Zucchini is one of the easiest plants you can grow. It does not matter whether you grow in the ground or a container. But you do need to think about some factors when using a 5-gallon bucket.

You can grow zucchini in a 5 gallon bucket but pick one that is a bush-type cultivar. This will grow well in the bucket that is 16 inches in size. Use good potting soil and water the plant regularly when you find the soil dry. Hand-pollinate the zucchini plant growing in the bucket.

I’ve written all the details you need to start growing the zucchini plant in the 5-gallon bucket as part of your container garden. So keep reading.

1. Pick the zucchini variety to grow in the bucket

You can get zucchini that is either of the vining or bush variety.

The vining variety will grow vines in all directions and zucchini can grow on any part of the vine. If you have space, you can allow the vines to creep on the floor. But if you are limited in space, you’ll need a trellis for the vines to climb. The bush variety grows from a single point and zucchini tends to grow at the base of the plant.

You can choose any variety to grow in your 5-gallon bucket. But I would recommend you choose a bush variety of zucchini to grow especially if you’re a beginner. The bush variety needs less space, is easier to maintain, does not need a trellis, and makes it easy to harvest zucchini.

I’ve listed some of the popular zucchini plants that you can consider growing. These include both bush and vine types of plants.

Bush BabyBush18-24 inches50 days
Black BeautyBush12-24 inches50 days
AstiaBush8-12 inches48 days
EliteBush8-12 inches50 days
Green TigerVine12-24 inches60 days
Fort KnoxVine14-24 inches50 days
ButterstickVine24-30 inches50 days
Sure ThingVine24-30 inches48 days

2. Choose the best time to plant zucchini

Zucchini is a warm-season plant which means you need to provide it at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It needs warm temperatures to germinate and grow well. If the weather is too cold or there is frost, the plant will not do well.

The best time to plant zucchini is in the spring/summer season but you need to make sure it’s at least two weeks after the last frost date.

If you have a long growing season, you can plant the seeds directly in the 5-gallon bucket and they will germinate in a few days. If you have a short growing season, you’ll need to start the seeds indoors about three weeks before you move them outside.

Make sure to use a heating mat or place the seed starting trays on top of a refrigerator or an oven so they get plenty of warmth to germinate.

You can also consider buying seedlings from your local garden center or nursery. This saves you the time to start the seeds and worry about the germination. But you are restricted in the variety you’ll be able to grow. That’s because you only get a few to choose from when purchasing a seedling.

zucchini in pot
Zucchini grown in a container at the BMC Horticulture Show 2023

3. Understand how long zucchini takes to grow

Zucchini is a plant that grows relatively fast and you should be able to harvest them 50 to 70 days after you have planted the seeds. This is the same whether you grow a bush variety or a vining variety.

The exact time it will take for the zucchini to grow depends on the variety you are growing. So check the seed packets that will tell you the precise days it will take for the plant to mature.

If you bought a seedling from a garden center or nursery then check the tag that would be on the plant. If there is no tag, you can figure out when the plant has matured by looking at the color of the fruit.

If the color turns dark and vibrant, it’s time to harvest the zucchini. This could be a dark green or yellow color depending on the variety of the zucchini you are growing.

4. Choose the right bucket to grow zucchini

Zucchini plants have deep roots that need a container that is at least 16 inches deep and 12 inches wide. So the 5-gallon bucket is a good choice as it matches these requirements.

I would suggest growing one zucchini plant in one 5-gallon bucket. If you try to grow too many plants together they will compete for nutrients and resources that would stunt the growth.

You can choose a bucket made of any material but I would recommend using a plastic one. It is lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. The plastic bucket will also not lose moisture as fast as something like terracotta.

plastic containers
Plastic containers I used to grow plants

You should make sure the bucket has drainage holes at the bottom. This helps it drain out the excess water and protect the zucchini roots from getting root rot. If there are no holes, you can drill some before using the bucket.

5. Prepare the bucket to plant zucchini

Make sure to sterilize the bucket before use. This helps eliminate pests and diseases from the bucket that would harm the zucchini plant.

The easiest way to do this is to soak the bucket in a mixture of 1 part bleach with 9 parts water for at least an hour. Then you can rinse the bucket with water and dry it out before use.

Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket to drain out excess water. If there are no drainage holes, you can drill them yourself.

The most important factor for growing zucchini in a 5-gallon bucket is to use good potting soil. You want to avoid using garden soil because it may contain too much sand or clay. It may also contain pests, diseases, or chemicals that can harm the plants.

You can buy potting soil suitable for growing zucchini plants from your local garden center or online. Or you can make your own mix using 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 1 part peat moss.

You can also add compost to the potting soil that will add good texture, nutrients, and beneficial microorganisms to it.

Fill the container with the potting soil till there’s a space of 2 inches left from the rim. This will prevent the soil from spilling out when watering.

6. Add support to the 5 gallon bucket

If you’re growing a bush variety of the zucchini plant you don’t need to worry about support. That’s because the bush plant grows from a single point and is a short growth with a stable base.

If you’re growing a vining variety of zucchini plants, it’s good to provide some support. This helps the vines grow vertically and prevents them from tangling with each other.

The support will help provide good air circulation among the vines and prevent fungal diseases on the plant. It will also make it easier to prune the vines and harvest the zucchini.

The simplest form of support is to use a trellis where you can tie the vines as they grow. You can make one yourself or buy one from the local garden center or online.

An easy way to build one is to use an inverted tomato cage and stakes. Push the stakes through the holes of the cage in an alternating direction. Make sure to use 2-3 stakes in total on different sides of the cage.

It’s best to place the tomato cage in the potting soil when you sow the seeds or do the transplant. This helps prevent the stakes from disturbing or damaging the full-grown roots when the plant has matured.

You can tie the growing vines on the tomato cage or the stakes using a gardening tie. Make sure to tie the vines loose enough so you don’t harm them.

7. Plant zucchini seeds in the bucket

You can plant the zucchini seeds directly in the 5-gallon bucket. Starting seeds can be useful as it reduces the cost of planting. Seeds are inexpensive compared to buying seedlings.

Starting seeds is also useful if you have a short growing season. You can start the seeds indoors even if the outside weather is not yet suitable for growing. Once the seedlings have sprouted and the weather has improved, you can transplant them to the 5-gallon bucket.

If you have a long growing season, you can directly sow the seeds in the bucket. This is beneficial because the roots won’t get disturbed and you’ll have a better chance of growing the plant.

You can start the seeds indoors in a seed starting tray or peat pots. The benefit of using peat pots is they are biodegradable and you can plant them directly in the bucket once the seedlings have sprouted.

Put some seed starting mix in the peat pot. Then plant 2-3 cucumber seeds 1/4th inch into the mix.

peat pots
Peat pots displayed at the HortiPro Exhibition

Zucchini seeds need at least 70 °F so they can germinate. You can use a heating mat underneath the pots to create a warm environment.

You should water the potting soil every day but make sure it’s not soggy. You should also keep the peat pots near the windowsill where they can get plenty of sunlight to germinate.

Spray enough moisture on the potting soil every day so the seeds can get it. After a few days, the seeds will germinate. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches, you can transplant them outdoors.

8. Plant zucchini seedlings in the bucket

If you have a short growing season or just don’t want to invest the time starting seeds, you can buy seedlings from a local garden center or nursery. The drawback is that it’s more expensive than starting seeds. And you have a limited choice in the variety you can grow.

You’ll get the seedlings in a small container and you’ll need to transplant them to the 5-gallon bucket when the weather is suitable. It’s important to harden the seedlings before transplanting them outdoors.

Hardening is a process where you help the seedlings get used to the outdoor conditions so they don’t get stressed when you transplant them. You do this by keeping the seedlings outdoors for a few hours every day.

It’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight and wind when you start. After a few days, you can keep them outside for more time and even in the sun. After a week, the seedlings will have hardened and you can move them to the container outdoors.

Gently squeeze the container they are growing in so the root ball comes out. Make a hole in the center of the potting soil you added to the 5-gallon bucket. Place the root ball in this hole and cover it will potting soil so they are not exposed to air.

Press the soil near the base of the plant to give it stability. Now you should water the potting soil well so it can settle and the roots can get comfortable in the new container.

9. Use the right location to place the bucket

Zucchini is a warm-season plant that needs full sunlight so you need to give it at least 8 to 10 hours of sunlight every day. If it gets too hot, the leaves may start to curl, so it’s best to move the bucket to shade especially in the afternoon.

As the season changes, the position of the sun will change and you need to move the bucket so the plant can keep getting the required amount of sunlight.

You’ll also need to water the potting soil several times a day when the weather is hot.

10. Water zucchini plant in the bucket

Zucchini is a plant that needs plenty of water to grow well and produce fruit. I recommend checking the moisture in the potting soil every day that will indicate whether you need to water it.

Stick your finger 1-2 inches inside the potting soil and check if the tip of your finger feels moisture. If not, you’ll need to water the potting soil. You may need to water the soil several times in the summer when it dries out faster.

You should water the potting soil deeply so the water can reach the bottom of the bucket. The bucket must have drainage holes at the bottom so the excess water can drain out.

This helps you prevent the problem of underwatering or overwatering that will stunt the growth of the zucchini plant or kill it. If you are afraid to water the plant, you’ll give it less water and stunt its growth. It will also cause stress to the plant and the zucchini will turn bitter.

If you give too much water and it remains in the bucket it will lead to overwatering. This will cause root rot or fungal diseases and cause the plant to die.

I recommend adding mulch to the potting soil. This helps keep the temperature regulated in the soil. So you will spend less time watering the plant. You can put a layer of 2 inches of the mulch on the soil.

You can use any organic material like dried leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, newspaper, straw, or moss as mulch. Make sure to add the mulch only after the seeds have germinated and the seedlings are a few inches. Otherwise, they will block the sunlight and the seedlings may not germinate.

11. Thin zucchini seedlings in the bucket

When you start seeds in the seed tray or directly in the 5-gallon bucket, you’ll need to plant 2-3 seeds. This helps increase the chances that at least one seed will germinate.

But what happens if more than one seed germinates? If you allow them to grow, the two or three plants will compete for nutrients and resources. That’s why you want to thin the seedlings.

Thinning is a process where you choose the healthiest seedling and allow it to grow. And you need to pull out the remaining seedlings. The best time to thin the seedlings is when they have grown at least 3-4 leaves and the height is about 3-4 inches.

You don’t need to do any thinning if you buy the seedlings from the garden center or nursery. You can just transplant one seedling in the 5-gallon bucket. Just make sure you pick the best possible seedling when you buy.

12. Fertilize zucchini plant in the bucket

The best fertilizer to add to the potting soil is compost. You can mix this in the potting soil when preparing the container. And apply it every month during the growing season.

If you don’t have compost, you can add a granular or liquid fertilizer to the potting soil. You can add the granular slow-release fertilizer when preparing the potting soil. Mix it in the potting soil and the fertilizer will release with each watering. You can also add it every month during the growing period.

organic fertilizer
Organic fertilizer I use for my plants

You can also use liquid fertilizer instead and spray it in the potting soil every couple of weeks. The liquid fertilizer can be fast-action especially if you spray it on the foliage.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any fertilizer. It will give you information on how much fertilizer to use and how often. I would also recommend using an organic fertilizer rather than chemical.

You can start with a balanced fertilizer when the seedling is growing as this will help the foliage. But later you want to switch to a low-nitrogen fertilizer that may be higher in potassium and phosphorus. This will help the plant focus on growing zucchinis rather than the leaves.

13. Pollinate zucchini plants in the bucket

The best way to pollinate zucchini plants is to attract pollinators like bees to the container garden. You can do this by growing native plants with flowers that attract such insects.

But if you are unable to get pollinators in your garden, you can hand-pollinate the zucchini plants growing in the bucket. The zucchini plant grows both male and female flowers which makes this process a bit easy.

The male flower has the stamen that holds the pollen while the female flower has the stigma where you need to put the pollen. Make sure the flowers are fully open when you try to hand-pollinate or it will not work.

You can pluck a male flower and remove the petals so only the stamen with pollen remains. You can then brush the stamen into the stigma of the female flowers to pollinate them.

The other option is to use a paintbrush to collect the pollen from the male flower. You can then gently brush the pollen into the stigma of the female flowers for pollination.

13. Prune the zucchini plants

Pruning is a process where you trim the leaves, branches, stem, and even fruits of the plant. You may prune parts of the plant that are dead or diseased. But you may also prune the healthy parts.

The pruning helps the plant focus on growing more of its leaves, flowers, and fruits depending on when you prune the plant. If you prune the leaves when it’s growing, the plant will grow more leaves. If you prune the plant when it’s developing flowers, it will grow more flowers.

Make sure not to prune more than 1/3rd of the plant at a time. If you prune a lot, it will stress the plant and it won’t be able to grow the required flowers and zucchini.

I suggest using a bypass pruner when doing the pruning. They will help you get a clean cut and reduce the chances of infection. Make sure to clean them before and after use with rubbing alcohol.

14. Harvest zucchini from the bucket

You need to harvest the zucchini at the right time. If you harvest too early, it will be raw and if you harvest too late, the zucchini will turn bitter.

Check the seed packets or the seedling label to know exactly when the zucchini plant will mature and the zucchini will be ready for harvest.

There are certain signs you can use to figure out what is the right time to harvest the zucchini. The easiest method is to check the color of the fruit. If the zucchini turns dark in color, it’s time to harvest. The color may be yellow or green depending on the zucchini variety you’re growing.

I suggest using a pair of pruners to harvest the zucchini. This prevents the plant from infection by fungal or bacterial diseases near the cut.

You can cut 1 inch of the stem along with the zucchini as this will help it stay fresh for a longer period of time. You can store the zucchini for a good amount of time, unlike some other vegetables.

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