Whether you’re someone who lives in an apartment or someone who just wants an easier way to manage the pests in their garden, growing fruits and veggies in buckets is for you.
The best bucket garden plants are tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, lettuce, squash, figs and green beans. All of these fruits and vegetable have varieties that are small in size and ideal for living in buckets.
I live in an area with black bears and deer and anything scented will bring them on to my property so I love the idea of having a garden in buckets. They’re so portable and you can arrange for them to get the best sun and water access without replanting. In this article I’ll get you started with the best plants that grow well in buckets, as well as some general advice for bucket planting.
Fruits and Veggies that Grow Well In Buckets
Tomatoes are one of the most popular summer vegetables and they do well in buckets provided you give them enough space. There are a huge number of tomato varieties that can grow well in window planters and other smaller containers, but in general the bucket should be 12’’x12’’ and a larger container is even better.
There are two types of tomatoes to consider:
- Vining (known to botanical nerds as indeterminate)
- Bushy (determinate)
Unless you plan to place a trellis or stake in or near your buckets, I’d opt for the bushy variety.
When planting your tomato, plant them deep in the ground. In fact, you can even trim off a few of the lower leaves on the stem and plant it as deep as the leaves used to be. Tomatoes can grow roots off of their stem if they are placed in the ground, and those extra roots will help avoid making your tomato plant top heavy.
A few varieties of tomatoes that do well in buckets include:
- Patio tomato
- Tiny Tim tomato
- Floragold tomato
- Stakeless tomato
Tomatoes generally need full sun, but this shouldn’t be a problem as you’ll be able to move your container around a bit.
Tomatoes thrive with high amounts of nutrients like phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen. If you soil mix doesn’t already have these added in, look for a tomato specific fertilizer to supplement their growth.
This video touches on additional pro tips for getting the most out of your bucket tomatoes.
Peppers are another popular container pot (and they conveniently help you make salsa if you’re also growing tomatoes). You can grow a large range of peppers in buckets, and this includes bell peppers and jalapenos.
Just like tomatoes you’ll want a bucket that is a minimum of 12 inches in diameter, and only place one plant per bucket.
Avoid Blossom End Rot
Pick a premade potting mix, ideally organic and one that includes calcium. If the mix doesn’t contain calcium you may end up noticing the ends of your peppers turning black. This is called blossom end rot. You can avoid blossom end rot by supplementing your soil with a calcium additive. Follow the instructions on the package for best results.
Peppers grow best in hot climates, and therefore plan for your peppers to get lots of sunshine (think a minimum of 5 hours of sun a day), and don’t plant them outside until the last frost of the year. Peppers will also be thirsty! Be sure to water them daily in the heat of the summer.
Best Pepper Varieties To Grow in a Bucket:
- Jalapenos Peppers
- Cayenne Peppers
- Bell Peppers
- Habanero Peppers (if you’re bold!)
I’ve had strawberries in my in-ground garden and my opinion is that growing your own strawberries is the way to go. They are so much more flavorful than the store bought ones!
Strawberries will do great in a variety of pot sizes, including window boxes, but a bucket is still a great option for them. Again an 8-12 inch bucket should serve you fine. Stawberries have a “creeping” habit, meaning they’ll grow outward along the ground by sending out runner vines. I’d give your strawberries as much space as you can afford in order to get a good patch going.
There are a few varieties of strawberry. There are those called “June bearing” which have a specific fruiting season (around June). There are also “everbearing” varieties that will produce a smaller fruit almost year round.
Best Varieties of Strawberry to Grow In a Bucket
All three of these varieties should produce fruit in their first year.
Lettuce can be grown in pots and you can place up to four plants in a 12 inch diameter bucket. Make sure your bucket is at least 6 inches deep. Lettuce is made almost entirely of water, so making sure your lettuce gets regular watering is key to success. Lettuce has shallow roots and can dry out quickly.
You’ll likely want to choose varieties of lettuce that can be trimmed and will grow back. Sometimes these are referred to as “cut and come again.”
Lettuce is a cool season crop and is usually harvested in the early spring, so this would be an excellent candidate to keep indoors or a shady area of the yard if you live in an especially hot region.
Varieties of Lettuce That Grow Well In Buckets
- Loose Leaf
You may find it surprising that squash can grow in buckets, but as long as you give them a big enough space they can do just fine. For squash plants look for a minimum bucket size of 24 inch diameter, and only put one plant per bucket. Additionally, look for varieties that are naturally small in size, like winter squashes. These small varieties are sometimes called “bush varieties.”
Your yields and squash size may be smaller than if they were growing in the ground, but don’t let this discourage you!
When you think about squash plants you may imagine a giant jungle looking patch on the ground—but did you know those big meandering vines can also grow upwards? If you place a trellis in your bucket you can encourage the plant to grow up rather than out.
Varieties of Squash That Grow Well In Buckets:
- Black Magic, Bush Baby or Raven zucchini varieties
- Bushkin pumpkin
- Sunburst patty-pan squash
- Honey Bear or Table Queen acorn squash
- Burpee Butterbush butternut squash
In order to grow so large, your squash plants will need lots of watering.
Check out this video about growing squash and zucchini in containers from Burpee. It is clearly aimed at getting you to buy Burpee seeds, but it still has lots of great information about squash planting.
Figs are not part of the average American’s diet, which is a shame because they are absolutely delicious and are usually sold and grown in pots anyway. They grown into a tree, but they actually don’t need a ton of room for their roots. They thrive in warmer, tropical climates so keep these guys in a sun room or well exposed area of the yard. The fruits especially need sunshine to ripen.
Best Varieties of Figs To Grow In Buckets:
- Brown Turkey (also referred to as Negro Largo)
- Chicago Hardy Fig
Watch this video for an excellent introduction to growing figs in containers
There are a variety of bean types that can grow well in buckets. I’ll break them down into categories.
The first thing you’ll learn when you start trying to grow green beans in a bucket is that there are two types or “habits” of bean. There are bush beans and pole beans.
It isn’t surprising that beans have so many varieties: the family of plants that beans belong to, Fabaceae, is enormous. It’s one of the biggest families of plants in the world.
Bush beans: Like it sounds, bush beans grow into a small bush, often about two feet tall. Bush beans usually come in all at once, so if you want to harvest them all summer, stagger your planting schedule. Bush beans will usually produce fruit for around three weeks.
Pole beans: Pole beans have a vine-like habit and you’ll need to support them with a trellis. They can grow up to 10 feet tall! The harvest time for pole beans runs longer than for bush beans. They’ll continually produce beans for up to two months.
Both types of green beans large pots. Plan for a 15 inch diameter pot for bush beans and 18 inches for pole beans. They need well drained soil so it will be important to have that gravel layer in the bottom of the pot.
Green beans also need lots of sunshine. Place the buckets in a spot where they’ll get around 8 hours of sun a day.
Best Green Bean Varieties to Grow In Buckets
- Bush Blue Lake
- Kentucky Bean
- Purple Teepee
- Golden Gate
- Cherokee Trail of Tears (Man, some of these names are interesting)
How to Successfully Grow Fruits and Veggies in Buckets
In order to successfully grow fruits and veggies in buckets you need to mimic the environment they would experience in the ground. Two of the biggest challenges to this is giving them enough space and making sure there’s a place for excess water to drain.
Acquire Sufficiently Large Buckets
It isn’t too hard to find unused buckets of all sizes and materials laying around most people’s garages. If you don’t have one laying around you can purchase 5 gallon buckets for pretty cheap. If you choose to convert a bucket into a mini garden, just make sure it’s large enough to support a healthy root system. Most of the plants I describe below will do fine in a 12 inch diameter bucket.
Choosing the right sized bucket will also affect how often you have to water your buckets. Premade soil mixes are created with components in the soil that hold onto water. The smaller the bucket, and the less soil there is, the faster your plant will dry out.
Create a Way For Water To Drain
Be sure to purchase buckets with drainage holes in the bottom. If you purchase regular 5 gallon buckets you can use a hammer and nail to make holes as well. Now that you have a way for water to drain, you also might find that your soil is draining out of your buckets as well.
You can remedy this in one of two ways: Place a piece of cheese cloth at the bottom of the bucket before you pour your gravel or soil in. Or place some wire mesh between your gravel and soil layer. Personally I prefer the wire mesh method as this provides less substrate for mold to grow on.
Fill the Bottom of Your Bucket With Gravel or Small Stones
Filling the bottom of the bucket with a layer of pea gravel will also provide a route for water to drain as soil holds water better than gravel. For most plants a few inches of gravel should suffice, but do your research on your specific plant to be sure you have the right ratio.
Choose the Right Soil Mix
Not all dirt is created equally! In fact, soils are really an interesting and complex mix of different types of rock (sometimes called parent substrate), decaying organic material, and living organisms like fungus, bacteria and worms. Plants not only need nutrients in the soil, but they also need the right texture of soil. Specifically, they often need a light and airy soil with room for the roots to grow. Some soils will compact down too much to encourage root growth.
Don’t Over Water
Plants need water to survive, but too much water can create mushy soil that encourages fungi and pathogen growth. Additionally, the best time of day to water plants is the morning. This gives them a good drink before the sun starts to bake them. If you water midday most of the water may evaporate, and watering at night may leave the soil soggy overnight. When I was a kid I watered my moms plants with big overhead showers from the hose. Try to avoid this as getting the leaves wet can encourage fungal growth on the leaves. Water at the base of the plant for best results.