Is a 5 gallon bucket big enough to grow tomatoes in?

californianFebruary 27, 2009

Some guy is selling five gallon plastic buckets that were used to store honey in for a dollar apiece. Would these be big enough to grow tomatoes in, and if I use them should I drill holes in the bottom or sides or both? Remember a five gallon bucket would be bigger than what the horiculture industry calls a five gallon pot, which is really about 3.75 to 4 gallons, because a 5 gallon nursery pot will fit inside a five gallon bucket with room to spare. If too small what size would you recommend, either in gallons or actual dimensions?

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I've successfully grown some determinates and container tomatoes in 5 gallon Home Depot buckets for several years. Tried some indeterminates and they produced as well, just don't expect huge plants and a spectacular harvest (but it will get you tomatoes if the bucket is your only option). It is really nice to be able to move the plants into filtered shade if it's too hot. I drill a few on the bottom and a few on the sides.

In general, people on the forum recommend 10+ gallon containers. Home Depot has an 18 gallon for 6 bucks or so.

If you can get them for a buck a piece, I'd pick up some, make them self watering (see the 2 minute video below), and use them for container or determinate plants.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: 5 gallon bucket thread

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 1:22PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

I've made nine 5-gallon SW planters (you need eighteen buckets for this) and have grown indeterminates in them. I don't grow indeterminates in them any more because when the season was over, there didn't seem to be any soil left in the containers, just huge masses of roots. I thought they needed more expansion room.

I do grow determinates (New Big Dwarf and a Rutgers determinate) in them on my back deck, enough to get an early season crop while my indeterminates are still maturing out in the garden. They require support, and I just use a stake.

I also plant herbs and lettuce in the SW buckets.

I absolutely agree that if you can get them for a dollar apiece, go for it!

I also have some other (single) five-gallon buckets that have the bottoms removed that I use as mini-raised beds. I set them right out in the garden and fill them with planting mix when I want plants to be elevated or I don't want to prepare an entire plot. The furry critters can't reach the plants and the bottomless containers provide great drainage (apparently no perched water table as exists in most containers) and good soil for root depth.

The 5-gallon buckets may not be elegant but they have great uses. I got mine free by just asking at a Burger King not too far away. Their pickles come in them!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 1:59PM
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Last spring, at our local grocery store, they were selling Better Bush (I think) in 3 gallon pots. Not only that, but there were also 3 plants per pot, and they were setting fruit! Those that started ripening were either knocked off or rotted. Definitely NOT how to grow tomatoes.

Even worse, someone must have come by and bought them all, because they all were gone one day when I went to look.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 2:02PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree that it all depends on your variety and how much success you want. They will do ok for many determinates and even some of the named 'bush' varieties but you will have to water and feed much more often than usual.

For indeterminates, 5 gallons is far from ideal. Some do it if they have no choice but it is, as Anney said, not enough room for the root ball and you will get less plant and less production and more stress - for both you and the plant. ;)

5 gallons work great for many other garden vegetables but 10 gallons is the recommended minimum for indeterminate tomato varieties whenever this question comes up. JMO


    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 2:09PM
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Dan Staley

If they are white buckets, buy lots. I've grown cherries and small determinates in 5-gal buckets for well over a decade. Drill holes in the bottom, put landscape fabric over potting mix surface and mulch. The bigger the tomato, the more tippy they will get as summer advances.



    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 2:28PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

They will work....just need watering and fertilizing more often than bigger containers. They have worked for me. Larger is easier and may yield more, but smaller ones are easy to move around and more pots may make up for the yield difference.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:26PM
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Well I went and bought 20 buckets for a dollar apiece. The guy also had 5.5 and 6 gallon buckets besides the 5 gallon ones, and he was willing to sell them to me at the same price so I bought the 6 gallon ones. They had been used to store green tea extract, and smell so good, like walking through a tea field like back in Viet Nam. He wanted 50 cents apiece extra for lids, but I got him to throw the lids in for free. Home Depot and Lowes want around $4.95 for a bucket and $1.79 for a lid, so this was a pretty good bargain. He said he can get anywhere from 150 to 300 buckets a week from the food plant where he works. He might also be able to get me some 20 gallon buckets, so if he can I will hold off planting tomatoes in these and use them for smaller plants like peppers instead, and wait for the 20 gallon buckets. I envision never planting in the ground again. I will cover my hillside with buckets, each one in effect a miniature raised bed. No more weeding, much less insect damage.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 10:02PM
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I agree that its possible and that it takes more work in feeding and watering and that choosing smaller utlimate size of plants will help a great deal.

A couple other suggestions. Rather than drilling holes in the bottom, try making just one horizontal saw cut, maybe 2" long, a couple inches up from the bottom. Much better water retention and it will still drain if you used a potting mix.

If you can get 20 gal containers for anything like that price, I'd get several. Pots that big, in my climate serve lrg indeterminates very well. I dont even cut drain holes in them but if you have a very rainy spell you might need to build a mini well point to syphon excess water. If you don't have that rainy spell though, they'll be just dandy and your watering chores are much reduced.

Again, only with potting mix, which confused me quite a bit when I started hanging around here. It must be regional thing. We have many products, and always have, labeled "potting soil" but has a light texture due to compost, humas, vermiculite etc. Many refer to this as soiless mix and can get kinda touchy about it :-)

We do also have a few products that are labeled potting soil but you can tell from the heft, that un-ammended, are much too dense for containers and will not drain properly.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 2:20AM
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Here is a link to photo's of my 5 gallon container tomato grow outs last year. One picture includes the 26 qt. styrofoam ice chests I also grew my maters in. They are all Indeterminate plants. Ami

Here is a link that might be useful: My 5 gal tomato plants

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 10:24AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

This just came up over at the Container forum too....

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 12:06PM
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