Growing upside-down tomatoes is fun and easy, and making your own custom planter is a great DIY project. This design uses an ordinary 5-gallon bucket that you can dress up with oilcloth or a tablecloth to make it decorative. Be sure to hang your planter from a sturdy structure; it can easily weigh 50 pounds or more when filled with damp soil. Also, make sure your tomatoes get plenty of sun; most need at least 6 hours of full sun per day.
Another important consideration is the variety of tomato plants you grow upside-down. Because some large tomatoes become very heavy when ripe, and the weight of the fruit can break the plant, it's a good idea to stick with cherry tomatoes. There are many great varieties to choose from, including:
- Supersweet 100s
- Tiny Tims
- Sweet Millions
- Red Currant
Equipment / Tools
- Utility knife
- Tape measure
- 5-gallon bucket with lid
- Oilcloth or plastic tablecloth
- Double-sided waterproof tape
- Plastic ribbon, twine, or raffia
- Fiberglass window screening
- Potting soil
- Tomato seedling
All of the materials for this project are widely available. You can buy a 5-gallon bucket at a home center, or you can ask for a free bucket at a local bakery or restaurant. You can find oilcloth at fabric or craft stores, or you can opt for a plastic tablecloth from a discount store. Potting soil and fertilizer are available at home improvement centers or garden stores, as are the tomato plants.
Cut a Hole
Use a utility knife to carefully cut a hole in the bucket that is about 2 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have to be neat or exact. Some buckets may have a molded circle on the bottom that you can use as a guide for cutting.
As an option, you can also cut or drill four small holes in the bottom of the bucket for extra drainage, and/or add some small holes in the bucket lid to increase air circulation.
Measure for Decorative Covering
Measure the height of the bucket for the decorative covering, if you are adding one (it's purely optional). Measure straight down from the lip near the top of the bucket to the bottom edge of the bucket. Also, measure the circumference of the bucket by wrapping the tape measure around the outside.
Wrap the Bucket
Cut oilcloth or tablecloth material to fit the bucket, allowing for at least 2 inches of 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 and prevent fraying, but with oilcloth, you can leave the edge raw.
Tape the short edge of the fabric to the side of the bucket with a full-length strip of double-sided waterproof tape. Wrap the fabric tightly around the bucket and secure it at the seam with another strip of tape applied on the underside of the overlapping fabric so the tape is hidden.
Add Ribbon or Raffia
Adorn the edges of the oilcloth with plastic ribbon, twine, or raffia, if desired. This adds a decorative touch and helps secure the cloth along the edges. For added durability, secure the ribbon with small pieces of double-sided tape along its length.
Cover the Hole With Screening
Cut a piece of fiberglass window screening to fit the bottom of the bucket on the inside. The screen helps to keep the plant and soil in the bucket while letting water drain out. Cut the center of the screen like a pie, so there are six small flaps, making the opening at least as big as the bucket's drainage hole. It helps to fold the screen in half to make the first cut. Place the screen into the bottom of the bucket so it lies flat.
Prepare the Tomato Plant
To get your tomato seedling ready for planting, remove it from its pot or cell. If the plant is root-bound, separate the roots or lightly slice them with a knife. 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.
Plant the Tomato
Fill the bucket with potting soil. If the soil doesn’t already have fertilizer mixed in, add some now, as directed. The amount of soil you need depends on how you want to start the new plant. There are two approaches for planting an upside-down tomato: planting it right-side-up and letting it grow for a while before hanging it up; or planting it upside-down from the start.
Some people like to plant the tomato right-side-up to start with and let it grow until the plant reaches around 12 inches tall. The advantage of this is that the container won’t shade the tomato plant when the sun is overhead. Also, upside-down tomatoes try to grow upward even if they are upside down; when you start it right-side-up, the plant won't contort so quickly.
- Right-side-up method: Fill the bucket to the top with potting soil. Put the lid on securely and turn the bucket over (so the hole is on top). Push your tomato plant down into the soil through the hole in the bucket, up to the first set of sturdy leaves.
- Upside-down method: Fill the bucket with potting soil up to 3 to 5 inches from the top. Put the lid onto the bucket, then tip the bucket onto its side. Stuff the tomato seedling deeply into the hole in the bucket, up to its first set of sturdy leaves. Pull down the flaps of screening so they lie flat on the soil.
Hang the Planter
Hang your tomato securely from its handle (if you're starting it upside down). Remove the cover on the bucket so that the soil can receive rainfall or irrigation water. Immediately water the bucket until water begins to drain though the bottom hole.
Care for your plant with a few expert tips:
- Keep soil moist, not soggy. One of the fastest ways to kill a tomato plant is not to give it enough water, but too much moisture is equally damaging. The soil should be consistently damp but not wet. A common problem known as blossom end rot occurs because of uneven calcium absorption, which is caused by fluctuating soil moisture levels.
- Leave the bucket lid partially on, if desired, to prevent the bucket from getting too heavy in a sudden downpour, while still allowing for air circulation.
- Feed your tomatoes every week with a diluted liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion. Because containers must be watered frequently, nutrients are depleted quickly. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, which can encourage blossom end rot. A balanced fertilizer works best.