>Grow Tomatoes Upside Down – Wired How-To Wiki


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Photo by Chris Riebschlager/Flickr/CC

Photo by Chris Riebschlager/Flickr/CC

If you’ve ever been up late watching TV in the wee hours of the morning, you’ve probably seen those ads for upside down tomato planters. You’ve probably even asked yourself why anyone would want to grow tomatoes (or anything else) upside down. You obviously do not live in an apartment.

But forget the 1-800 numbers and the three easy payments. All you need to grow tomatoes upside down is a 5 gallon bucket and some know-how.

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Space is probably the most common motivator for upside-down planting (Look ma, no ground necessary) but there are actually some other good reasons to consider growing upside-down tomato plants even if you do have the space to plow.

  • No need to stake. Gravity takes care of the vines so you don’t need to, and that’s one less thing to worry about.

  • No weeding. Well, technically you can get weeds in the top of the bucket, especially if you don’t put a lid on it, but it’ll be nothing compared to a traditional garden.

  • Fewer soil diseases/root rot. Because you’ll be using bagged soil and (most likely) changing it every year, you don’t really need to worry about disease.

  • Better air circulation. Related to both of the above, hanging plants get better air circulation, with means better pollination and overall healthier plants.

  • You can grow year-round. If you have adequate light and heating, you can squeeze a full grow cycle into the “off season.”

Sold? Well, hang on a minute, because there are a couple of disadvantages as well. The biggest problem with upside-down plants is temperature control. The soil is not insulated, so heat will dry it out much, much faster than it would in a ground. That means more water and more diligence on your part.

Another problem is weight — especially after watering. Make sure you hang your plants somewhere secure that can handle the weight. Wherever you hang them, make sure there’s plenty of light. It takes a lot of sunlight energy (or powerful grow lights) to bring a tomato to maturity.

If those worries don’t put you off, then read on to learn how to go about setting up your own hanging tomato garden.

The DIY method

All you need to start an upside-down garden is a 5 gallon bucket or similar container, a plant, and a bag of potting soil.

The bucket

Grab a cheap paint bucket from the hardware store and use a drill to cut a small hole in the bottom of the bucket. You want to hole to be big enough to fit the stalk of a full-grown tomato plant, but not so big that the root ball falls out before it has a chance to root itself inside. About the size of a half dollar is generally good (And now your bucket has a hole in it. No need to check, it’s there).

Empty 5 gallon water bottles also work well if you cut off the bottom.

The plant

Now you need a tomato plant. There are several hybrid varieties that claim to be “perfect” for upside-down planters, but if you can’t find any at your local dealer, just grab a traditional plant. We recommend cherry tomatoes or other smaller sizes. Avoid really large heirlooms as they tend not to do well in buckets.

The process

Put a layer of Sphagnum Moss or similar dry insulating material (shredded newspaper works as well) at the bottom of the bucket, around the hole. A piece of baking parchment or waxed paper with a smaller hole might help hold in the dirt. The plant will simply rip the paper as it grows.

Gently shake excess dirt from your plant’s roots and carefully insert the leaves and stock through the hole you cut in your bucket. Wrap the roots in some more moss or insulating material. You want about two inches of moss around the base of the plant.

Holding the root ball of the plant in place, start to fill your bucket with bagged potting soil. Once you’ve got the root ball covered with soil, you should be able to let go of the plant and it will stay put. Continue filling the bucket with soil and compost, if you have any. Fill the bucket to the top, leaving about an inch of space so you won’t lose any soil when you water.

Now hang your bucket up and give it a good soaking. Wait an hour or so and then check to see how much the soil settled. This will depend on the nature of the soil mix you used. If necessary, add a little more soil.

And that’s all there is to it really, just remember that you’ll need to water your upside-down plants far more than you would a traditional garden.


Tomatoes aren’t the only thing you can grow upside down. Peppers do well upside down, as do cucumbers, eggplants and some beans.

Incredibly, this entire hanging garden is all one tomato plant. Photo by Ben Ostrowsky/Flickr/CC

Incredibly, this entire hanging garden is all one tomato plant. Photo by Ben Ostrowsky/Flickr/CC

This page was last modified 17:33, 15 October 2010 by howto_admin. Based on work by catchersmitt0.

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