5 gallon bucket grow

How To Grow Juicy Tomatoes In 5-Gallon Buckets

The products and services mentioned below were selected independent of sales and advertising. However, Simplemost may receive a small commission from the purchase of any products or services through an affiliate link to the retailer’s website.

I’m no good with tomatoes. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I love tomatoes but have had almost no luck growing them. There was the year all my plants got smashed by an intense hailstorm. The year squirrels ate everything in sight. The year the plants caught some sort of blight.

My paternal grandmother was a gardening superstar, and her perfect, sun-drenched tomatoes were a highlight of my childhood summers. So my bad tomato luck stings a bit.

I thought I’d given up, but this idea grabbed me: growing tomatoes in 5-gallon buckets — upside down.

As described by blogger Alison McFadden on Everyday Shortcuts, it’s a simple DIY project. All you need is a bucket, a tomato seedling, dirt and a few household tools.

First, cut a 1-inch hole in the bottom of a clean 5-gallon bucket — McFadden recommends using a cordless drill to make the initial cut, then a hole saw to open that cut to 1 inch.

Next, take a seedling and gently poke its little leaves through the hole. The hole should be small enough that the seedling’s roots and soil stay inside bucket, while the plant pokes out, like so:

Everyday Shortcuts

Then: Dirt! Fill the bucket with the potting soil of your choice. (McFadden uses Miracle Gro.)

Finally, mount your bucket. McFadden suggests picking a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day — and is sturdy enough to hold a big bucket of wet dirt and, eventually, tomatoes. She secured a couple of brackets to her sunny backyard shed and hung the bucket from there.

Check out McFadden’s full post, including some watering tips, here.

If you’re pressed for time, or don’t have the equipment, you can buy a pre-made upside-down planter. Amazon offers a few different selections, including the “As Seen On TV” Topsy-Turvy.

I just might have to try this technique. When I find a spot that the squirrels can’t reach, and that’s protected from summer storms, it could actually work. Fresh tomatoes, here I come!

You might be surprised at just how simple, attractive, and productive it can be to grow vegetables in 5 gallon buckets.

But you are about to find out!

Today’s article is all about growing vegetables with ease. In one of the most commonly found items around – a 5 gallon bucket!

A five gallon bucket is the perfect size for growing most vegetables. And, it’s easy to spruce up with an attractive and useful DIY bucket cover.

As it turns out, the 5 gallon bucket, with just a few slight modifications, can be turned into quite the beautiful little growing machine.

Creating A Garden Anywhere – How To Grow Vegetables In 5 Gallon Buckets

Now, don’t think for a minute we would ever give up our Raised Row Garden.

It has always and will always be our favorite, most productive way to garden. (See : How To Garden With Ease With A Raised Row Garden)

But for some, finding enough space or time to garden can be extremely difficult. For others, the physical demands of gardening can be a struggle as well.

Last but not least, no matter the situation, sometimes, it’s nice to grow vegetables on a patio nearby the grill or kitchen for quick picking.

Don’t just pick your harvest in 5 gallon buckets – grow your harvest in them!

We’ve been growing extra veggies in 5 gallon buckets this way for years.

Not only is it a simple way to plant and maintain, it can all be made quite attractive with a wooden DIY bucket cover. It even works perfectly to create gorgeous flowering planters as well!

Here are the simple steps to success to create your own 5 gallon buckets for growing vegetables, flowers and more.

Modifying A 5 Gallon Bucket For Growing

To grow in 5 gallon buckets, you need to first create a few drainage holes. Nothing will kill plants quicker that water-logging plants.

First, start by using a 3/4″ drill bit to quickly make five to eight holes in the bottom of each bucket.

We grew this San Marzano tomato plant on our patio two years ago. It yielded well over 1 and a half bushels of amazing tomatoes!

To keep the holes from becoming plugged, we use pine bark nuggets in the bottom 2 inches of each bucket. They do a wonderful job of keeping the soil from compacting down over the holes.

You can also use a few rocks or gravel, but the pine bark is a much lighter option.

Provide Great Soil :

Next, it’s time to put in great soil to grow great plants. The soil for container growing needs to be healthy, rich and fertile to power plants all season long.

We make our own homemade potting soil from simple organic ingredients. See : How To Make Incredible Homemade Potting Soil.

The right soil mix makes all the difference when growing in containers.

It is an inexpensive way to fill the buckets. Especially if you are going to plant more than one or two.

You can of course purchase high quality potting soil as well. See : Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix – $7.99

Making It All Attractive

Now it’s time to make it all attractive with a homemade DIY bucket cover.

The bucket covers are both easy and inexpensive to make. In fact, you can even build them with pallets for free.

But they serve a bigger purpose than just adding an attractive touch.

This DIY growing box cover is easy and inexpensive to build.

For one, they help to insulate the soil in the buckets. Buckets left uncovered are easily heated up by the sun, which can injure plants.

The covers also serve as an excellent way to attach a trellis or growing support.

And if you are growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or any other large vining plants – a trellis is a must!

How To Build 5 Gallon Bucket Covers

Since soil will never come in contact with the wood, you can use reclaimed lumber or pallets to build the boxes.

You can also use traditional 2 x 6 framing or treated lumber as a low-cost alternative.

All work and look great. And, all can be painted or stained to dress up the finished box.

Making The Bucket Covers

You can easily build your boxes with reclaimed pallet wood, treated lumber, or untreated framing lumber.

Most 5 gallon buckets measure 12″ wide and about 14″ to 14.5″ high.

By creating a grow box with a minimum 14″x 14″ inside measurement and a height of 15″, you leave plenty of space for the bucket and the trellis inside. And, enough height to cover the bucket.

2″ x 6″ framing or 1″ x 6″ decking lumber actually work great for 5 gallon bucket grow boxes. They create a perfect 15″ x 15″ inside diameter when put together and overlapped on the ends. (see picture).

To hold the boards together, we attach a simple trim piece to the bottom and top of the grow box.

You can get as basic or fancy as you like with the trim. Straight corners are strong and quick to assemble. You can miter the corner trim pieces at a 45 degree angle for a more “elegant” look.

Building and Attaching A Trellis

A trellis is quite easy to attach to the sturdy, finished box. To make our trellis, we purchased a cattle panel. We then cut it down into 15″ wide x 4′ high strips.

A few trellis styles for the grow boxes. The cattle panel is on the right.

It fits and attaches with u-nails inside of the grow box to form an instant sturdy 4′ high grid.

You can make or purchase wood trellises as well for the boxes.

How To Grow In 5 Gallon Buckets – Planting & Maintaining

Planting is a breeze!

next, simply plant vegetable plants in the soil as you would in the garden. A bit of straw or compost as a mulch will help to keep moisture in and any weed seeds out.

When it comes to container growing, adding a bit of natural fertilizer every 2 to three weeks really helps plants reach their full potential.

Worm castings are the perfect all-natural slow release fertilizer

As many of you know, we swear by worm castings. A quarter cup of worm casting placed on top of the soil every month works wonders for fertilizing plants. See : 15 lb bag / worm castings

And at the end of summer, clean up couldn’t be easier!

Simply pull the plants out, and dump the contents (minus the rocks or pine bark of course) into the compost pile! The soil gets recharged, and your clean up chores are completed in seconds.

Here is to trying to grow vegetables in 5 gallon buckets. Just another great way to grow a little more of the food you eat!

Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary.

As always, feel free to email us at [email protected] with comments or questions. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up below for our free email list. This article may contain affiliate links.

How To Grow Vegetables In 5 Gallon Buckets – An Attractive DIY Solution!

In the South, football is a religious experience. If you’ve ever visited the South during the fall, you have more than likely experienced two things: college football and the tailgating that precedes every game. To show respect for your favorite team in true, southern fashion, it is imperative that your home reflects the spirit of the game.

An easy way to incorporate your game day pride in your interior décor is with container gardens full of flowers sporting your team’s festive colors. Violas and Pansies are available in just about any color – making it easy for you to find the perfect match.

Fun items to help create this look:

  • Galvanized trough/bucket
  • Soil
  • Team pennants
  • Team color pom-poms
  • Violas and Pansies in your team’s color

This container is a tad bit larger than usual, about 5 feet in length and 2 feet wide, and could easily be done on a smaller scale.

First fill half the container with bark because during the cooler months your plant will not need as much soil to grow. Plus it will save money on buying all that potting soil. The bark will make the container somewhat lighter, but putting wheels on the bottom, like we do, is a great way to move them around.

Next fill the other half of the container with soil. I prefer to use potting soil for mine and it is definitely worth the extra cost. The better the soil, the better the overall look of the container.

Now it is time to select a color scheme that shows off your team spirit. For my example, I chose to create a container that represents Georgia’s red, white, and black pride. I used white flowers so to fully capture the Bulldog spirit I layered in some fun, game day pieces.

Tip: Repeat the same colors for the most impact

By using plants that come in larger pots you get instant gratification without the extra work. So as far as plants are concerned, the bigger the better! In a single line, place three of the White Cool Wave™ Pansy hanging baskets in the center of your container.

Fill in the empty spaces with the 1 gallon, or pint size, white pansies.

Lastly, for additional texture, fill in the empty spaces with white Snow Princess® Lobularia.

Tip: After arranging all of the flowers, be sure to add more soil around your plants so that they do not dry out.

For even more game day fun, we had a local sign maker create these awesome outdoor pennants that we screwed onto the top of stakes that we purchased from Home Depot. Then we finished off our containers with pom-poms and other fun flare.

Below are a few other game day containers we rallied up.

The perfect play for a container garden win with Yellow Cool Wave™ Pansies

To guarantee a floral victory – Penny Red blotch violas!

For a perfect score with your game day garden – Sorbet Orange Violas and Million Bells® Crackling Fire Calibrachoa.

Hope your favorite team comes out victorious this season!


What’s the Difference Between #1, #2, #3, #5, #7 Container Sizes?

We get a lot of questions about what the different container sizes really mean for your landscape. On every product page, you’ll see a tabbed navigation under the photos. This navigation will give you a lot more detail about the plant you are considering.

You’ll also see a Plant Sizes tab with a helpful comparison video. Now, read on for a behind the scenes look at the trade secrets of the nursery industry.

Too long, didn’t read? Just know that in general, container size is relative to the age of the plant with a few notable exceptions such as miniaturized Bonsai trees, or the galloping growth of Willow Hybrid trees.

The older the plant, the more developed the root system. That’s what make a BIG difference in your landscape. Buy the biggest plant you can for immediate impact in your landscape.

Selecting the Best Container to Support Root Production

Our nursery production has changed over the years. Every industry is pushing innovation, and the nursery trade is no different. As more plants are being grown in pots, production innovations were being trialed.

At Nature Hills, making new roots that are healthy and branch well is our goal.

Nurseries and growers are always looking for new products that will make the best roots for their plants right from the start.

New container options were offered with improved designs with slits or ridges that might assist the plants in producing a better root system. The shape and size of the pots we use have changed due to ongoing research.

In addition, our nursery plant containers must be strong, flexible, label compatible and cost-effective. We protect our plants very well for shipping.

Market Evolution of Nursery Plant Container Production

Keep in mind that most container grown plants used to be grown in quart pots, 1 gallon, 2 gallon, 3 gallon, 5 gallon, and 7 gallon sizes.

However, with competition comes changes. More sizes and styles of plastic containers began to be offered by the container companies, which were soon patented.

Now, companies produce pots that span a range of volumes and have moved away from true gallon sizes to better suit the root production needs of specific plant genus and species.

Most nurseries then began labeling them by broad ranges, including #1, #2, #3, #5, #7 to communicate or help buyers visualize the size of plant being sold across this range of volumes by class.

Nitty Gritty on the NCWM Weights and Measures Law

With that change, consumers began to question the sizes of the containers. Plants might be listed as a 3 gallon plant but the volume of soil in these pots was not consistent.

The NCWM Uniform Weights and Measures Law was enacted to help eliminate some of these inconsistencies in container size across the industry. They were looking for uniform packaging and regulation on labeling. This law was put into place to bring some continuity to the industry.

The reason for this law is to help the consumer in comparing similar products by using uniform and consistent quantity information on the product package, or in advertising and signage. The regulation forces the container producers to list their volume in both U.S. and metric measures, the contents, and either the common or botanical names or both.

New signage and labeling practices in the nursery industry affected the business all along the supply chain – from container producers, growers, label manufacturers to plant branding firms and eventually the retailers. Now, within a compliant industry player, every potted plant you buy will have the volume of soil in that pot listed somewhere on it or it will be readily available from the grower.

So, How Big is the Plant Grown in These Different Containers?

So now you know about containers. But you still don’t know the actual size of the plant growing in the pot! Well, that’s a little bit harder to answer. Read on with us for the rest of the story.

Life Cycle of a Container Grown Perennial

As a nursery and grower, we know the many things that can affect the physical size of each plant that we offer. Some of the size differences are based upon the time of the year, pruning methods and timing, or variances from grower to grower or to different regions.

  • Think about shipping a dormant Bleeding Heart perennial in a #1 container in a March shipment. That plant would not even be showing any growth above ground yet, but it would just be a pot full of soil and roots.
  • Now ship that plant in May and it might be 18” tall and flowering.
  • What about shipping a Bleeding Heart perennial in a #1 container in October? It may have gone dormant again and appear to be nothing more than a pot filled with soil and roots.

In all three shipments the size of the pot, and the volume of soil in it was exactly the same, but the size of the plant varied depending upon the time of year it was shipped. The weights and measures labeling is in place as a #1 pot, but the plant size is not consistent.

Pot Size Equals the Age of The Plant

The pot size dictates the volume of soil mix that was used to grow that plant.

When a grower is producing a new plant in a container, the size of the root system and age of the plant has to be matched to the container size that is being used to grow that plant.

Container size has more to do with the age of the plant, than the physical size of the plant growing in that pot.

Best Growth is Achieved in the Right Sized Container

In many cases, if a small plant is placed in a pot that is too large for it, the growth is negatively affected. If there is too much soil in the pot, it may not dry out quickly enough for the plant to use the water as it is needed. That excess water can cause the roots to rot, and the plant to die.

Conversely, in a pot too small, the roots become overcrowded. If roots are crowded, the soil may dry out too quickly. The plant may stress because the moisture is used up before receiving additional water.

At our nurseries, our production personnel are matching the age and size of the plants to the size of the container they are being grown in. The size of the pot is in correlation to the age of the plant. Do keep in mind the example of the Bleeding Heart perennial shipment, and how timing can affect what you see at delivery.

Our production facilities shift these plants to larger pots as needed. Nature Hills has a phenomenal group of growers that ensure we remain compliant with our labeling on container sizes and correct plant nomenclature. However, our concern goes deeper than mere compliance as we continue to grow and expand shipping across the entire country.

Plant Sentry™ Keeps Nature Hills Compliant

Nature Hills is the leader in supplying healthy plants across the country to your doorstep, while remaining compliant for all state and local regulations. Why do we lead all other online plant suppliers in all categories? It is due to our commitment to excellence and dedication to plant health until it arrives safely to your home.

We use an online service called Plant Sentry™ which only allows for the purchase of the correct legal size plant, depending on where it originates from. This is important to ensure that the plant leaves from the best healthy growing environment. The program also insures that each plant is labeled entirely correctly as guided by legal weights and measures, so you know that you are getting exactly what you paid for.

Nature Hills has prepared a recent video that explains the plant age and the size of the pots they are being grown in. This should give you a better idea of the amount of work that we have into a plant.

It’s time to plant trees: Are you ready?

  • Fall is the best time of year to plant most trees. The ground is soft and moist, perfect for digging. Fall is the best time of year to plant most trees. The ground is soft and moist, perfect for digging. Photo: Lee Reich, AP

Photo: Lee Reich, AP Image 1 of / 3



Image 1 of 3 Fall is the best time of year to plant most trees. The ground is soft and moist, perfect for digging. Fall is the best time of year to plant most trees. The ground is soft and moist, perfect for digging. Photo: Lee Reich, AP It’s time to plant trees: Are you ready? 1 / 3 Back to Gallery

After weeks of restoring order in our hurricane-raked yards, many area gardeners still face the storm’s glaring signature — holes in the landscape left by toppled trees.

Fall is an ideal time to plant new trees. During the cool months, they’ll establish root systems to better withstand summer stress.

Options are plentiful, so take your time in choosing trees that fit your garden needs and budget. For successful planting, it helps to follow some guidelines.

Picking the right tree

First, know the conditions. Select trees that will adapt to the sunlight and soil conditions around your home.

Also know a tree’s mature height and shape. You don’t want a tall grower beneath power lines or a large tree too close to the house. For example, a tree with a 30-foot canopy should be at least 15 feet from your home.

Ornamental trees — generally those 15 to 30 feet tall — work well as centerpieces in small gardens and understory accents in larger landscapes. They can also be used to frame a view.

If you’re replacing large trees, you may be tempted to plant fast growers. But select carefully, assince some produce weak wood. Fast-growing trees recommended by RCW Nurseries’ Martin Fontenot include ‘San Felipe’ red maple, ‘Shumard’ and ‘Nuttall’ oaks and sycamore. Jon Seipel of Bill Bownds Nurseries adds ‘Drummond’ and trident maples, Chinese pistache and bald cypress to that list.

Also consider whether the tree is evergreen or deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in the winter.


Once you’ve decided on a variety, find the size of tree that fits your budget. Five- and 15-gallon container-grown trees are more readily available. For larger sizes, check with nurseries that specialize in trees, such as Bownds and RCW. Some, including Teas and Buchanan’s Native Plants, will order large trees. Unless you have a truck and help to manage a sizeable tree, ask about delivery and planting costs and guarantees.

Budget-minded gardeners who lost more than one tree can buy replacements in varying heights.

“Having trees at different sizes and maturity rates is more in keeping with nature,” says Paula Eger, grounds manager at the Houstonian. “With care, a 5-gallon tree will be as large as a 15-gallon tree in three years.”

How much tree do you get for your money? Tree heights and calipers vary among species, but here are some general ranges.

::3- to 5-gallon container; tree 3 to 5 feet tall; caliper (diameter) less than an inch; less than $40.

::15-gallon container; tree 8 to 12 feet tall; caliper 1 to 1 1/2 inches; $78-$120.

::30-gallon container; tree 10-plus feet tall; caliper more than 1 1/2 inches; $178-$250. On average, add another 50 percent for planting. Most gardeners opt for delivery with this size of tree; that cost is usually based on distance from the nursery.

::45-gallon containers also hold trees more than 10 feet tall; expect to pay $350-$450.

::100-gallon containers: If you want greater immediate impact, consider a tree in a 100-gallon container — generally 15 to 20 feet tall with about a 4-inch caliper; $900 and up.

Planting and caring

Proper planting, watering and fertilizing are essential to a new tree’s life.

1.Dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball and deep enough so the bottom of the trunk is 1-2 inches higher than soil level. Planting high increases a tree’s chances in our rainy climate and heavy soils.

2.Space new trees at least 6-7 feet from the stumps of recently-lost trees. Seipel suggests using a long, sharp object to probe for adequate space between the remaining roots.

3.Gently remove the tree from the container, lifting it by the root ball.

4.Place the tree in the center of the hole; hold the tree and backfill. Some experts do not amend the soil when planting a tree. This, they say, allows the roots to adapt to existing soil as soon as possible. Others amend with organics such as black humus.

5.Carefully tamp the soil to remove air pockets.

6.Water frequently and lightly while the tree establishes to keep the rootball moist but not soggy.

7.Place 3 inches of mulch around the tree. Do not pile mulch up on the trunk; this invites pests.

8.Keep the area around the tree weed-free.

9.Fertilize in spring with a slow-release formula.

When it comes to ease and portability, container gardening is about as good as it gets.

I rent a home that has a modest-sized backyard. Unfortunately it’s also an area under some heavy shade during the growing season.

There’s one small pocket on the deck that receives ample sunlight, so I’ve had to make do with the little space I have to grow my vegetables in containers

That can be tricky business; some plants need as little as six inches of soil to grow, but others need as much as two-feet. And because they’re in containers they need to be regularly watered.

But, hey, that’s alright, because the other option is no vegetables, and that’s no option at all.

Why Use Containers?

That’s a good question. If you’ve got a sunny plot of land, why not throw plants right into the ground?

Because that land could be heavily polluted with something vile. Could be something that prevents the plants from growing or kills them outright, or even worse it could be something that you consume and slowly accumulates in your system.

That could be a death sentence by itself. Other times growing directly in the soil isn’t possible because of other environmental concerns.

Could be your only option is a wet, soggy piece of ground. Or maybe you just don’t have the space. That’s where container gardening in 5-gallon buckets comes in handy.

  • You know exactly what goes into the growing medium
  • Portable
  • Fewer weeds to pull
  • Better use of space
  • Almost always an available option


  • Requires regular watering
  • Soil needs to be replenished and amended
  • Basic materials are required

© PrimalSurvivor.net – Usage allowed with Image Credit.

Sometimes this is the only option you’ll have. People who live in apartments and areas with limited space are ideal candidates for container gardening.

Practicing it now means you’ll be more adept at using the skills and implementing the knowledge if you ever truly need to. And besides, you get fresh produce from right outside your window.

A 5-gallon bucket is cheap, readily available, and perfect for growing a variety of vegetables

Starting Supplies

Starting seeds and transplanting them to a larger container is the best way to go to ensure healthy adult plants.

At the basest level, you really only need a 5-gallon bucket, some growing medium/soil, and the plants or seeds themselves.

Not bad, right?

We’ll take a look at the easy option and the more in-depth, hands-on one.

All container gardening projects need a few staples

  • A few 5-gallon buckets: I always recommend using a new 5-gallon bucket, (Amazon Link) or at least one you know the history of. People store some awful things in those buckets, and you wouldn’t want it leaching into your food, would you?
  • A growing medium (potting mix or potting soil): Don’t buy garden soil for your containers! Potting mixes (suggestions are below!) are designed to allow for drainage, an absolute necessity in container growing. Garden soils will be heavy, hold onto water for far too long, and become way more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Plants or seeds: Live plants are usually better to start in containers than seed.
  • Plant stakes/cages: Not everything needs stakes or cages, but some plants (tomatoes, cucumbers) will suffer without.

Gimme the Easy Option

Grab a few 5-gallon buckets, and then a bag of potting mix.

Drill some holes into the bottom of the buckets; watch the video below for a good demonstration on how to add, and how many to add.

In general you want more than less. If you have a tomato cage, it’s easier to put this in first before adding the potting mix.

Add some water to the potting mix before putting in the container.

Peat moss is a main ingredient in many mixes, and when it is dry it becomes hydrophobic (it expels water rather than absorbing it).

That makes the first watering a pain in the butt; mix the soil with some water until it’s damp and moist. Fill up the bucket with your potting mix.

You want a bag of potting mix with some sort of slow-release fertilizer blended in. When using a pre-mixed variety I’ve had good results with Espoma’s potting mix. (Amazon Link) I’ve used it frequently when I’m in a pinch and can’t mix my own.

Though I’ve never used a FoxFarm potting soil (Amazon Link) it’s a good option, according to some trusted sources.

For a brand you’ll find almost anywhere, Miracle Gro (Amazon Link) makes a nice potting mix that’s about as nice as soil can get.

Leave about an inch or two of room between the top of the soil layer and the lip of the bucket.

Plop in those plants so the soil level of the bucket matches the soil level of the transplanted plant. Throw those puppies in a place where they get a solid eight-hours of sun.

Using mulch on these containers can help to limit weeds and conserve water. Place a thin layer, about an inch or two high, along the top of the potting medium.

Avoid bunching the mulch up against the stem of the plant.

I Want Something More Hands-On

Any sized scoop will do, from shovels to empty pots to your bare hands.

Most of the steps you’ve carried through in the easy method carry over to this one: buy a bucket and add drainage holes, fill with cage and soil, plant vegetable and water.

The key difference is the growing medium you use. For this method, we’re making our own.

If you choose the store-bought methods below, you can stockpile the perlite and peat moss ahead of time; compost becomes a little more tricky and needs to be more freshly rotated.

Crafting your own blend is beneficial in almost every way, except that you need to mix it yourself.

You can mix this combination in each individual container, or use a tarp or wheelbarrow to blend a larger batch.

You also will add your own fertilizer to the blend, allowing you to have a more accurate guideline and estimation of what you’re reapplication schedule will look like.

We have a few recipes for you to use. Each recipe will reference “one part”. That is equal to whatever sized scoop you’re using to add each ingredient to the mix.

I tend to use an old six-inch plant pot when mixing, but anything will do; even handfuls.

Ever wonder where peat moss comes from? It’s farmed from bogs and is great for maintaining moisture levels in soil

The Soil-less Ratio

Use this method if you want a lighter potting medium. It tends to require more water as a flip-side to the benefit of a lighter weight. It also assumes you have access to store-bought materials.

  • One part peat moss (for water retention)
  • One part perlite/vermiculite/sand (for drainage)
  • One part compost (for organic material)

Mix these together until it achieves a well-mixed consistency.

Add a fertilizer like Espoma Garden Tone (follow the directions on the bag for the size of your container) during planting for a nice boost to your plants growth.

The Top Soil Ratio

This combination is my preferred one. By adding some clean top soil to the mix you promote some growth of microorganisms that aid in plant development and soil health.

It also tends to last a little longer than other combinations, in my experience, and produces better-producing plants. It tends to weigh a bit more.

  • One-half part clean top soil (to add “body”)
  • One part perlite/vermiculite/sand
  • One part compost
  • One-half part peat moss

As above, mix these to a good consistency. Add the fertilizer as detailed in previous recipe.

The No-Store-Bought-Material Ratio

Let’s say you’re in a situation and can’t run to the store to buy bags of ingredients. You aren’t completely at a loss, you just need to put some more effort into your potting ratio.

It isn’t ideal, but it gets the job done.

  • One part sand OR one-half part very fine gravel
  • One part clean top soil
  • One part pine bark (broken into smaller chunks about the size of your thumb)
  • One part compost (can be found underneath scattered leaves, pretty much the top-most layer of decaying matter on the forest floor)

Mix to a good consistency, more vigorously than the previous combinations. Layer a half-inch of gravel on the bottom of the container for this composition.

You’ll need to continue adding water, but the chunks of pine bark can add some vital nutrients to the mix as it decomposes and can hold onto moisture.

Pine bark can be added to potting mixes.

I’ve used this combination once before and grew some tomatoes and peppers in it successfully.

Folks in the know will argue that adding mulch like this prevents roots from absorbing necessary nitrogen, but it seems to be a negligible amount.

Besides, this has worked well for me in the past.

The key elements to remember for a potting mix are that it needs:

  • Drainage and porous material: Sand, vermiculite, tiny gravel or stone dust, etc.
  • Something to hold onto and retain moisture: Compost, peat moss, etc.
  • Organic material to feed the roots: Compost, small chunks of bark, fertilizer, etc.

Exact ingredients can be improvised as long as these basic requirements are met.

Plant Support

A tomato cage helps support plants from snapping or breaking under the weight of their fruit.

Store-bought tomato cages work, but I’m a fan of the old stick-and-string method.

Simply drive a stake into the container and use any sort of string, rope, or cordage to support plants against it and encourage them to grow upright.

Use string to hold up branches that would grow heavy and snap from the weight of fruit.

If possible, place your container on top of flat stones or bricks to allow water to drip right out of the drainage holes.


The main downfall of growing food in 5-gallon buckets is the increased demand for watering.

While plants in the ground can grow deep and eek out some moisture during all but the worst droughts, container-grown plants are contained in an entirely isolated environment.

Ordinarily I recommend the “weight test” when watering containerized plants; you pick it up, and if the growing medium/container feels light you water it.

That takes some trial and error to get used to, and not every container is easily liftable.

Top Tip

Simply press your finger into the soil to a depth of the second knuckle. If that’s moist, the plant is alright, but if it’s dry it’s watering time.

Most of the time I water my plants in two passes.

For the first pass I water and watch the bottom of the bucket.

I’ll wait until the water runs out of the bottom of the container before stopping; that’s a good indicator they’ve had enough to drink for now. Then I’ll move on to the next plant.

After I’ve watered everything, I go back around and give them one more quick drink each.

The soil is in a prime state to deeply absorb the water on this second go-around. Think of the first round of watering as the primer coat of the paint, and the second round as the second coat.

Watering containerized plants can be a big expenditure of water, so make sure you’ve got enough to get the job done.

Consider collecting the water that drains through the soil and container as well and using it again for these containers.

Best Vegetables for Container Growing

Not everything can grow happily inside of a 5-gallon bucket.

Some plants can be doubled up inside of a container, while most can grow herbs happily alongside each other.


Grow one plant per bucket, and use a stake or cage to support the plant.

These guys can really grow wild, if you let them. Maintain regular moisture levels in the soil throughout the season to prevent diseases that destroy fruit. Basil grows well at the base of a tomato plant.


You can fit two peppers into each 5-gallon bucket. In my experiences peppers want to be supported by a stake.

Peppers are great for water conservation; many types want to dry out between waterings, which means you expend less resources growing them.


One plant per bucket. Cucumbers will grow and creep and do well with some sort of support.

The plants will grow over the container and spread around, so keep an eye on the fruit and ensure it isn’t being devoured by pests.


You can fit about four onions inside of a container. Onions are easy to grow but can be anxiety-inducing because you can’t see what’s going on beneath the soil.

Keep your eye on the green leaves climbing skyward to assess the condition of the plant, and don’t keep the soil too wet.


Ideal for growing in a container.

You can fit up to four plants per container, but be prepared to water regularly.

Consider other leafy-green options like sorrel to add a lemony tang to your greens.


You can fit a half-dozen herbs inside of a single 5-gallon bucket, or more. Thyme, rosemary, basil, cilantro, and chives grow well with each other.

Frequently harvesting leaves and stems keeps plants in check and ensures that they don’t overgrow one another. The flavor they add to your diet is worth it after a few weeks of bland, tasteless food.


You could fit up to ten carrots in a single bucket.

If growing carrots ensure the soil is loose and sandy for proper root development; they don’t like when their growing medium is compact and rocky.

Tips and Tricks

  • Utilize rain barrels at home and in the field for a low or no-cost supply of water for your vegetables
  • Companion plants may seem superfluous but are beneficial and have “built-in” pest deterrents: adding marigolds to your containers can keep nasty bugs away while inviting beneficial ones such as ladybugs and praying mantis, for example
  • Give your containers a quarter-twist every week to ensure they aren’t growing too lopsided
  • Simple insecticidal soaps can be made by combining four-five tablespoons of concentrated dish soap to one-gallon of water. Mix and apply with a spray bottle to deter insects from your containerized plants
  • You can re-use your potting mix indefinitely, as long as it’s amended and replaced with fresh ingredients once a year: remove dead plants and shake loose the soil from their roots. Fill it right back into the container and get it back to growing.

Food for Thought

Vegetables grown in a 5-gallon container can be useful to everybody reading this right now who is limited on space and growing options in their home. It’s inexpensive and provides fresh produce for the picking.

In a situation where you have no other option but to grow your own food, containers offer a safe and reliable source of food production.

It takes up little space and they are even portable. The resources used to provide a growing media for each container can be recycled year to year, providing a long-lasting source of growing media.

Get some practice and grow some tomatoes on your patio or deck this year, or experiment with your own potting mix recipes.

Let us know what you run with!

+ Image credits

  1. Pick a Good Spot. Place pots where they’ll receive at least six hours of sun. If pots aren’t near a water source, make sure you can get a garden hose to them (or don’t mind lugging a watering can around), because tomatoes need steady moisture supply. Group pots together, but not so close that leaves rub against each other (that can help spread disease). Grouping pots helps shade the root zones of the plants in the inner pots, which can be helpful when plants are sitting on concrete or an asphalt driveway, both of which absorb and reflect heat.
  2. Find the Best Tomatoes for You. Our Tomato Chooser takes the guesswork out of discovering which tomatoes will work best for your garden. (Be sure to look for the Bonnie Plants® logo when you’re at the garden center—that way you’ll know you’ll be getting strong, vigorous young starter plants!) In general, determinate tomatoes tend to do better in pots, so look for those. It’s also possible to grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers, of course, as long as you provide enough support and soil volume. Speaking of which….
  3. Choose the Right Pot. Those seedlings may look small now, but a full-grown tomato plant needs a lot of space for a strong root system. For maximum production, the ideal pot size is 18-inch diameter for determinate tomatoes and 24-inch diameter for indeterminate tomatoes. When using a fabric pot or other type sold by volume, aim for 20 gallons. It’s fine to use a smaller container, like a 5-gallon bucket or 10-gallon container, but for best results, stick with the smaller patio- or bush-type tomatoes (such as Better Bush, Bush Goliath, or Patio). Know, too, that tomatoes in smaller pots require more watering and feeding. All containers (except fabric ones) need drainage holes, so be sure to drill several if none are present. If you live in a warm region like the Deep South, Texas, or Desert Southwest, you may want to avoid black plastic containers. They tend to hold a lot of heat, which warms the soil and can diminish plant growth.
  4. Use Premium Quality Potting Soil. Garden soil from planting beds tends to be too heavy for containers — it will over-compact — and may contain disease organisms. Tomatoes are susceptible to diseases (such as blight) and pests (like nematodes) that can hang out in soil, and one advantage of growing in pots is that doing so can reduce outbreaks. Fill containers with premium quality potting mix, such as aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, for best results. Light and fluffy, it will provide plenty of space for air and moisture move through the soil.
  5. Plant Tomatoes Properly. Be sure to dig a hole deep enough to cover two-thirds of the tomato stem to encourage more root growth. As a rule of thumb, wait to plant until after your area’s last frost date. If a chilly night threatens, cover pots with a frost blanket and swaddle them with blankets, straw, or burlap for extra protection. (Can’t wait to plant? Find out how to get an early start on growing tomatoes.)
  6. Add Support. Insert a support when you plant each tomato, as doing so later on may disturb the growing roots. A traditional tomato cage or stake works well for determinate types. Use a string trellis, tall stake, tomato toutour, or sturdy cage for indeterminate tomatoes. To create your own tomato cages, bend metal fencing or hog wire into a cylindrical shape, then use wire to connect the ends. Insert it into the soil or slip it over the outside of the pot, then secure it to stakes driven firmly into the soil.
  7. Cover the Soil. When planting tomatoes in pots, keep the soil at least one inch below the pot rim, so you can add a layer of mulch to help keep soil moist. You can use traditional mulch materials, like straw, shredded bark, chopped leaves, or newspaper (minus the glossy circulars). Paper decomposes quickly, especially in hottest regions, so plan to refresh the layer as needed during the growing season.
  8. Water Regularly. Proper watering is a big key to success for growing tomatoes in pots. Keep soil consistently moist, but not saturated. (Inconsistent moisture can pave the way to blossom end rot.) Use the finger test to see if a plant needs water: If the top inch of soil is dry when you push your finger into it, it’s time to give it a drink. (Plants larger than knee-high can require almost daily watering once summer heat arrives.) Place a saucer beneath each pot to catch water that runs through the soil, so plants can absorb that extra moisture over the course of a hot day. (It will also protect decks and patios.) A drip irrigation system can help reduce the time you spend holding the hose, and will pay for itself quickly if you’re raising a large crop of potted tomatoes. If you’re only tending a few pots, time spent watering provides an opportunity to inspect plants and keep an eye out for problems. When summer vacation beckons, line up someone to do the watering if you hope to still have tomatoes to pick upon your return.
  9. Feed Your Plants. While starting with premium potting mix will give your tomato plants a nutritious start, for best growth, you’ll want to continue to feed them regularly throughout the growing season. Fertilize them with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules. It will not only help your plants grow strong and produce lots of juicy tomatoes, but it contains calcium to help protect them against blossom end rot, too. As with all fertilizers, follow package instructions.
  10. Clean Up at Season’s End. Remove spent tomato plants from the pots at the end of the growing season. If you plan to use the same pots to grow anything in the tomato family (think tomatoes peppers, eggplants, potatoes) during the following season, you’ll want to start with fresh soil. Discard any remaining soil, wash and scrub soil from pots, then sterilize them by wiping or spraying with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *