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Upside-Down Tomatoes — Grow Vertically to Save Space!

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You’ve seen those Topsy Turvy contraptions, right? Here’s how you can make one of your own with a 5-gallon bucket. It will take you less than half an hour to put together, and growing upside-down tomatoes is a good way to get the most out of your space. 

This vertical tower garden is another great space saver!

close up of upside down hanging tomato planter in a five gallon bucket

This upside-down tomato planter works well with both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. A cherry tomato is a nice choice if you’ll be hanging this on a patio — perfect for summertime snacking! It also works well with a Roma tomato.

This is really an easy project, though you’ll need one specialized piece of equipment to make it: A hole saw that attaches to a drill. If you’ve got a woodworker friend, maybe you can borrow one.

Much like growing tomatoes in containers on the ground, you’ll need to make sue that the soil in this hanging tomato planter remains moist (but not wet). Fertilize every couple of weeks with a diluted compost or manure tea.

How to make a planter for upside-down tomatoes

Step 1: Drill a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. I used a 1.5″ or so hole saw. (I also opted to paint the bucket so it wasn’t so glaringly white.)

close up of hole saw drilling a hole in a green bucket

Step 2: Cut a piece of scrap fabric roughly the size of the base of the bucket.

round piece of red fabric in the bottom of a bucket to make an upside down tomato planter

Step 3: Cut a slit to the center of the fabric. This will help hold the soil and tomato seedling in place until the tomato plant gets rooted in.

round piece of red fabric in the bottom of a bucket

Step 4: Set the bucket up on blocks of some sort. This will allow you to place the tomato seedling into the hanging planter without smashing it.

Step 5: Place the tomato seedling in the hole, with the greens hanging below the bucket. Pull the edges of the fabric slit together, snug around the stem.

 

 tomato planter sitting on two concrete blocks

 

Step 6: Gently add soil around tomato roots and continue adding soil until the bucket is nearly full. Use a mixture of roughly two parts potting soil, two parts peat moss, and one part perlite for a lighter mix, since it will be hanging. You don’t want the upside-down tomato planter to be so heavy that it breaks!

Note: I’m updating photos for this post and growing more upside-down tomatoes under a new awning. The next photo you’ll see is from the first ones I made. I’ll be adding a new photo of my thriving upside-down tomato planter soon! Stay tuned.

1upside-down-tomato-5

Originally published in February 2012; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

24 comments… add one
  • SoniaR Feb 17, 2012, 8:24 am

    I like the idea of painting it too… looking forward to hearing more about this project.

  • Dawna Chipman Feb 17, 2012, 11:01 am

    My father has been doing the Topsy Turvy in buckets for year now. He used a styrofoam circle, with a slit cut in it, in the bottom of the bucket to help hold the tomatoe plants in and keep the soil from washing out. You dont want to use a foam that soaks up too much water or it can rot the plants off. Last year I also planted some with holes/plants in the side, seemed to work well and its nice not having to tie up the plants!

  • The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet Feb 17, 2012, 11:39 am

    This is great. A couple of years ago our gardening space was limited so we hung a similar version (osh buckets) along the patio wall…we did tomatoes and zucchinis… and drilled a hole in the top and a hole on each side…it actually worked out really well…I’ll post a picture if I can find one…!

  • vollmerdp Feb 17, 2012, 12:51 pm

    Fun! I have two cloth-in-a-wire-frame hangars from Gardener’s Supply and I’ve used them over and over again. Hopefully you have enough soil in the bucket to handle the lack of moisture compared to right-side-up planters and just using the ground. You will need to keep an eagle eye on the moisture — as you know, tomatoes require a LOT of water during fruiting.

    I was very successful with them in NebrasAlso, those in colder climates can consider painting their buckets flat black to keep them warmer. Yes, dark colors will indeed make a difference. There’s even this particular shade of red that a university (Cornell, I think?) determined is of the proper wavelength to help out tomato (and related plant) growth.

    • Attainable Sustainable Feb 18, 2012, 2:02 pm

      @vollmerdp Good to know you were successful with them! I dislike growing in containers because keeping them moist can be so difficult, but we’re so limited on growing space, I figure it’s worth a try. We’ve got pretty high humidity, so maybe that will make it slightly less forgiving??

  • alisab Feb 21, 2012, 11:02 am

    You are brilliant! My kid has been wanting me to get a topsy turvy, mostly because she likes to buy things off TV. The pro for me is that I need to keep plants close to the house to dissuade deer from doing them in. I CAN’T WAIT TO TRY THIS.

  • alisab Feb 21, 2012, 11:02 am

    You are brilliant! My kid has been wanting me to get a topsy turvy, mostly because she likes to buy things off TV. The pro for me is that I need to keep plants close to the house to dissuade deer from doing them in. I CAN’T WAIT TO TRY THIS.

  • Brette Sember Feb 21, 2012, 11:09 am

    Great idea! I haven’t bought one of these but have always wanted to try it!

  • Sheryl Feb 21, 2012, 11:09 am

    Clever idea! Although it’s too cold here right now, I look forward to being able to grow some nice juicy tomatoes when the warm weather returns. Keep us posted on your success!

  • Attainable Sustainable Feb 21, 2012, 3:26 pm

    I can’t wait for you to try it, either!

  • merr Feb 22, 2012, 5:40 am

    This was really interesting to see how you put it all together!

  • merr Feb 22, 2012, 5:40 am

    This was really interesting to see how you put it all together!

  • Jane Boursaw Feb 22, 2012, 6:26 am

    These always look so cute – and practical. Thanks for the primer.

  • Champion of My Heart Feb 22, 2012, 8:41 am

    I might have to try this come spring. Great how-to post.

  • Melanie Haiken Feb 22, 2012, 10:37 pm

    My sister did this last summer and her “upside down” tomatoes outproduced her others by quite a lot! I’m determined to try it myself, although I haven’t figured out a good place to do it yet. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • MyKidsEatSquid Feb 25, 2012, 6:10 am

    I want to try this too. It’s too cold here right now for tomatoes but I’d love grow fresh tomatoes this summer.

  • Living Large Feb 26, 2012, 11:38 am

    We have problems with our growing space as well. I’ve made my own upside down tomato pots for the past two years and they’ve done better than the ones on in the deck pots!

  • JCreatureTravel Mar 6, 2012, 7:53 pm

    Love this idea. We have very little room for growing anything. And this step-by-step makes it easy to follow. Having fresh tomatoes would be delightful

  • Erika Apr 8, 2012, 8:43 am

    Brilliant!! I also have wanted to do the TV version, but refused to dish out that much $$ for something I’m sure cost $3.00 at best to create..I knew there had to be a DIY version….YOU ARE GENIUS and provided great instructions. Thank you in advance.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 8, 2012, 3:29 pm

      Erika, I’m the queen of figuring out how to do something with what I have on hand! LOL It doesn’t *always turn out, but sometimes it does. I’m glad you think this will work for you!

  • Donna F. Jan 25, 2014, 9:32 pm

    My back porch is facing a busy highway that has a redlight not far from where I live. I get noxious gas fumes on a daily basis. My question is…is it SAFE to eat the tomatoes that will be exposed to gas and diesel engines exhausts? Thank you.

  • Sammi @Sammi Sunshine Mar 10, 2014, 4:07 pm

    This is so cool! I just moved into my own home, and I am so excited to grow veggies!

    Peace & Sunshine
    Sammi at Sammi Sunshine- a food blog

  • Kim Richmond Jan 15, 2018, 7:44 pm

    When you fertilize them, are you spraying an organic topical? Or fertilizing the roots in the bucket? what are you fertilizing with and how often?

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 20, 2018, 8:56 am

      I like to use compost at the soil level and foliar kelp spray.

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