Growing Tomatoes in 5 Gallon Buckets

Growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets is a rewarding ad fun endeavor. There’s no reason not to get started when you have limited space as they don’t take up much, and you can get started for so cheap. I have had friends who got started doing this and reap the rewards easily come summer when that juicy fruit is ready to pick.

And five gallons is an ideal size – just right to allow for nutrients from soil, sun and water, so whether you want to grow little cherry tomatoes or some of the bigger varieties, this strategy will work great.


You can easily start seeds – or you can get actual started plants, your choice. Seed starting is best done in early spring. I used seed starter trays. They contain multiple pods -they look like little chocolate bonbons once watered they will swell up and become hospitable for the seeds growth.

grow tomatoes 5gal buckets

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Buckets are easy to acquire. A few while ones I just inherited, but you could get them from places like Goodwill for dirt cheap. Places like Home Depot sell these too, they’ll be the bright orange color. I got mine from a great source – kitty litter that comes in pails. that I saved and repurposed. The label didn’t come off easily, but I wouldn’t worry about that. It will probably fade in the sunlight over time.

Next step is to drill the drainage holes in the bottom of the buckets. Very important – I know some people say you can put a layer of rocks in the bottom, but this approach leads to root rot. I use a medium sized bit (about 11/64th size) and put about 6-10 holes at different spots. Make sure you put a few in the corners, a few in the middle, and another in the middle of the bottom.

holes in bottom of bucket

Now you are ready to start filling it with soil. To save on costs here I use substances like potash (after grilling out make use of that), a little straw and stick mulch and grass clippings.Here I started with a mulch layer first.

Also make sure you use topsoil, not potting soil. This is an easy mistake to make for new gardeners because the two look almost synonymous but they’re not. Potting soil is best suited for houseplants, and contains substances like pearlite and mulch pieces. Topsoil is darker looking in appearance, it may be very rich and dark looking. and also it’s denser in composition.

Potting soil feels less dense when you handle it. This is because the nutrient requirements of houseplants versus plants crops is much less.

mulch and soil in bucket

 

I will be planting grape tomato seedlings that I got started a couple of months ago as an experiment (and for the obvious reason, to propagate more tomato plants!) If you’re doing the same, starting seeds, when they get bigger – at least two or three inches. As they get bigger they will be ready to plant in the buckets.

I have four that have developed, I chose the most full looking one to plant. Seed starting from previous plants you’d grown can be a crapshoot, it is a numbers game – if you start 5, one will probably flourish.  Choose your plant or seedling, and make a small trench in the center of the bucket of soil (I used the bottom of the Solo cup  and pushed it in to form an imprint) Now you’re ready to plant it.

You may also want to put a little mulch around it, as I did here, for a little protection.

planting tomato seedling

Make sure you keep your bucket plant in a good location – remember, tomatoes love full sun!

Fertilizing your plants

One thing about container growing I’ve found is that how easy it is to add fertilizer in the right amount. I use a product by Miracle-Gro called Shake N Feed – It’s a great product, in granular form, you add about a tablespoon per plant about two inches into the soil and about two inches away from the main root system and then afterward water them.

This should be done in the beginning, you’ll want to wait about two weeks before re-applying fertilizer, then after the plant is starting to yield fruit, you can get on a schedule of fertilizer feeding every three weeks for maintenance. Side-or top-dressing is a good way to apply the product.

Staking

Use a cage or stake support – It’s critical that you cage your tomato plants early in the game, when the stems start growing more it is harder to cage a plant without accidentally breaking any of them, so make sure you cage them before they start having major growth spurts (about 6-10″ in height.)

staking tomato plant in bucket

The best time to set your buckets out? It will depend on your zone. I’m in 8B and that is sometime around April, after Easter, we area usually behind the last frost of the season. Sometimes a surprise one will pop up when it might get around 38 degrees – which is not freezing, but it could damage the tender shoots. in which case I’ll bring them indoors or cover them with tarps or blankets.

They need to have full sun, always. Just like growing them in the traditional sense, be sure they can get up to six hours of full sunlight. One year I made the mistake of attempting to grow a cherry tomato plant indoors thinking if it was by a sunny window it might flourish and be protected form the elements and bugs, but I was wrong, although the plant was healthy, after the yellow flowers appeared, it pretty much stalled.

It may be entirely possible to grow a tomato plant  and get it to produce fruit indoors if you’re fortunate enough to have bay windows – but that is the ONE exception.

growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets

 

Another thing I like about growing tomatoes this way is that they can be moved if need be. If they need a shadier or sunnier spot, you can move them, it’s more easily done if you have a wheel dolly or something similar as its heavy.

Also another great thing about growing tomatoes in 5 gallon containers, is that if they are indeterminate, you can over winter them and if the conditions are right they may still produce fruit indoors. Here are two of my plants that I brought inside around October (usually when we get the first sign of frost warnings), notice how they are still producing fruit, More slowly, but this continued for awhile.

winterizing tomato plant

If you’re short on space you should try this.I think you will enjoy it…and the fruit as well!

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