Gardeners without the room for an in-ground garden can grow tomato plants vertically, hanging them upside down. More abundant harvests usually come from plants grown right side up, but topsy turvy tomatoes do make a good topic of conversation and can be an interesting experiment. When this method is done right, the advantages to growing tomatoes upside down are: no staking is required, better control over watering, less space required, and freedom from pests and fungi that live in the soil - benefits of any container-grown plants.
It's natural to have reservations about growing tomato plants upside down. Though one interesting piece of information that might put your mind at ease is that plants actually know up from down. The hormones produced in the growing tips, called auxins, turn the stem growth upwards. New stem growth makes a U-turn upwards after plants are hung. However, in a windy climate, the weight of the stems can cause them to snap and break.
When choosing materials, note that the planter, whether it's a plastic five-gallon bucket or a grow pouch, can weigh up to 50 pounds when they are filled with damp soil and a mature tomato plant. Make sure that the hanging structure and all of its hardware is strong enough to hold this amount of weight.
Some sources recommend planting tomatoes in a plastic pouch rather than a five-gallon bucket, but a plastic grow pouch can dry out quickly. Planted near the pouch's base, the tomato plants will grow upwards while the weight of the fruits will pull the stems downward and give it the appearance of hanging. If you decide to go this route, you can purchase plastic grow pouches at just about any garden center.
Best Varieties to Grow Upside Down
Only cherry tomatoes and other small-fruited tomatoes can thrive growing upside down. Consider the following cherry tomato varieties: 'Sungold', 'Sweet Million', 'Yellow Pear', 'Golden Sweet', 'Fantastico', and 'Indigo Cherry Drops'. Choose determinate tomato varieties because they are genetically programmed to grow only to a specific height, set their flowers, and form fruit all at once. The limited growth pattern makes them better suited for containers.
Equipment / Tools
- Hand drill (one with a two-inch hole saw attachment/tip is best)
- Five-gallon plastic bucket with a wire handle and a lid
- Tomato plant seedling
- Lightweight soil mix for potting
- A few sheets of newspaper
- 3/16” nylon rope
- A sturdy frame for your plants to hang
- Marigold seeds or seedlings (optional)
- Basil seeds or seedlings (optional)
- Mulch (optional)
- Plastic growing bag/pouch (optional)
Prepare the Bucket to Hang
Drill a two- to three-inch hole in the center of the bottom of the bucket using the hole-saw tip. The tomato seedling will be pushed upward into this hole. If the bucket doesn't have handles, drill two 1/4" holes on opposites sides a few inches from the bucket's top. Pull the nylon cords through those holes.
Set a few sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the bucket. Fill the bucket halfway to three-fourths with potting soil. Water well. Place the lid on the bucket.
Wrap and Plant the Tomato Seedling
Gently uproot the seedling from its nursery container. Tilt the bucket on its side and make a small cut in the newspaper to push the seedling through the hole and into the bottom of the bucket. Wrap the seedling's roots in several newspaper sheets. Push the plant into the bucket so that just the top of the seedling is visible. Fill the rest of the bucket with soil.
Suspend the Bucket Upside-Down
Choose a sunny location as the hanging site, and make sure the hanging structure can handle the weight of the bucket and plant. Hang the bucket upside down from its handles. Water the plant. Feed the plant liquid soluble fertilizer every two weeks.
Add a Watering Hole
Drill a watering hole in the lid and leave the lid on, or simply remove the lid only when you water the plant. If you don't use the lid at all, plant marigolds or basil in the top of the bucket as an added bonus. Mulch the top of the bucket to maintain moisture.
How to Care for Upside-Down Tomatoes
Don't hang upside-down tomatoes from trees, roofed decks, and nearby houses that cast shade. Even the support structure itself might partly block the sun. Be sure to give the tomato full sun and keep the soil damp but not too wet. Water plants once a day or every other day until you see water come out of the bottom. If the weather is especially hot or if the top one inch of the soil feels dry to touch, water twice a day. Add fertilizer a few times a month to keep the plant well fed. Add new soil if soil is washing out of the hole. Harvest tomatoes as they ripen.
“Growing Upside Down Tomatoes.” UBC Botanical Garden Forums, forums.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/threads/growing-upsidedown-tomatoes.13898.
1846 – Upside down Tomatoes – Do They Work? – PlantTalk Colorado.” Colostate.Edu, http://planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/vegetables/1846-upside-tomatoes-work
“How to Plant an Upside Down Tomato - Knowledgebase Question.” National Gardening Association, garden.org/frogs/view/46354.
Jones, Alyson. “Grow Upside-down Tomatoes.” Bear Bulletin, 20 Sept. 2017, blogs.missouristate.edu/bearbulletin/2013/05/31/grow-upside-tomatoes.
North, Darren. “Upside-Down Tomato Garden DIY.” The Permaculture Research Institute, 29 Apr. 2016, www.permaculturenews.org/2016/04/29/upside-down-tomato-garden-diy.
Colorado State University Extension. “Upside Down Tomatoes: Do They Work?” PlantTalk Colorado, planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/vegetables/1846-upside-tomatoes-work.