure that it drains. You can use these buckets with seeds, mature plants, or seedlings without a problem.
17 Fruits and Vegetables That Grow Well in a 5 Gallon Bucket Garden
Not everything you want to plant in your 5 gallon bucket garden will grow well here. However, we’ve picked out 17 great options you can try, and many of them are very beginner-friendly. They include:
Beans give you the potential to grow other nitrogen-fixing plants in your 5 gallon bucket garden. You can plant a single bush bean plant into each bucket. If your bucket is under a support system like a trellis, you can consider planting two or three climbing pole beans into each bucket. Beans require plenty of water, so make sure you keep the soil moist at all times, but especially when the plants flower and the bean pods start forming.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Line up a row of 5 gallon buckets between two posts. String wire between these two poles, and put a wire or cane down into each bucket. This setup allows you to grow climbing beans like runner beans up each pole, and you can pack a lot of beans into a smaller space. You can also use three canes to make a wigwam or tipi shape and grow a climbing bean plant up each one.
2. Blueberries and Fruit Bushes
Blueberry bushes and other soft fruit will grow very well in your 5 gallon bucket garden. A lot of people choose to grow blueberries in pots because they need very acidic soil conditions. Growing them in a bucket with a growing medium that has a pH around 5.5 is easier than amending the garden soil.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – The ideal container is 24 inches wide, so only plant one blueberry plant per bucket. If you have to repot, do so in the late summer or early fall so the roots have time to establish before winter
3. Broccoli, Kale, and Other Brassicas
Leafy, large plants will appreciate the space you give them in your 5 gallon bucket garden. Individual broccoli, kale, or cauliflower plants will have to go one per bucket. If you have smaller plants like kohlrabi, you can put several plants in a single bucket. The benefits of growing brassicas in five gallon buckets, especially if you live in a warmer climate, is that you will have the chance to move them to the shade when the temperatures climb. Having the flexibility to move your plants can also be useful in colder climates, especially during frost events.
It’s a good idea to net your brassicas to protect them from cabbage white butterflies, birds, and other pests. You can also create individual mesh cages around each bucket or clamp the buckets together and add a row cover to protect them. Any brassica you grow needs a lot of food, so make sure you pick out a good potting soil with a high quality compost in the mix. You should also consider mulching around your plants with compost, grass clippings, or other nitrogen-rich materials, or feed them with a liquid fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Consider growing lettuce around your brassicas when they’re small. You can then harvest the lettuce and eat it before your brassica plant grow and needs more nutrients and space.
4. Carrots and Other Root Vegetables
You can grow an impressive range of root vegetables in your 5 gallon bucket garden, and this includes a range of carrots. This is due to the fact that your five gallon buckets are deep enough to allow for longer root growth without running out of room. Carrots have lower nutritional needs compared to many common garden crops. However, they do need a free-draining and light growing medium to be happy.
You can add some sand to your potting soil mix to make it drain better and support your carrots. Other root crops like parsnips and beets do well in these containers. If you choose to grow beets, they’ll need more water, a richer soil, and more space in the bucket.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – If you successively sow your root crops, this can ensure that you get a longer harvesting period while making the most out of your time and space. If you grow beets, feed them a compost tea as the bulbs start forming.
Cucumbers are another crop that is easy to grow in a 5 gallon bucket garden. Even bigger vining cultivars can grow decently well in these buckets as long as you place them below a trellis or some form of support that they can climb up. However, the best types of cucumbers to grow in containers are the bush-like cultivars that have very short vines that don’t exceed two or three feet long. You can put two plants in each bucket.
If you are brand new to growing this vegetable and you’ve never tried to grow them in a container before, picking one of the following varieties can help ensure you’re successful. They include Picklebush, Burpless bush, Bush champion, and Salad bush.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Cucumbers don’t take to transplanting well. So, you’ll directly sow the seeds by planting two groups of three seeds per bucket. You’ll thin them once they start to sprout. If you want to sow them indoors, you’ll use biodegradable pots that you can bury into your five gallon bucket without disturbing the plant.
As a member of the nightshade family, eggplants take very well to being grown in 5 gallon bucket gardens. You can put a single plant in each bucket, and this will give the plant enough space and nutrients to grow. You will need to make a point to water and feed it well over the summer months.
Just like with tomatoes, it’s a good idea to give your eggplants support as the fruits start to form and grow. Dwarf varieties like Little Finger and Fairy Tale are great options to plant in your buckets. There is also a potential with eggplants that produce smaller fruits to grow them upside down if you’re really short on space.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – You want to ensure free drainage with these plants, and the best growing medium for eggplants is one part sand with two parts potting soil. This is a looser mix that gives the plants enough nutrients while ensuring it doesn’t get waterlogged.
Figs may seem like a very random choice for your 5 gallon container garden, but they are a surprisingly nice option. This plant only requires a pot that is 16 inches across, and they’re not finicky when it comes to their soil conditions as long as it drains well after watering. This plant is also tolerant to drought, but they do require to be in full sun to grow. You’ll also have to make a point to water your figs daily during the hottest days of the year since the water evaporates very quickly.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Figs prefer to be in soil that is organically rich, well-drained, and consistently moist. The best option to grow them in buckets is to get a high-quality soilless potting mix. Get a potting mix that is specially designed to grow potted plants that is lightweight, allows for good airflow, and retains moisture.
8. Lettuce and Leafy Crops
If you’re a brand-new gardener or new to container gardening as a whole, loose leaf lettuce is a nice place to start. All you have to do is sprinkle the seeds over your growing medium’s surface in the bucket, leaving ½ or an inch of spacing. Then the plants are three or four inches apart to get cut and come again plants. If you want headed lettuce, spread them further apart.
You can also grow other leafy crops in your 5 gallon bucket garden, including Asian greens, arugula, chard, spinach, and leaf mustards. These plants don’t necessarily need the full depth a five gallon bucket offers, so you may want to take the bucket and cut holes in the sides. You can place more leafy crops in these holes to maximize your yield.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Feed your leafy plants with a nitrogen-rich plant feed through the summer. Also, consider sowing scallions or radishes as companion plants in your lettuce buckets.
If you want to grow full-sized onions, you don’t want to attempt this in a 5 gallon bucket garden. It’ll only give you space to grow three to give onions per bucket. However, bulb onions aren’t the only type of onion available on the market, and some other types work much better for this gardening method.
Scallions can work very well when you grow them in a bucket alongside lettuce. Scallions also work very well when you plant them around the edges of buckets with other vegetables, including carrots. This can help confuse the carrot fly.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – You can also easily grow chives and bunch onions in your 5 gallon bucket garden. As long as you make a point to top your pots up with fresh mulch or compost and provide them liquid fertilizer, you can grow perennial vegetables that will give you a few years’ worth of food.
Peas are a favorite plant to grow in 5 gallon bucket gardens. All you have to do is put a branching twiggy stick into the bucket’s center, making a point to firmly anchor it into the growing medium and sow the pea seeds around the base. Try to plant your seeds around two inches apart and an inch into the soil. Pick dwarf bush peas to make sure your plants don’t get too tall and make the container tip over.
You can harvest some of the smaller peas as pea shoots, and these are great in salads, while you let others grow to give you shelled or snap peas later in the season. Make a point to water your peas well so the growing medium stays moist but not saturated. Saturated soil can lead to root rot, and mulch the pots without compost to help lock in moisture.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Once your peas are done for the season, cut them off at the base instead of uprooting them. You can use the exact container to grow plants next spring, and they’ll appreciate the boost of nitrogen.
Peppers are a fun summer crop that do very well when you plant them in a 5 gallon bucket garden. They are shallow-rooted, and this means that they don’t need a huge amount of room to grow. In cooler climates, you can move your peppers indoors or under cover when the cold weather starts to threaten them at the end of the season.
Dwarf pepper varieties should be grown in smaller containers, but most chili and sweet peppers will thrive in a five gallon bucket. Your peppers do like the humidity levels to be higher, so when things dry out, along with watering, you can spray the foliage and any hard surfaces by the plant to increase the humidity.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – You want to put a single pepper plant in each five gallon bucket, and you can get up to three dwarf varieties in the same container. It’s also possible to plant one smaller pepper with a couple of herbs. Aromatic herbs like oregano and basil can be great companion plants, as can chives, scallions, or garlic.
A 5 gallon bucket garden is also a great place to grow potatoes. While it may not sound like a lot, you can get 10 potatoes per plant. So, you shouldn’t need a huge amount of potato plants to get a decent-sized harvest. When you grow them in buckets, don’t add your growing medium right on top. Instead, you’ll carefully fill your bucket until it’s around ⅓ full, put the seed potato in one top of the growing medium, and then layer in roughly three inches of nutrient-rich growing medium.
Once the young plant grows up, you can earth up or add more growing medium around it. Adding more growing medium will encourage new tubers to grow out of the main stem. You may also want to add a decent amount of comfrey as a mulch and liquid fertilizer to encourage strong growth.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Potatoes need a lot of water to grow well, so make sure you keep the soil consistently moist. This is especially important during the hotter, drier summer months.
13. Raspberries and Fruit Canes
You can plant one raspberry or other soft fruit cane per bucket. Each one has to have a sturdy stake pushed into the center for support. As your raspberries start to emerge, tie them onto your support structure. You can grow almost any raspberry cultivar in a 5 gallon bucket garden this way. However, you may get better results if you go with a dwarf cultivar like Raspberry Shortcake that tops out at two or three feet high.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Mulch the plants well with a compost or a thicker organic mulch to help keep the soil fertile and retain moisture. You should also prune the bushes to keep them contained.
Strawberries are an easy crop to grow in your 5 gallon bucket garden, and you can get a lot of fruit in a single bucket. Just like with lettuce, you may consider making holes in the sides of your bucket to give yourself extra planting pockets. You could also carefully stack your buckets to make a planting tower. Strawberries require a decent amount of moisture, but the soil should be loose and free-draining. When the plants start to flower, add a potassium-rich feed to encourage more fruit.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Consider using mixed planters with your strawberries in these buckets with a few strawberry plants, thyme, borage, or sage.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants to grow in a 5 gallon bucket garden. One of the biggest benefits of growing tomatoes here is that you can move them undercover or indoors when the cold weather hits. THis can help extend the growing season in cooler climates, and you give your green tomatoes more time to ripen. You should just put one tomato plant per bucket. If you want to grow a vining variety instead of a bush one, you’ll need to give your tomato plants support to keep them upright.
Another interesting thing to consider when you grow tomatoes in these buckets is that you can do so upside down. You can hang the buckets and allow the tomatoes to cascade down to maximize your space.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Mulch the containers with the tomatoes with comfrey leaves when the fruits and flowers start to form to conserve water and make the soil more fertile. Use a comfrey liquid plant feed to increase your tomato harvest.
Watermelon is a plant that many people don’t consider a good candidate for 5 gallon bucket gardens, but it’s a surprisingly viable option. You will want to put your watermelon into a container that is self-watering because they require a huge amount of water to be happy. Also, you can grow your watermelons inside or outside, and they require sunlight exposure each day. However, they can survive with grow lights if real sunlight isn’t viable.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – To successfully grow watermelons in containers, pot size is critical. If you pick a smaller container, the roots won’t be able to spread out. You’ll also water constantly. Pick a pot that holds a minimum of five gallons per plant, and consider growing Sugar Pot or Bush Baby cultivars.
Finally, zucchini is a great plant to put in your 5 gallon bucket garden as it has a similar root system to eggplants. It’s important to remember that these tend to be very hungry and thirsty plants, so they do require more maintenance than others on the list. You will need to make sure the buckets drain though as they don’t like saturated soil.
- HappyDIYHome Tip – Make sure you place your bucket in a very sunny location as zucchini likes six to eight hours of sunlight each day at a minimum to thrive.
These 17 fruits and vegetables can thrive when you plant them in a 5 gallon bucket garden, but you do have to take steps to ensure you meet their growing requirements. If you do, you’ll get a decent-sized harvest in a smaller space.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.