I've recently became interested in starting some outdoor planters this coming spring. After searching around, I found an interesting idea off of Popular Mechanics using 5 gallon drywall buckets as planters. What appealed to me was the low cost to setup and more space (depth-wise) for plants to grow.

My questions is: Has anybody has success with using a 5 gallon buckets as planters? If so, what setup would you recommend as far as soil type/composition, fertilizers, placement, other tips, etc?

For what its worth, I am think of growing green-leafy herbs like mint or basil and tomato plants. I live in Grand Forks, ND (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4, more climate info here). Any help or reference would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

EDIT: Also, I forgot to mention that I live in an apartment/townhouse building (front and back door but no porch/yard) with not a lot of room out back. I may be able to fit in a self watering system with the kiddie pool, but would prefer individual buckets lined against the apartment wall. Sorry for any confusion!

  • 1
    I haven't used 5g buckets, but for recipes you might read my answer as well as Mike Perry's to a similar "recipe" request here.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 21:51
  • I've used 5 gallon buckets as interim planters for some dwarf fruit trees I had shipped to me last year. They were shipped bare root, and I didn't have time to dig holes to properly plant them. From what I remember, they did well for at least a month. By then I found the time to transplant them into the ground. They're doing fine now, with no permanent damage that I can tell.
    – Doresoom
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Quick and Dirty Self-Watering 5-Gallon Bucket Garden


Parts List

1 Kiddie Pool example

7 Clean 5-Gallon Buckets example (or however many will fit comfortably in the Kiddie pool you just bought)

7 Clean (Read: Bleached) Bath Towels

Asbestos free vermiculite. example - info

Your favorite potting soil


  1. Drill/Cut 4 Holes on 4 Sides, 2 Inches from the bottom of each container. Each hole should be at least 1 Inch in diameter (big enough to pull a bit of towel through). Use the compass as your guide.
  2. Put a 1 inch layer of vermiculite on the bottom of each container. It will expand.
  3. Lay the towel over the vermiculite and pull the corners through the holes you opened in the buckets. Pull enough through so that the corner lays on the ground.
  4. Mix 2 Parts vermiculite with 1 Part [Your favorite potting soil here] and fill the buckets to the half way point. Add rocks to buckets with big plants to keep them from blowing over.
  5. Mix 1 Part vermiculite with 2 Parts [Your favorite potting soil here] and fill the buckets leaving adequate room at the top.
  6. Put the buckets in the pool and fill it with a few inches of water.

What can you grow in a bucket?

From SurvivalistBoards.com

per 5 gal bucket

1 tomato

3 corn

6-8 carrots

2-3 peppers

1 cucumber/melon

2-3 leafy greens per bucket

  • Have you had any success with this recipe? Sound legitimate.
    – WienerDog
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 14:40
  • Would you still recommend the vermiculite if a non self-watering system was used?
    – WienerDog
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 15:58
  • I have had success with this though never had a full pool worth of buckets going at the same time. The reason I like this setup is because it is resilient and can be left alone for a few days. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 16:10
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    I would still use vermiculite even in a non-self-watering system. 1 part vermiculite, 1 part peat moss, 1 part compost. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 16:15
  • I second the use of vermiculite in all container systems. Heck, I even put it in my regular garden beds when I can find it on special. It does wonders for soil aeration and increasing moisture holding capacity. Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 18:56

Yes, I have had quite a bit of success using 25 litre buckets on my balcony, planting some plants "upside down" and others at the top of the bucket.

I cut a small hole in the bottom of the bucket and gently push the roots of my seedling through the hole. I keep the roots in place with a small square of landscaping fabric with a slit cut into one side, or else a piece of foam (those ones that come in some vitamin bottles) with a slit cut in the side - the stem is pushed into the slit, and the foam/fabric covers the hole with the rest of the plant sticking out the bottom. I fill the bucket with the same mix I use for square-foot gardening (1:1:1 compost:peat most:vermiculite). I plant a companion plant at the top and cover with bark mulch.

Plants I have had success with (upside down) include tomatoes and bell peppers. Strangely, my patty pan squashes and gem squashes aren't really doing all that well, and sugar-snap peas never took off. At the top, plants that grow well for me are marigolds, mint (regular and chocolate), lemon balm, thyme, oreganum. Things that have not grown well for me in the buckets include sweet basil, pick-and-come-again lettuces, mustard greens and borage. (The thyme does really really well!) I think anything with a reasonably shallow root system works ok. Lemon basil doesn't seem to thrive either - it grows, but it stays quite small.

I have the buckets hanging from the security bars outside the window, with some under the others so the runoff from the top row waters the bottom row.

FYI: I live in Cape Town, South Africa. Don't know what that works out to in US Hardiness zone equivalents, but we have a "mediterranean climate".

[UPDATE]: Here is a pic. From left to right:

  • bucket 1: top - lemon basil, bottom - heinz tomato;
  • bucket 2: top - thyme and marigolds, bottom - heinz tomato;
  • bucket 3: top - chilli (don't know which yet) and marigold; bottom - needs replanting
  • bucket 4: top - thyme; bottom - needs replanting 25L buckets
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    Do you have any pictures of that set-up? I would love to see it, as I find it hard to just imagine that. Commented May 24, 2012 at 18:44
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    Pic added - its almost winter now, so the tomatoes are looking a bit bedraggled. There is another layer of buckets beneath these. Commented May 31, 2012 at 9:48

I have had a great deal of success growing vegetables in a 5 gallon bucket. I live in FL and we are about to enter the "off season" for vegetable gardening as choices are somewhat limited because of our warm evenings. Many veggies need a cooler part of the day to do their best. But things I am harvesting now include many types of peppers, eggplant and pole beans. I am going to try okra, summer squash and corn. I use a sub-irrigated planter that is built into a five gallon bucket.

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