You’ve seen those Topsy Turvy tomato planters, 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 tomatoes upside down is a good way to get the most out of your space.
Originally published in February 2012; this post has been updated. This hanging tomato plant project is featured in my book on page 186.
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.
Growing Tomatoes in an Upside-Down Planter
Growing tomatoes as hanging plants allows you to grow some food in unused space. It’s great for apartment dwellers and backyard gardeners who have limited space. But planting a tomato plant – right side up – in traditional hanging baskets means that the stems will bend and break as gravity and the weight of fruit pulls the tomato vines downward.
By situating the tomato plant to hang from the bottom of the pot, the stems will still hang down, but they’ll do so without bending and breaking.
Grow Some Greens!
Ready to grow fresh greens, no matter WHERE you live? Sign up for my
FREE quick-start guide and start growing some of your own food!
Making the Upside-Down Container
Step 1: Drill a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. This will be the planting hole for the tomato and will double as a drainage hole to allow excess water to exit the bucket.
Step 2: Cut a piece of scrap fabric roughly the size of the base of the bucket.
Step 3: Cut a slit to the center of the fabric and place it in the bottom of the bucket. This will help hold the soil and tomato seedling in place until the tomato plant gets rooted in.
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.
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!
Hanging 5 gallons of heavy potting mix will stress the handle of the bucket. To create a lighter mix, combine roughly two parts good quality potting mix, two parts coconut coir, and one part perlite in a large container or wheelbarrow and blend thoroughly.
Much like growing tomatoes in containers on the ground, you’ll need to make sure 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.
This upside-down tomato planter works with both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. Because the amount of space for root systems is limited for container plants, opting for a dwarf variety of tomato is a good idea. These plants produce tomatoes as usual, but on a much more compact plant.
Avoid really large tomatoes as the weight of the fruit can damage the branches of the plant. Instead, opt for medium sized or cherry tomatoes. Roma tomatoes are a good option, too.
The right tomato plant will thrive with this upside-down method.
Situating the Planter
You’ll need to find a sturdy location to hang the tomato plant. A porch roof or overhang can work, as can a sturdy arbor, as long as the light requirements can be met. Be sure to use a strong hook, too!
All tomatoes love full sun and, in optimal conditions, should receive eight hours of direct sunlight each day. This is true for growing tomato plants in hanging containers as well, so find a sunny spot where they will have enough light to thrive.
Provide excellent air circulation to prevent the tomato from succumbing to powdery mildew.
How often you water this container will depend on the weather conditions. In hotter weather, it will likely need to be watered daily. Maintain moist soil in the container without overwatering.
- 5-gallon bucket
- Potting soil
- Coconut coir
- 1.5" hole saw
- Combine two parts potting soil, two parts peat moss, and one part perlite for a lighter potting mix.
- Drill a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket using a 1.5″ hole saw.
- Cut a piece of scrap fabric roughly the size of the base of the bucket.
- Cut a slit to the center of the fabric and place it in the bottom of the container. This will help hold the soil and tomato seedling in place until the tomato plant gets rooted in.
- 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.
- Place the tomato seedling in the hole, with the leaves hanging below the bucket. Pull the edges of the fabric slit together, snug around the tomato stem.
- Gently add soil around tomato roots and continue adding soil until the bucket is nearly full.
- Hang the planter in a spot where the plant will get full sun for (optimally) 8 hours a day.
Because the amount of space for root systems is limited for container plants, opting for a dwarf tomato variety is a good idea. (See full post for link to some good options.) These plants produce tomatoes as usual, but on a much more compact plant.