Growing Peppers in 5-gallon Buckets
As the title suggests, growing peppers in 5-gallon buckets is absolutely possible. You might even get away with a smaller bucket, like a 3 gallon, for smaller varieties of pepper. The main issue with smaller containers is the need to be watered more frequently. You’ll also be hard pressed to find a standard bucket much larger than a 6 gallon.
Some varieties of pepper that are typically known to grow to a large size, more than 5 feet tall. Growing peppers in 5-gallon buckets does limit the larger varieties to some extent. However, many people live in a climate with a short growing season. Some pepper plants would never achieve mature size anyway but still provide plenty of harvest.
That said, peppers are fairly short rooted plants and many grow compact making them a good choice for growing in buckets. When purchasing pepper seeds or starter plants seek out varieties that are advertised as “container friendly”.
How Many Pepper Plants Can You Put in a 5-gallon Bucket?
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend growing more than one pepper plant per 5-gallon bucket. The reason for this is because of the diameter of the bucket. Most 5-gallon buckets are only about 12″ in diameter. Planting more than one pepper plant per bucket will lead to crowding them and they’ll end up competing for light and space. As a result, you’ll likely end up getting the same harvest as you would from one plant without competition. I’ve successfully grown two pepper plants in a wider and shallower, 5-gallon pot and even then, they were crowding each other by the end of the season.
What Kind of Peppers Grow Best in a 5-gallon Bucket?
There really isn’t any variety of pepper that can’t be grown in a 5-gallon bucket but some are definitely better suited for it. As mentioned earlier, the types labelled “container friendly” will do best. The reason for this would be the size of the mature pepper plant.
Some common varieties I would consider most “container friendly” are:
- Fish Pepper
- Thai Dragon
- Aji Limo (Aji Lemon)
- Aji Charapita
- El Rito
Currently I have more than 20 varieties of peppers growing in 5-gallon buckets. None of them show any signs of distress. All are growing as expected and producing good amounts of fruit.
Potting Soil for Growing in Buckets
If you’re only growing a few buckets, you can just purchase any good potting mix from a gardening center. Just make sure it’s potting soil, don’t use plain compost or topsoil because they will provide poor drainage.
If you’ll be growing a large number of peppers in 5-gallon buckets you’d be better off making your own mix in bulk. The standard 5-gallon bucket holds less than a cubic foot of soil, about 0.67 cu. ft. to be more specific.
DIY Bulk Potting Soil Mix
A good mix of potting soil will have plenty of organic matter, a component to help retain moisture, and something to provide drainage and aeration. Below is a good ratio, just multiply to your own needs for volume.
3 gallons sphagnum moss – retains moisture
3 gallons compost – provides nutrients
2 gallons perlite – allows proper drainage
Since sphagnum moss can add too much acidity to the soil you should buffer it with an 1/8 cup of garden lime to the mix above. You could also use coconut coir in place of the sphagnum moss. No lime is needed if using coconut coir
While mixing everything it would also be an ideal time to add some slow-release nutrients to the soil. Mix each of the following to the above mix.
1/4 cup bonemeal
1/4 cup bloodmeal
1/2 cup greensand
The slow-release nutrients will be released as they decompose in the soil. You will also need to provide a water-soluble fertilizer periodically throughout the grow season as well.
Drain Holes for Planting in Buckets
Any plant grown in a container needs good soil drainage. Since a bucket doesn’t have any holes for drainage, you’ll need to add some yourself before planting. There are a few different ways to add drainage.
Bottom Drainage vs. Self-Watering Buckets
Most commonly holes are drilled in the bottom of the bucket. This would allow total drainage of the bucket other than what the soil retains. Simply use a 1/2″ drill to make your holes. How many are needed is debatable but I’d add at least a dozen or so. I don’t think it’s possible to add too many as you don’t weaken the integrity of the bucket.
Personally, I do the drainage differently in my 5-gallon buckets. I put the drain holes in the side of the bucket about 2 inches up from the bottom. This allows the bottom of the bucket to reserve a few inches of water in essence making it a self-watering bucket. To take it one step further, I fill the bottom 2 inches with a large diameter river stone. Then I place a piece of weed barrier on top of the stone. The stone allows more of a water reserve and the weed barrier prevents the soil from getting between the stones. This is a method that I have found works great for most plants, including my peppers.
This brings us to the next question…
How Often Do You Water a 5-gallon Bucket of Peppers?
In the ground, the rule of thumb is that plants need an inch of water per week. The same is true for growing peppers in 5-gallon buckets. However, containers tend to lose water to evaporation faster than plants grown in the ground. Pepper plants are prone to root rot if overwatered. Root rot will lead to an eventual decline in plant health but takes time to become apparent. Overwatering can be as bad as underwatering so be mindful.
Bottom Drain Holes
If you’re using bottom drain holes, you’ll need to water more frequently than using the self-watering method i described above. A moisture meter can help with determining the proper time to water but you can get a good idea by sticking your finger in the soil a few inches. If the soil is dry a few inches down then you should consider watering. Also monitor for wilting leaves, a good indication you need to water the plants.
Using the self-watering method described above will require you to water less frequently. With the bottom of the soil column touching the water reserved in the bottom of the bucket it allows the water to wick up towards the plants root zone. It will provide the plants with a steady even amount of moisture.
How Much Fertilizer Do I Need For a 5-gallon Bucket?
Even if you added the greensand, bonemeal, and bloodmeal to your starting soil mix you’ll still benefit from biweekly feedings. One of the best fertilizers you can provide for peppers is fish fertilizer. You’ll notice that fish fertilizer does have a funky smell but your pepper plants will love it. The smell of the fish fertilizer could attract animals to your garden if you live in a rural area though we’ve never had any problems with that growing in buckets. If you’re concerned about it, you could alternatively use a seaweed fertilizer made from kelp.
Other things you should consider supplementing periodically:
- Magnesium – this can be done through the use of Epsom salt, just make sure there are no perfumes added to it. Simply add a tablespoon of Epsom salt to one gallon of water and water with it once a month.
- Calcium – without proper calcium levels the fruit won’t grow properly and could develop blossom end rot. A good supplement for this is CalMag which provides calcium and magnesium eliminating the need for Epsom salt.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t provide too much nitrogen once the plants start to bloom. Nitrogen provides energy for foliage growth. Once flowering and fruiting the plants will require more phosphorus and potassium. Fertilizers list these ratios as N-P-K on the package. N= Nitrogen, P=Phosphorus, K= Potassium. During fruiting make sure N is the lowest number.
Alternatives to 5-gallon Buckets
Years ago, I tried using cloth grow bags for growing pepper plants. I liked the idea of the roots air pruning. The peppers actually grew great in the grow bags. The problem I had was that the cloth grow bags would dry out quickly in the summer heat and required almost daily watering. I’ve since come across the grow bags shown below made by Vivosun. With their claim of requiring less water thanks to the thicker material I decided to give them a try. So far, I’ve been having great results with them. They do still require more frequent watering than a plastic contain but the Vivosun bags definitely don’t dry out as fast as others I’ve tried in the past.
If you’re interested in using grow bags for your pepper plants and other vegetables, I’d highly recommend the grow bags shown here. They use a 300g material (most others are 150g) and still provide the same air pruning benefits.
UPDATE: This year (2021) we grew several pepper plants hydroponically in 5-gallon buckets. They grew amazingly, better than we could have ever expected. For a look at our setup check out our video on Outdoor Hydroponic Peppers.
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