Make a Cheap, Easy and Cool Looking Upside Down Tomato Bucket

Woman holding tomatoes in hands.
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  • 01 of 10

    Upside Down Tomato Upsides and Down

    container gardening picture of upside down tomato
    Finished Upside Down Tomato Container Garden. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    First, let me say right up front that growing an upside down tomato is not for everyone. Hanging, with damp soil, an upside down tomato bucket can easily weigh 50 pounds. I have mine hung on shepherds’ hooks – I put two together to add to stability, and still, as soon as I hung up one upside down tomato, the pole started to bend, even with just a tiny seedling. I then tried both hooks to a piece of rebar, sunk feet into the ground for reinforcement.

    There are a few other ways to hang upside down...MORE tomatoes. I have seen upside down tomato buckets hanging from square structures made of 4X4 beams - think hockey goal without the net - which is a good solution if you have a place in your yard for that, and can sink the 4X4s deeply into the ground.

    If you have a wall in a full sun area, you can get a hook and attach it to your house, or porch, but make sure the hook and screws are tough enough to hold the weight of your upside down tomato.

    Tomatoes are sun lovers and need at least 6 plus hours per day, so be sure, wherever you hang your upside down tomato, it really gets full sun. It’s easy and very common to overestimate how much sun an area gets. Don’t just assume or guess about an area you’re considering. Make sure you’ve got enough sun, by either visually timing how long the sun is hitting the area using a watch (no cheating), or use a sun calculator.

    The variety particularly important if you are growing an upside down tomato. My advice is to stick with a cherry tomato because some of the bigger fruited tomatoes are too heavy when ripe, and the weight of the fruit can break the upside down tomato plant.

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  • 02 of 10

    What You Need for DIY Upside Down Tomato Planter

    container gardening picture of what you need to make upside down tomato container garden
    What You Need for DIY Upside Down Tomato. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    What you need for upside down tomato planter:

    • One tomato seedling (see note below)
    • 5-gallon bucket with lid (see note below)
    • Potting soil
    • Fertilizer
    • Utility knife
    • Plastic window screening
    • Scissors
    • Hanging apparatus (see the first page)
    • The second set of hands!

    What you need to cover upside down tomato bucket: 

    • Oilcloth or other waterproof material (see note below)
    • Measuring tape
    • Waterproof tape
    • Plastic ribbon, twine or plastic raffia

    Tomatoes: There are a gazillion great cherry tomato varieties. Here are a few...MORE yummy ones.

    • Sungold
    • Supersweet 100s
    • Tiny Tims
    • Sweet millions
    • Red Currant

    Buckets: You can get a white, 5-gallon bucket from most hardware stores. I liked the orange of the buckets from Home Depot (around $3.00). You might also be able to get free buckets from bakeries or restaurants.

    Fabric: I bought oil cloth at a fabric store, but for a few dollars, you can also buy a plastic table cloth at a discount store. Some of them come in great patterns.

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  • 03 of 10

    Cut Drainage Hole in Upside Down Tomato Planter

    container gardening picture of cutting drainage holes for DIY upside down tomato
    Cutting Drainage Hole for Upside Down Tomato. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    With your utility knife, carefully cut a drainage hole in your upside down tomato planter, that is around 2 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have to be neat or exact. I used the circle on the bottom of my bucket as a guide and it made cutting very easy. I also cut four small holes in the bottom of the bucket for extra drainage.

    I cut some small holes in the bucket top to help with air circulation.

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  • 04 of 10

    If You are Making a Decorative Cover, Measure Upside Down Tomato Bucket

    container gardening picture of measuring height and circumference of upside down tomato bucket
    Measure Height and Circumference of Bucket. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    If you are going to make a decorative cover for your upside down tomato bucket, measure it now. Measure from the top of the bucket to bottom. Start from under the lip of the bucket and measure to the bottom edge. Also, measure the circumference of your bucket.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    How To Make the Decorative Cover for Your Upside Down Tomato Planter

    container gardening picture of taping upside down tomato container cover
    Use Tape Ring to Secure Cover. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Cut your fabric to fit the bucket, but make sure to leave at least a two-inch overlap in width. Depending on the type of fabric you are using you may have to fold down the edges to get a clean look that won't fray, but with oil cloth you can leave the edge raw and it looks fine. Using a utility with a metal straight edge ruler is a good way to get a crisp edge, though you can also use a scissor.

    Tape the short edge of your fabric to the side of the bucket using a waterproof tape. I used...MORE electricians’ tape. Then wrap fabric around the bucket tightly. The top of my bucket was slightly larger than the bottom, so I had to fool with it a bit to get the wrinkles spread out.

    Make a tape circle - sticky side facing out - to fasten the flap of the oilcloth down onto the piece that you previously taped.

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  • 06 of 10

    Wrap Plastic Tape Around Upside Down Tomato Cover

    container gardening picture of tying plastic ribbon on upside down tomato bucket cover
    Securing Cover with Plastic Tape. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    To further secure the cover onto the bucket, I wrapped plastic ribbon tightly around upside down tomato planter. You can tie or tape the ends of the ribbon.

    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Use Plastic Screening To Keep Upside Down Tomato In Planter

    container gardening picture of upside down tomato bucket with screen
    Bucket with Cut Screening. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    To help keep your upside down tomato and soil in the bucket, but let water out, cut a piece of plastic window screening to fit the bottom of the upside down tomato bucket. Then cut the center of the screen like a pie – so that there are six small flaps. It helps to fold the screen in half, to make the first cut. Make this opening at least as big as your hole so it will be big enough for the roots of your tomato plant to fit through.

    Then fill the bucket with potting soil. How much potting soil...MORE you use will depend on how secure your hanging apparatus is and how you’re going to plant your upside down tomato. 

    If your soil doesn’t have already have fertilizer mixed in add some now. Follow the directions on the box for the amount.

    I like a slow release, organic fertilizer.

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  • 08 of 10

    Prepare Your Upside Down Tomato Plant

    container gardening picture of tomato seedling with upside down tomato bucket in background
    Root Bound Tomato Seedling. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    To get your tomato seedling ready for planting, remove it from its pot or cell. If the plant is root-bound separate roots. Then take off any excess soil and remove the bottom few leaves. Moisten the root ball and then squeeze it firmly, which will help it slide into the bottom of your tomato bucket.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Plant Your Upside Down Tomato

    container gardening picture of inserting a tomato into upside down tomato bucket
    Inserting Tomato Seedling into Bucket. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    There are two approaches for planting an upside down tomato. Planting it right side up and letting it grow for awhile before hanging it up, and planting it upside down from the start. The advantage to planting right side up is that it gives your tomato a head start. The disadvantage is that your upside down tomato planter will be much heavier because you have to fill the bucket completely with soil.

    Right Side Up Start

    Some people like to plant the tomato right side up to start with and let it...MORE grow like this until the plant reaches around 12 inches before they hang it. The advantage to this is that the container won’t shade the tomato plant when the sun is overhead. Also, upside down tomatoes try to grow up - it's just what plants do - even if they are upside down, so by starting it right side up, the plant won't contort so quickly. However, to plant this way, you have to fill your bucket to the very top, with soil, which makes it super heavy.

    To use the right side up planting method: Fill your bucket with potting soil right to the top. Put the lid securely on and then turn the bucket over (so the hole is on top now). You then push your tomato plant down into the soil. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that you want to plant very deeply because roots will grow from the stem. So plant it up to the first set of sturdy leaves.

    To plant your tomato upside down: Fill your bucket with potting soil, but not to the top. The soil level can be 3 to five inches from the top of the bucket.

    Put the top of the bucket on securely, and tip bucket onto its side. This is really a two-person job. Stuff the tomato seedling deeply into the hole, up to its first set of sturdy leaves. You are pushing it through the screening flaps, which will bend back. Once the tomato is in, you’ll want to pull the flaps out so that they lay flat on the soil.

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  • 10 of 10

    Hang Your Upside Down Tomato

    container gardening picture of upside down tomato
    Upside Down Tomato. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Hang your tomato securely from its handle. If at all possible have two people available to do this. Your upside down tomato planter is not only heavy, it's rather unwieldy at this point. Also, because the tomato is growing through the bottom of the bucket, you can't put it down on a flat surface. I had a large planter nearby and when I had some trouble hanging the upside down tomato planter, I rested in on the large planter.

    Water your tomato generously. One of the fastest ways to kill a tomato...MORE plant is not to give it enough water. You want to keep the soil consistently damp, but not wet. If you let your soil dry out, you may get blossom end rot which is not pretty.

    I leave the cover partially on because I don’t want the bucket to get too heavy in a sudden downpour, but I also want air circulation.

    Feed your tomatoes every week with a diluted liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion.

    Enjoy!