- Growing Tomatoes Upside Down – Tips For Planting Tomatoes Upside Down
- How to Grow Tomatoes Upside Down
- How to Plant Upside-Down Tomatoes
- 7 Benefits of Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
- 4 Challenges of Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
- Where To Buy An Upside Down Tomato Planter
- How To Make Your Own Upside Down Tomato Planter
- Tips for Success
- Choosing an Upside Down Tomato Planter
- Soil Considerations for Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
- Best Upside Down Tomato Varieties
- Choosing a Location for Upside Down Tomato Planters
- Other Upside Down Tomato Resources
- How To: Wash Your ‘Dry Clean Only’ Clothes at Home for Cheap
- How To: 10 DIY Ways to Repair Nicks & Scratches on Wooden Furniture
- How To: 9 Common Household Items That Can Unstick Your Stuck Zipper
- How To: 7 DIY Ways to Remove Oil Stains from Your Asphalt Driveway
- How To: 9 DIY Ways to Eliminate Static Cling Without Using Dryer Sheets
- How To: 4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Unclog Your Kitchen Sink Without Any Nasty Chemicals
- How To: 5 DIY Methods for Unclogging a Clogged Toilet Without a Plunger
- How To: 9 Ways to Cool Down Your Burning Hot Mouth After Eating Really Spicy Foods
- How To: Open a Door Chain Lock or Bar Latch from the Outside
- How To: 9 DIY Ways to Painlessly Remove Splinters from Your Skin
- How To: 7 Quick Fixes for Squeaky Door Hinges & Creaky Floorboards
- How To: 6 Ways to Remove Ghastly Scuff Marks from Shoes Using Common Household Items
- How To: 14 Practical Uses for Nail Polish Remover That Have Nothing to Do with Removing Nail Polish
- How To: Remove Wrinkles from Clothing Without Ironing
- How To: Remove Permanent Marker Stains from Any Surface
- How To: Unshrink Jeans & Other Clothes That Shrunk in the Dryer
- How To: Make a Cheap, DIY Fog Machine for Your Halloween Party
- How To: Make Your Own Temporary Tattoo
- Street Art 101: How to Make a Wheatpaste Poster
- DIY Eye Makeup Remover: 11 Natural Substitutes You Probably Already Have at Home
- Does Growing Tomatoes Upside Down Produce a Good Crop?
- Before you leave …
- Growing tomatoes upside down: how it works
- The theory behind growing tomatoes upside down
- The verdict on upside-down tomatoes
Growing Tomatoes Upside Down – Tips For Planting Tomatoes Upside Down
Growing tomatoes upside down, whether in buckets or in special bags, is not new but it has become wildly popular over the past few years. Upside down tomatoes save space and are more accessible. Let’s look at the ins and outs of how to grow upside down tomatoes.
How to Grow Tomatoes Upside Down
When planting tomatoes upside down, you will need either a large bucket, such as a 5-gallon bucket, or a specialty planter that is easy to find at your local hardware or department store.
If you are using a bucket for growing tomatoes upside down, cut a hole about 3-4 inches in diameter in the bottom of the bucket.
Next, select the plants that will become your upside down tomatoes. The tomato plants should be sturdy and healthy. Tomato plants that produce smaller sized tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes or roma tomatoes, will perform better in the upside down planter, but you can experiment with larger sizes as well.
Push the root ball of the tomato plant through the hole in the bottom of the upside down container.
After the root ball is through, fill the upside down planter with damp potting soil. Do not use dirt from your yard or garden, as this will be too heavy for the roots of the upside down tomato plant to grow in. Also, make sure that the potting soil is wetted down before you put it in the upside down planter. If it is not, you may have a hard time getting water all the way through the potting soil to the plants roots in the future as very dry potting soil will actually repel water.
Hang your upside down tomatoes in a spot where they will get six or more hours of sun a day. Water your upside down tomato plants at least once a day, and twice a day if temperatures go above 85 F. (29 C.).
If you would like, you can also grow other plants in the top of the upside down container.
And that’s all there is to how to grow upside down tomatoes. The tomato plant will hang down and you will soon enjoy delicious tomatoes grown right outside your window.
How to Plant Upside-Down Tomatoes
Upside-down tomatoes make a great use of space but there are a few important things to know so that your efforts will be fruitful. Grow prolific upside-down tomato plants with these 9 essential tips and tricks.
There are many types of upside-down tomato planters available and none are expensive in the least. I have seen many people who use 5-gallon buckets, but I must say that once you buy all the hardware you will probably be spending more than just buying a Topsy Turvy planter or the self-watering planters I have hanging on my garage.
- 1-2 cherry, grape or other small variety tomato plants
- The upside-down planter of your choice (this is a nice one!)
- Solid ring hooks
- Bamboo stake
- Self-watering system (see Step #8)
- Tomato fertilizer
- Container gardening soil or 40% peat moss / 60% soil
1. First things first: choose the right tomato plant for the hanging planter. There is just no sense in picking a beefsteak or other large varietal. Large tomatoes generally grow on large plants and have heavy fruit. These small planters are better suited to determinate/bush forming (as opposed to indeterminate/vine growing) so that the plant can build girth rather than length below the planting bag. Also choosing container-loving cultivars like Tumbler, Jolly Elf, or Gold Nugget will ensure fruiting is prolific even on smaller plants.
2. Location is another important factor in hanging planters. Check out site selection for Growing Strawberries in Hanging Containers / Grow Bags as it’s pretty much the same: 8-12 hours of full sun a day.
3. Prepare your soil for planting by either mixing 40% peat moss and 60% high quality organic soil mix (like Sea Soil) or a container gardening mix in a wheelbarrow with some water. It’s best to moisten the soil before planting to ensure it will hold the water, not just run right through the planting hole.
4. Remove your plant from the nursery pot and secure the stopper around the stem, being careful to not damage the stem. All store-bought planters come with a stopper: either a foam ring or plastic disk with a hole in the center for the stem.
5. Have a strong helper hold your planter while you gently (I repeat, GENTLY) maneuver the plant upside-down into the bottom hole from the top. Again, don’t damage the stem. If the leaves get a bit mangled it’s Okay, but if you damage the stem get a new plant and start over.
6. Gently fill the moistened soil around the root ball about half-full, add a handful of complete organic fertilizer and fill up the rest of the way with more soil.
7. Hang the planter up on sturdy hooks (that should be included with your planter) no less than 7-8 feet off the ground.
**While most folks stop at this point, there are a few lessons I’ve learned from growing tomatoes successfully on my garage that I shared in this post: Topsy Turvy: Ugly as Stink But Good Tomatoes. These few extra steps will help with the most common problems of upside-down tomato planters: dry soil and broken plants.**
8. The challenge with an upside-down planter is that when it dries out, it is difficult to re-moisten. Water generally flows through dry soil, and with upside-down planters, it can flow right through even moist soil. Unless you want to spend most of your free time slowly watering these planters all summer long, it’s best to set up a self-watering system. Luckily, the new planters I bought have a self-watering trough at the top. Success with this system comes from to ensuring that you don’t let the wick dry out.
You can also make your own self-watering system with these plant stakes or make your own by cutting a hole in the bottom of a soda bottle and poking a few weep holes in the cap. Screw the cap on firmly and sink into the soil. Fill with water and let drain. To see the bottle watering system, check out the photos in this post about Topsy Turvy Tomato Planters.
9. Tomatoes are meant to grow upwards and, left to their own devices, they will curve up toward the sky, grow big beautiful tomatoes…and then the stem will break right off in the wind or from the weight of the fruit. Easily deal with this by sticking a bamboo stake in the bottom hole with the plant, and train the plant downwards as it grows. An easy solution to a fatal (to ripe fruit at least) problem.
Although it may seem strange, and it certainly is a departure from conventional growing, many gardeners are embracing an interesting way of growing tomatoes…
… upside down!
This container method of growing is particularly well suited to certain varieties of tomato plants with cherry and Roma tomatoes being one of the best types to grow in this fashion.
Before we dig into the how of growing upside down tomatoes (sometims called topsy-turvy tomatoes), let’s unpack a few of the advantages and potential challenges of this growing method so you can decide if it’s right for you.
7 Benefits of Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
1. Awesome limited space growing technique
If you have limited space for growing but still want to enjoy delicious homegrown tomatoes, the upside-down method may be your best option.
If you have a sunny balcony or patio your upside-down tomatoes will happily provide a generous harvest.
2. No stake struggles
If you have grown conventional tomatoes before you know well the challenge that staking brings.
Sometimes the stakes break, sometimes they aren’t big enough, sometimes they interfere with the growth of the plant and sometimes they just don’t work.
When you grow tomatoes in an upside-down fashion, your staking struggles will end.
3. Less disease and pests
Growing tomatoes upside down helps to eliminate nasty pests like cutworms and disease like ground fungus. This means healthy plants and less work for you.
4. Easy to set up
It is easy to set up an upside-down planter and takes less time than conventional gardening. There is no digging required which makes this a simple project for anyone.
5. Fewer weeds
Growing tomatoes in a conventional fashion almost guarantees that you will have weeds. When you grow tomato plants upside down, there is virtually no exposed soil so no way for weeds to take hold.
6. Better air circulation
Upside down planters allow for excellent air circulation which is vital to the health of plants. Since the containers are suspended, air can move freely around the plant.
Once you put a tomato plant in the ground, that is where it is going to stay.
As long as you place your upside-down planter where the tomato plant will get plenty of sunshine you can move it around as desired. You can even bring it indoors for the night if the temperatures are forecast to become cold.
4 Challenges of Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
Container gardening presents a challenge for watering and growing tomatoes upside down is no exception. Containers dry out quickly and can just as easily be overwatered leading to rot.
Upside down tomato planters can be heavy. If you don’t have the correct hanging hardware or DIY skills, it can be a disaster.
As mentioned above, tomatoes require plenty of sun to thrive. If you don’t have a sunny spot on your patio or balcony, your plant will not produce as it should.
Depending on where you live, your upside-down planter may take quite a spin and beating in the wind. Provide protection if possible
Where To Buy An Upside Down Tomato Planter
Before we move onto making your own upside down tomato planter, here’s what you can buy.
There are two highly reviewed upside town tomato planters.
Firstly, this two pack of fabric hanging tomato planters is the best reviewed on Amazon with many reviews commenting that the strength of the fabric means these tomato planters will last many growing seasons.
Take a look at it here and read through the reviews where many customers have shared images of their success.
The second option is this Topsy Turvy Upside Down Tomato Planter.
This has received much more mixed reviews in recent months. It seems the Topsy Turvy planter was updated with a “new and improved” version which, according to reviews, is not improved.
However there still seems to be many positive reviews and the description states that this planter can also be used to grow many types of herbs, plus peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and more.
Take a look at the product details and read the reviews here to see if this planter is for you.
How To Make Your Own Upside Down Tomato Planter
Although you can purchase upside-down planters, you can also make your own pretty easily.
Here are two options.
The first is for an attractive planter using a pretty metal and coconut coir insert basket. This basket really gives you two for one. You can plant the top of the basket as well as have your tomato growing out the bottom, upside down.
The second is using a 5-gallon bucket. This one is not quite as attractive but equally practical.
Metal and Coconut Coir Hanging Basket
What you need
- 14-inch metal hanging basket with a coconut coir liner – you can get three from here on Amazon.
- Sharp garden scissors.
- Lightweight organic potting soil with fertilizer and vermiculite
- Organic fertilizer – try making your own.
- 4 sweet basil plants – young plants
- 1 young cherry tomato plant (determinate variety)
How to make it
- Turn the basket upside down and make a slit big enough for a root ball.
- Turn the pot right side and fill ¾ full with lightweight potting soil.
- Breakup the roots on your basil plants and plant them in the top of the basket.
- Find a sunny spot to hang your basket.
- Remove a little soil from around the root of your tomato plant.
- Push the root ball gently up into the slice you cut in the liner.
- Once your plant is secure, push the liner back around the plant to hold it secure.
- Water generously.
5-Gallon Bucket Planter
- 5-gallon bucket with lid – you can buy them, but you’ll often find them available for free in your local area.
- Sharp utility knife
- Drill and 1/8th-inch drill bit
- Lightweight potting soil that contains fertilizer and vermiculite
- Determinate Roma tomato plant
- Organic fertilizer
- Carefully cut a 3-inch hole in the bottom of the bucket using a sharp utility knife.
- Drill 6 small holes around the larger hole in the bottom of the bucket. This is for circulation.
- Drill 6 small holes in the bucket lid.
- Hang your bucket up in a spot that you can reach the plant.
- Loosen the root ball on your tomato plant and place it in the hole so that the plant is hanging upside down.
- Fill your bucket with damp lightweight potting soil.
- Hang in a sunny spot
- Water well.
Tips for Success
- Keep your basket/bucket well watered but not waterlogged.
- Fertilize with an organic start fertilizer and use an organic grow fertilizer such as fish emulsion throughout the growing season.
- Pick tomatoes as soon as they are ready and to encourage more fruit.
- Once you’ve mastered growing tomatoes upside down, try cucumbers, peppers, jalapenos and more.
If you spend any time researching gardening products you have probably seen planters designed to hold a tomato plant upside down. This non-traditional way of growing a tomato plant can be a fun way to keep your garden interesting. It can also help gardeners with limited space find a little extra room.
CC flickr photo courtesy of kkimpel
If you have a small garden area you might have trouble fitting all of your desired plants into your available amount of space. Upside down tomato plants can save space in the garden and they are one of the few plant varieties that can actually thrive upside down. You will find that there are a few commercially manufactured planters designed specifically for this purpose as well as some do it yourself options.
There are several advantages to using this method besides saving a little space. It can be less labor intensive since these plants can grow without staking or caging. Another advantage is that weeds will generally not grow in these planters. Growing plants upside down also increases air circulation, making it less vulnerable to disease.
Choosing an Upside Down Tomato Planter
If you are looking for the easiest way to start growing tomatoes upside down you will probably want to use a commercially manufactured planter. Homemade options are pretty simple to construct, but the store bought ones come ready to use. You may find a few different varieties available, but the most popular option by far is called the Topsy Turvy
The Topsy Turvy started the upside down tomato growing trend. In fact this planter received an Amazing Inventions award from Time Magazine in 2005. All you have to do is fill the planter with potting soil, add a tomato plant and hang it up. It is also easy to water and maintain. Each planter can hold up to 2 tomato plants which means that you can get a substantial harvest with just one or two different planters.
Some people choose to make their own upside down tomato planters. It is a pretty simple process and can save some money. All you will need is a 5-gallon bucket with a handle. First drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket for the tomato plant. Generally a 2-3 inch hole works well. Plant your tomato plant in the hole and secure it using a coffee filter or a piece of a peat pot, as shown in this video here. When it is ready, you can use the bucket handle to hang your planter. Five-gallon buckets are really heavy when filled with wet soil, so be sure to select a sturdy plant hook and secure it with heavy-duty fasteners to a post or wall.
Soil Considerations for Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
Whether you create your own or purchase a commercially made upside down tomato hanger you will want to use good soil. Choose a nutrient-rich soil like potting soil. Since having even moisture is important for keeping your tomato plants healthy, it is a good idea to add a little mulch or peat moss to your top soil before using it. Fertilizer will help to replenish the nutrients that your tomatoes remove from the soil, so fertilize regularly. Since nutrient depletion can occur quickly in areas where tomatoes are grown, replace the soil each year before planting a new tomato plant.
Best Upside Down Tomato Varieties
Some varieties of tomatoes grow better upside down than others. Generally you will find that patio and container varieties of tomatoes work best since these plants can thrive with limited growing space and soil. In general patio varieties and those with small fruit are a great choice. Here are a few varieties to try.
- Tumbling Tom – This tomato plant is a great choice for growing upside down since it is specifically intended for growing in hanging pots and planters. You can find the Tumbling Tom tomatoes in both red and yellow. It will produce fruit in about 70 days.
- Yellow Canary – This plant produces delicious yellow fruit in about 55 days. One reason that this is an ideal choice for growing upside down is that it can produce fruit with slightly less light than other varieties. Hanging your plants upside down can reduce the available light.
Choosing a Location for Upside Down Tomato Planters
Your location will determine the success of your upside down planter. Tomatoes need lots of light, so choose a very sunny area to hang them, that gets at least 8 hours of sun a day. You will also want to choose a location where you will be able to frequently water your plants. The soil should be kept evenly moist. During hot weather you may need to water them daily or even twice daily.
Other Upside Down Tomato Resources
Curbly has some great DIY upside down tomato planter instructions, if you want to do it yourself.
Old Fashioned Living has another do it yourself bucket approach to tomatoes.
The New York Times has covered the entire phenomenon of upside down tomatoes, and it’s a fascinating read.
Wired has a wiki about DIY upside down tomato planters.
How To: Wash Your ‘Dry Clean Only’ Clothes at Home for Cheap
How To: 10 DIY Ways to Repair Nicks & Scratches on Wooden Furniture
How To: 9 Common Household Items That Can Unstick Your Stuck Zipper
How To: 7 DIY Ways to Remove Oil Stains from Your Asphalt Driveway
How To: 9 DIY Ways to Eliminate Static Cling Without Using Dryer Sheets
How To: 4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Unclog Your Kitchen Sink Without Any Nasty Chemicals
How To: 5 DIY Methods for Unclogging a Clogged Toilet Without a Plunger
How To: 9 Ways to Cool Down Your Burning Hot Mouth After Eating Really Spicy Foods
How To: Open a Door Chain Lock or Bar Latch from the Outside
How To: 9 DIY Ways to Painlessly Remove Splinters from Your Skin
How To: 7 Quick Fixes for Squeaky Door Hinges & Creaky Floorboards
How To: 6 Ways to Remove Ghastly Scuff Marks from Shoes Using Common Household Items
How To: 14 Practical Uses for Nail Polish Remover That Have Nothing to Do with Removing Nail Polish
How To: Remove Wrinkles from Clothing Without Ironing
How To: Remove Permanent Marker Stains from Any Surface
How To: Unshrink Jeans & Other Clothes That Shrunk in the Dryer
How To: Make a Cheap, DIY Fog Machine for Your Halloween Party
How To: Make Your Own Temporary Tattoo
Street Art 101: How to Make a Wheatpaste Poster
DIY Eye Makeup Remover: 11 Natural Substitutes You Probably Already Have at Home
Does Growing Tomatoes Upside Down Produce a Good Crop?
Growing tomatoes upside down – does it work? Tomato Dirt received this letter from a reader. We decided to look at the ups and downs of growing upside down planters, so you can decide for yourself.
Dear Tomato Dirt,
What do you think about those bags that grow the tomato plants upside down? “They” (the companies that sell them) say you can get up to 100 tomatoes with one bag. I tried one last year and I had about 3 tomatoes total. Does anyone have any success with them?
Kathy B., South Riding, VA
Before you leave …
Get your free copy of “10 Must-Know Tomato Growing Tips.” This 20-page guide is filled with tips you need to know to have a successful tomato crop, whether you’re a beginning or experienced gardener.
Growing tomatoes upside down: how it works
Upside down tomato planters are a form of container gardening.
The tomato is planted through the bottom hole of the planter, bag, or basket. It grows suspended downwards. The planter or bag hangs from a hook just like any other hanging container.
Some upside down tomato growing systems use bags as the growing container; others use common plastic planters.
You can buy ready-made upside down planters, sold commercially as the Topsy Turvy® Planter, the Upsy Downsy™ Tomato Planter, and the Upside Down Tomato Garden (sold by Hammacher Schlemmer).
You can also make your own simple upside down tomato planter by drilling a hole in a bucket, filling it with potting soil, planting a tomato plant through the bottom, and hanging the planter.
The theory behind growing tomatoes upside down
The brains behind upside down tomato planters claim these containers use gravity as a vertical growing advantage. Water is poured into the top of the bag or planter. Gravity pulls the water and nutrients directly to the roots. Proponents also argue that bag-style versions heat the tomato plant as a greenhouse does, allowing the root system to expand.
Advocates cite these advantages to growing tomatoes upside down.
- Upside down planters save space. People who live in small homes or apartments, as well as those with plenty of yard space, can grow tomatoes in upside down planters, which can be hung in balconies, on porches, and in car ports.
- Upside down planters eliminate the need for staking. Plants hang. There’s no worry that they’ll sprawl on the ground. (Larger, indeterminate tomato varieties grown in upside down planters may need to be trimmed.)
- Upside down planters reduce soil-borne problems. Hanging plants have less to no contact with the soil, which means slugs, other soil-borne pests and soil-borne diseases have less opportunity to act.
- Upside down planters are less work to set up. Planting and maintaining a hanging planter is a lot easier than cultivating and looking after a garden plot – even when you must post brackets or hooks from which to hang them.
- Upside down planters have fewer weeds. Weeds don’t take root in an upside down tomato planter because there is hardly any exposed soil.
- Upside down planters allow for better circulation. Since the tomato plant is suspended, air can move freely around branches, helping prevent fungi and allowing more opportunity for pollination.
- Upside down planters are movable. You can place a planter where it will get direct sunlight. If the forecast is for cold temperatures, you can move the planter inside overnight. If summer days are too long and too hot, you can move it into the shade for awhile.
- Upside down planters eliminate gardening messiness. There’s no need to get on your knees to work the soil. Upside down planters are versatile. Herbs, flowers, and other kinds of vegetables can be grown in an upside down container.
Advocates and opponents alike point to these problems to growing tomatoes upside down.
- Watering. Container tomatoes dry out easily and require frequent (often daily) watering. Some upside down tomato planters have a water retention sponge in the middle of the unit or a reservoir at the top to allay that problem. Nevertheless, gardeners struggle for the right moisture balance in upside down planters, often over-watering (leading to tomato rot, disease, and nutrient deficiencies) or under-watering (leading to stunted growth).
- Water-borne diseases. Gardeners say this, along with keeping plants watered, is the biggest drawback to growing tomatoes upside down. Moisture pours through the bottom of the container, landing on leaves, stems, and fruit, which spreads of diseases like wilt, blight, and other fungi.
- Time. While upside down tomato planters are supposed to save time, caring for them requires constant vigilance.
- Low production. Makers claim an outstanding yield, but gardeners regularly report low fruit production for the effort invested.
- Messiness. Water drips through upside down planters, leaving a mess beneath.
- Limits. Planters only hold one plant – maximum two, if you plant one hanging and one upright in the top of the container. An upside down tomato garden, which is larger and more complex than a simple planter, can accommodate a few more.
- Space. Planters require set up. They need a hook or bracket from which to hang and space in direct sunlight.
- Plant size. Fruit can weigh the plant down, especially if you select a variety with large tomatoes or a variety that normally grows quite tall.
- Plant shape. Tomato plants reportedly turn upward towards the sun in a U-shape to grow, creating balance problems.
- Exposure. Upside down planters can move around a lot in the wind. Excess sunlight dries out soil too fast. If hung off a swing set cross bar or a post, plants and bags are susceptible to squirrels and other wildlife.
If you decide to try growing tomatoes upside down …
- Read the product label to know what you’re getting. Some commercial products include potting soil and seeds. Others do not.
- Plant small seedlings (about 6 inches high) rather than larger ones to avoid excessive root damage during planting.
- Plant a determinate or bush variety so plant does not weigh down planter.
- Choose a planter with a water reservoir or sponge to prevent soil from drying out and roots from baking.
- Add water retention material such as vermiculite to potting mix that so that soil retains water rather than just flushing straight through.
- When using the Topsy Turvy® Planter, place half of a milk jug (holes in the bottom) on the top of the planter and fill it with water to allow slow, steady watering
A comparison of upside down tomato planters …
Growing hanging tomatoes in baskets …
Best tomato varieties to plant in hanging baskets …
Growing tomatoes in pots …
Return from Growing Tomatoes Upside Down to Tomato Dirt home
Have your say about what you just read! Leave a comment in the box below.
The verdict on upside-down tomatoes
Since May, I’ve been conducting a tomato experiment in my backyard. I’ve been growing tomatoes in the ground, in a homemade upside-down planter, and in a commercial upside-down planter called the Topsy Turvy.
The growing season has come to an end. The harvest is in. So, what’s the verdict? Are the TV ads promoting the upside-down planters true? Is it really a better way to grow tomatoes? Here’s what happened in my yard:
May and June: During a late frost, I brought the Topsy Turvy tomatoes inside, while the poor in-ground plants shivered under plastic covers. Our record-breaking cool weather in Minnesota wasn’t the best for tomato-growing, but the upside-down tomato plants grew steadily. The Early Girl sent out timid shoots, then yellow flowers followed quickly by a tiny green tomato. The in-ground Early Girl appeared to be in shock and didn’t grow for weeks.
July: The first tomato of the season came from the Topsy Turvy. The runner-up was a bite-sized fruit from my homemade upside-down planter. But the earthbound plants started catching up and were loaded with promising green fruit. I learned (the hard way) that the upside-down planters need lots of water — a gallon a day — and fertilizer at least once a week.
August: Tomatoes were coming fast and furious from all of the plants. It was easier to pick tomatoes from the plants in the air. However, the Early Girls grown upside-down were smaller than the fruit from the ground. With drought conditions, I watered the garden with a sprinkler every few days, but I had to pour a gallon of water into the upside-down planters every day. Squirrels snatched some of the in-ground fruit, but didn’t manage to get the hanging fruit.
September: Fusarium blight hit the in-ground tomato plants, causing the leaves and branches to turn brown, then eventually killing the plants. The upside-down plants were untouched by blight and still produced fruit, but I was tired of all the watering and fertilizing.
The verdict: There’s no clear winner. The upside-down plants bore fruit earlier, were easier to pick, seemed less likely to get diseased and were relatively squirrel-proof. (I should note that the Topsy Turvy outperformed my homemade version.) However, the fruit grown in the upside-down planters was slightly smaller and a little less tasty. And you really have to baby these plants, watering every day and fertilizing regularly. If you have little or no garden space, plenty of sun and time to nurture, the Topsy Turvy is a good option. But upside-down tomatoes aren’t the hands-down winners.
Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our contests.
My parents always kept a really large garden with raised beds. My dad taught me how to drastically prune the tomato plant and help it support itself with vertical strings. This method can be a bit scary to try at first, but the results are pretty incredible.
You’ll need some kind of support system for the tomato plants. When pruning them this way, they can grow very tall, over six feet high! Here is how my parents had it set up when I was small:
As you can see, we prune most of the branches from down below. Throughout the season we continue to prune off the ‘suckers’ that like to grow in the fork of two branches. We wrap the main stem of the tomato plant gently around the string to help it grow strong and support itself.
Caution: Do not prune off the young leaves near the growing tip, and do not prune off the growing tip, which is called the terminal bud – the plant will die without it!
This is part of the Mittleider Method of gardening, a method my parents used my entire life. Jacob Mittleider was an amazing gardener and taught classes all over the world. His legacy lives on at Food for Everyone where you can purchase his amazing gardening books. To learn more about growing tomatoes vertically, take a look at the Growing Tomatoes book, you can view it online for free here. It explains just how to begin pruning (or pinching) your baby tomato plants as seedlings whether you grow them yourself or purchase them from a nursery.
Benefits of growing tomatoes vertically
- Most of your tomatoes end up a nice, uniform size as they aren’t all squashed together in a big bush of a plant.
- The tomatoes ripen more evenly, with uniform color — great if you’re sharing or selling your produce.
- Traditional methods often leave the bushes sprawling all over the ground which can bruise or damage the fruit.
- The gardener can more quickly see how each plant is doing, take stock of any bug infestations, blossom wilt, or other problems and remedy them.
If I could only grow one crop in containers, I’d choose tomatoes. Homegrown, these colourful little jewels sing with flavour, and taste totally different from the round, flavourless red things with a curiously grainy texture available in supermarkets, also labelled – a bit misleadingly in my opinion – tomatoes. To my mind, there’s more distance between a ripe homegrown tomato and its mass market equivalent than any other container crop.
Given proper love and attention, tomatoes can also be highly productive in containers. Each plant will give you several kilos of bright red, orange, yellow or even black fruits. Grow a few plants and you’ll be eating them everyday from August to mid October. And, unlike some vegetables, it’s hard to find you have too many: I have been known to struggle for culinary inspiration when faced with a glut of runner beans but excess tomatoes never seem to be a problem.
To nurture the generosity of the tomato in containers, you need to remember that it’s a greedy plant. It needs sun, food and water – and does best with lashings of all three. It’s also important to choose the right variety, a decent sized pot, and to stake climbing varieties well.
You really need at least six hours sun a day for most tomatoes to do well. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith
As many small urban spaces are often overshadowed by surrounding buildings, the first thing you need to check is that you have enough sun. You really need at least six hours sun a day for most tomatoes to do well. You might, at a push, get a reasonable yield from a small cherry tomato in just five or six hours sun, but less than that and it gets more unlikely that you’ll see the fruits turn from promising green to luscious, juicy red.
What variety? If you’re growing outdoors in the UK, you’ll get a better harvest in most summers from a cherry variety than a large beefsteak tomato. Also look out for “early ripening” varieties, as these are more likely to be productive in a poor summer, and to fruit before the arrival of the dreaded blight (a nasty fungal infection that decimates tomatoes). You can then choose between bush or vining varieties. Dwarf bush varieties are my choice for hanging baskets or smaller containers. My favourite bush variety for hanging baskets is the aptly named “cherry cascade”.
Vining tomatoes make good use of vertical space by going up. Support them well, using a cane, a tomato cage, or my favourite solution: string. Secure the string to a hook about two metres above the tomato, and wind the string round the tomato as it grows. You’ll need to pinch out the side shoots of vining tomatoes as they grow (if you’ve not done this before, a “how to” video on YouTube can be instructive). Top cherry vining tomatoes varieties for pots include Black Cherry, Gardeners Delight, Sungold, and Blondkopfchen. Grow all four and you’ll have an amazing mix of yellow, red and black tomatoes that will look beautiful together in any bowl.
To help satiate the tomato’s desire for food and water, it’s best to grow all but the smallest varieties in decent sized pots – 10 litres or more. A container with a water reservoir is a good investment for tomatoes. It makes watering easier and you’ll get higher yields.
If you decide to grow tomatoes in a hanging basket, the challenge is watering. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith
If you decide to grow tomatoes in a hanging basket, the challenge is watering. Choose the largest basket you can find, add 15% perlite or biochar to the soil to improve water retention, line the inside of the basket with plastic with holes for drainage, and cover the top with plastic to reduce evaporation. Add an upturned plastic bottle, with a hole drilled in the lid and the bottom cut off. Fill this up each morning and the water will gently drip into the basket during the day.
Tomatoes are best grown in a good quality multipurpose or potting compost. If you have a wormery, mix in 10–15% worm compost to add nutrients and soil life.
Feeding tomatoes regularly is critical for a good yield. At the minimum you need a good liquid tomato feed, high in potassium (K). Any tomato feed from a garden centre will do the job. But if you really want to push the boat out, check out Sea Nymph’s natural seaweed based feed, or BioBizz’s, BioGrow, which has added molasses to feed the microbes in your soil. I also add a 1in (2.5cm) layer of worm compost or manure (from the local city farm) to the top of my tomato containers about half way through the season. They love the extra nutrients and soil life this adds.
Is there a downside to growing tomatoes? Apart from the risk of blight, the biggest one is picking your last tomatoes at the end of the season. You might feel a sense of mourning that it will be eight months before you bite into another tomato which really tastes like a tomato should. But that also serves to make them that much more special when your crop is ready again the next July.
You can get many more tips on how to grow tomatoes successfully in the Vertical Veg Club this month.
Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month’s Live Better Challenge here.
The Live Better Challenge is funded by Unilever; its focus is sustainable living. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.
Why am I planting tomatoes now, at the end of the summer? Because last week, someone stole all my ripe tomatoes. Unfortunately, they also did a fair amount of damage to the plants, so I’m not expecting to get too much more fruit this season.
Because I’m a generous and forgiving person, I only spent a few hours scheming about ways to booby-trap the garden before deciding to take the moral high road. (Also I’m too lazy to install motion sensors, hidden cameras, and high-powered sprayers.)
Instead, I just planted some more tomatoes. I know: in most areas, planting tomatoes in August is crazy talk — fall frosts would kill them before the fruit was ready to harvest. But we don’t really get frost around here, and early autumn tends to be the hottest time of year.
And anyway, I refuse to just give up and accept the end of my personal tomato season.
To train a tomato plant to grow vertically, remove most of the suckers — the new growth between the main stem and side branches.
I usually prune my tomatoes to a single main stem, and train them up strings or ropes instead of trellises. Pruning out the side growth focuses the plant’s energy on the fruit, while eliminating the kind of crowding that leads to mildew.
It also gives the plants a smaller footprint — all their growth is vertical, instead of sprawling all over the place — so even though you may get fewer tomatoes per plant, you’ll get more tomatoes per square foot of garden space. This also means you can fit a lot more varieties of tomatoes into a small garden.
And it’s kind of bad-ass to have a bunch of ten foot tall tomato plants.
First, remove the lower branches — you don’t want leaves or fruit resting on wet soil, or they’ll get mildewy.
Next, pinch out all the “suckers” — the branches that grow from the crotch between the main stem and a side leaf.
If left in place, each sucker will grow its own side branches, fruit, and more suckers.
Use synthetic rope or string; natural materials may break under the weight of an 8-foot-plus tomato plant.
Secure the rope at the base of the tomato plant. I tie mine loosely around the stem; if you prefer, you can tie the rope to a stake or to the side of your planter.
Gently wind the rope around the tomato plant, being careful not to break the growing tips. Every week or so, prune out new suckers and wrap new growth around the rope.
An indeterminate tomato plant will keep growing as long as you let it, so make sure your supports are high enough. I like 8–10 feet, but some people go much taller. Once the plant gets as tall as you want it, pinch out the growing tips to concentrate the plant’s energy into the fruit.
You can hang the ropes from any sturdy structure. Here’s a post on my original string trellis for tomatoes, built from EMT conduit.