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How to Make a Garden Out of 5-Gallon Drywall Buckets

Fortunately, there’s a cheaper—and in many ways, superior—way to grow plants in small, outdoor spaces that lack natural dirt: 5-gallon drywall buckets.

These buckets are cheap (about $5 a piece), stackable and extremely portable (even when they are full of dirt and plants). In fact, the best part of bucket gardening is just how easy it is to move the components around—it takes little effort to completely rearrange the garden to accommodate new furniture or follow the sun. And while the buckets may not be as aesthetically pleasing as actual planters, their raw industrial look has a charm of its own.

I have spent the past few months nurturing a bucket-based sunflower garden consisting of 11 buckets, each with three or four mammoth blossoms. While I was initially concerned that the buckets lacked the volume to accommodate multiple plants, those fears proved to be unwarranted. And while the plants appear to be topping out at about seven feet high—a bit shorter than the nine or 10 feet that these plants are capable of under optimal conditions—that’s just fine for my terrace. Other PM editors have grown rosebushes, peppers and even artichokes in 5-gallon buckets; their depth makes them the perfect vessel for a single, staked tomato plant.

Before planting in the buckets, flip them over and drill drainage holes in the bottom; you can also tap a thick nail through the plastic with a hammer. If you prefer bright colors or stripes to factory-white, you can paint them and optionally remove the handles (if you grow anything taller than herbs, you’ll have a hard time lifting the handles over them anyway). Unless you live in very windy conditions, the soil-filled buckets should be able to withstand gusts without tipping over. Of course, Chicago residents should feel free to add a layer of heavy rocks to the bottom of the bucket to help weigh it down.

I used a combination of potting mix and peet moss, with a dash of fertilizer. If you’re a really ambitious urban gardener and have a vermicomposting (read: worm) operation in your apartment, you can use regular old dirt with an inch of compost worked into it. Seed placement is critical to bucket gardening. I’ve found the best tactic is to create a circle of seeds about two inches from the wall of the bucket, spaced every few inches. This gives you the opportunity to thin the seedlings once they sprout and grow a few inches. Once you’ve eliminated the runts, carefully transplant the healthiest seedlings into a triangle or square shape within the bucket, providing as much space between plants as possible.

The resulting garden is inexpensive, expandable (I recently added a few buckets of marigolds to the mix) and easily rearranged. And so productive it may interest local wildlife (read: squirrels and pigeons, though a raccoon did once inexplicably appear on the fire escape of the science editor’s fourth floor walk-up). For this, we recommend a plastic, bobble-headed owl, which nods in the breeze to dissuade even the smartest avian visitors. When winter hits, simply disassemble your plastic brigade; the stackable buckets stash neatly out of sight.

There's a better way to grow plants in small outdoor spaces that lack natural dirt: 5-gallon drywall buckets.

Can Metal Buckets Be Used As Flowerpots?

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Container gardening is not limited to traditional flowerpots or displays. Repurposed items, such as metal buckets, offer alternative containers for planting your flowers. Since metal conducts heat, the bucket temperature may fluctuate more than other container types. With a few modifications, a metal bucket provides a durable and visually pleasing flowerpot.

Sanitizing the Bucket

A clean metal bucket makes a hospitable growing spot for your flowers. Even if you use a new bucket, a quick washing and sanitizing won’t hurt. The University of Illinois Extension suggests first washing the container with soapy water. Rinse the bucket well. A mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water creates a sanitizing solution for the bucket. Leave the solution in the bucket for 10 minutes. Rinse the bucket again before planting.

Adding Drainage

A container garden needs drainage so the soil doesn’t become over saturated. Too much water in the soil can harm or kill the flowers you plant in the bucket. You’ll need three or more holes for a 12-quart bucket. Larger buckets need more holes to provide adequate drainage; for example, a 5-gallon bucket needs six or more holes. To add holes, turn the bucket upside down and drill each hole to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, spacing them evenly to provide even drainage. Cover the holes with a piece of fine mesh to keep the soil from running out.

Filling the Bucket

Regular soil weighs too much for a metal bucket, especially if you plan to hang the bucket. Use a soilless potting mixture designed for container gardening. The mix keeps the bucket lighter so it is easier to move and doesn’t become too heavy for the handle to hold. Leave a space at the top of the bucket so the soil doesn’t wash out when you water the flowers. If you don’t want to plant directly inside the bucket, fill a slightly smaller plastic flower pot with the soilless mix and place it inside the bucket. If you ever plant edibles in the metal bucket, you need a plastic liner, according to the “Organic Gardening” website.

Planting Your Garden

The size of the metal bucket you use helps with the flower selection. Choose flowering plants with a mature height and spread that won’t outgrow the bucket. When planting flowers in containers, you can place the plants closer than normal, and then thin the plants as needed as they grow. Plant in the bucket as you would in a traditional flowerpot, firming the soil around the plants and watering thoroughly. Your metal bucket planter needs watered more frequently than the flowers would when planted in the ground. Keep the soil in the bucket moist.

  • Sunset: Plant a Country Garden — In Buckets
  • University of Illinois Extension: Choosing a Container for Planting

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

Can Metal Buckets Be Used As Flowerpots?. Container gardening is not limited to traditional flowerpots or displays. Repurposed items, such as metal buckets, offer alternative containers for planting your flowers. Since metal conducts heat, the bucket temperature may fluctuate more than other container types. With a …