How to Make an Upside-Down Tomato Planter

Woman holding tomatoes in hands.
Dougal Waters / Getty Images
  • 01 of 10

    Upside-Down Tomato Plant Upsides and Downsides

    container gardening picture of upside down tomato plant
    Kerry Michaels

    Growing an upside down tomato is not for everyone. Hanging, with damp soil, an upside-down tomato bucket that can easily weigh 50 pounds, is not the easiest feat. One method is to attach two shepherds’ hooks to a piece of rebar, sunk feet into the ground for reinforcement.

    There are a few other ways to hang upside down tomatoes. Some people hang their buckets from square structures made of four-by-four beams -- resembling a hockey goal without the net -- which is a good solution if you have room in your yard and can sink the four-by-fours deeply into the ground.

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

    Tomatoes are sun lovers and need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, so be sure that you hang your tomato plant where it will get a lot of sunlight. It’s easy to overestimate how much sun an area gets, so 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 or using a sun calculator.

    The variety of tomato is particularly important if you are growing it upside down. You may want to stick with a cherry tomato because some larger tomatoes are too heavy when ripe and the weight of the fruit can break the upside-down tomato plant.

    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    What You Need to DIY an Upside-Down Tomato Planter

    what you need to make upside-down tomato container garden
    Kerry Michaels

    What you need for an 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)
    • A second set of hands

    What you need to cover the 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 many great cherry tomato varieties, including:

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

    Buckets: You can get a white 5-gallon bucket from most hardware stores. You may also be able to get free buckets from bakeries or restaurants.

    Fabric: You can buy oil cloth at a fabric store, or a plastic table cloth at a discount store. 

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  • 03 of 10

    Cut Drainage Hole in Upside-Down Tomato Planter

    cutting drainage holes for DIY upside-down tomato plant
    Photo © Kerry Michaels

    With your utility knife, carefully cut a drainage hole in bucket that is around 2 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have to be neat or exact. You can use the circle on the bottom of your bucket as a guide to make cutting easier and may choose to cut four small holes in the bottom of the bucket for extra drainage.

    You can also 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 Your Bucket

    measuring height and circumference of upside-down tomato bucket
    Kerry Michaels

    If you are going to make a decorative cover, measure it now. Measure from under the lip of the bucket to the bottom edge, as well as the circumference of your bucket.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Making a Decorative Cover for Your Upside-Down Tomato Planter

    taping upside-down tomato container cover
    Kerry Michaels

    Cut your fabric to fit the bucket, but leave at least a 2-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. Using a utility knife with a metal straight-edge ruler is a good way to get a crisp edge.

    Tape the short edge of your fabric to the side of the bucket using waterproof tape, then wrap fabric tightly around the bucket. 

    Make a tape circle with the 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

    tying plastic ribbon on upside down tomato-bucket cover
    =. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    To further secure the cover onto the bucket, you can tie plastic ribbon tightly around the 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

    upside-down tomato bucket with screen
    Kerry Michaels

    To help keep your plant and soil in the bucket, but let water out, cut a piece of plastic window screening to fit the bottom of the bucket. Then cut the center of the screen like a pie, so 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 drainage hole so it will be big enough for the roots of your tomato plant to fit through.

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

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

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  • 08 of 10

    Prepare Your Tomato Plant

    tomato seedling
    Kerry Michaels

    To get your tomato seedling ready for planting, remove it from its pot or cell. If the plant is root-bound, separate the roots. 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.

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  • 09 of 10

    Plant Your Tomato

    inserting a tomato into upside-down tomato bucket
    Kerry Michaels

    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, and 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. 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 even if they are upside down, so by starting it right-side-up, the plant won't contort so quickly. To plant this way, though, you have to fill your bucket to the top with soil, which makes it quite heavy.

    To use the right-side-up planting method: Fill your bucket to the top with potting soil. Put the lid on securely and then turn the bucket over (so the hole is on top). 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 5 inches from the top of the bucket.

    Put the top of the bucket on securely and tip bucket onto its side. Stuff the tomato seedling deeply into the hole, up to its first set of sturdy leaves. Push 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.

    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    Hang Your Upside-Down Tomato

    upside-down tomato plant
    Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Hang your tomato securely from its handle. If possible, have two people available to do this, as your upside-down tomato planter will be heavy and unwieldy at this point. Remember that because the tomato is growing through the bottom of the bucket you can't put it down on a flat surface. If you have a large planter, you can rest the bucket on that.

    Water your tomato generously. One of the fastest ways to kill a tomato 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.

    You may choose to leave the cover partially on 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.