Growing Tomatoes Upside Down? An Alternative Garden Plan

Growing Tomatoes Upside Down? An Alternative Garden Plan
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Growing Tomatoes Upside Down? An Alternative Garden PlanWe've been growing our tomatoes upside-down for the past three years and really have fun growing them this way! We also grow tomatoes in the ground, and, by comparison, the ones in the upside-down buckets seem to have a little better yield than the same varieties grown in the ground.

I attribute it to the fact that the branches have less stress while growing, and have better air circulation. Of course, you have to grow smaller varieties or ones that are suited for container growing, or the yields will be less.

We've experimented with growing peppers and have found that sweet bells do not do good because the branches break very easily. Varieties such as Cayenne, Tabasco, or ones that produce small fruit, will grow fine.

You can grow tomatoes in any large container that has a sturdy hanging system, but we've found the safest is to use five-gallon paint buckets that have a handle. Planting them in the buckets is much easier and safer for the plants when you have one or two other people helping you. 

Instructions for Planting

Start out by drilling a hole in the bottom of the bucket. Usually, there is already a circular indentation, which is approx. 2 ½" in diameter. If there isn't, drill the hole between 2 and 3 inches in diameter.

Set the bucket, right side up, on a structure such as two wooden horses, so that the bottom hole is exposed. Put whatever material you choose to use to secure the seedling, in the bottom, then take the seedling and gently thread the leaves and stems down through the hole so that it hangs out of the bottom of the bucket. Hold the plant up till no more than 2 inches of the stem is protruding out from the bottom.

While holding the plant in one hand, pack the material around the stem so that the plant is anchored and will not slip through the hole. There are several things that can be used to keep the seedling from "slipping out" of the hole until the root system has developed and it can hold it's own. You can use sphagnum moss, newspaper, coffee filters, etc.

Keep holding the plant in place, and add the soil into the bucket, making sure it's distributed evenly up to the root ball. Gently let go of the plant, letting it rest on the dirt, and add soil till the root ball is about 2 inches below the soil line. Add about 2 cups of compost, then fill the bucket with soil up to about an inch from the top.

Carry the bucket to the structure you are going to hang it from, being very careful to keep the tomato plant from hitting the ground as you walk. Hang the bucket by the handle, then water thoroughly. Water should start running out of the bottom hole within a few minutes.

Check the soil level of each bucket to be sure the soil didn't settle to more than 2 inches from the top, adding more if it has. Water and add fertilizer, when needed, directly in the top of the bucket. You can also grow "living mulch" like parsley or other herbs, in the top portion of the dirt, but be sure you water the bucket sufficiently so that the water gets to the tomato plant's' roots. Some herbs, such as oregano or marjoram, become too thick to allow the water to penetrate quick enough into the soil.

Keeping a lid set on, but not tightly sealed, the tops of the buckets will help prevent moisture loss, but can be a problem since they have to be moved every time you water. Depending on what type of watering system you come up with, will depend on whether or not the lids are used. We've always set the lids on top of the structure, above the buckets (approx. a foot above the rim), and watered the buckets with a hose. The lids don't help much with the moisture retention, but it does help deflect rain in the extremely rainy season.


How much to water the buckets will depend on your climate. We live in Missouri where it is very wet in the spring, and the sun is intense in summer. We water the buckets every day from the third week of June until two weeks before the first frost.

One interesting thing that will happen when you grow your tomato plants this way is that they will grow upwards towards the sun until the plants get bigger and bushier and start producing fruit. You have to check them daily to be sure that the stem is growing out from under the bottom, not into it.

Every few weeks, check the soil level to be sure there has not been too much loss. Add soil or compost each time the level lowers.

For more tomato tips and recipes click here!
Esbenshade's Garden Center also carries an upside down tomato planter.

Text and ALL pictures are Copyright 2003 Kathi Morris.


About The Author

Kathi lives in the St. Louis area and is a member of the Bridgeton Historical Commission. She is the sole proprietor of the Payne-Gentry medicinal herb garden in Bridgeton, MO. and also volunteers for the St. Louis County Parks by helping maintain the herb gardens at Faust Park. She is a self-taught herbalist and an avid heirloom gardener, a wife and new grandmother.

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