How to Grow Upside Down Tomatoes
by Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
What Type of Tomato Do I Plant?
It is important to choose the right tomato plant. There a two types of tomatoes. A determinate tomato and and indeterminate tomato. The determinate type of tomato grows to set height, fruits and dies. The tomatoes all mature essentially at the same time. This type of tomato matures in about 60-75 days after planting. An indeterminate tomato grows until the first frost. This plant will continue to grow and set fruit all Summer long and into the Fall. This type of tomato also matures in about 60-75 days but the difference is it continues to fruit and grow all season long.
The benefit of this type of tomato is that it won’t get to large. It is a pretty good bet for an upside down tomato container as well as patio containers. The size of the plant is more manageable. The drawback is that the plant sets fruit all at once and then dies.
The benefit of this type of tomato is that you can harvest fruit from it all Summer long. The drawback is that it can get huge and outgrow its container. The biggest problems you will have with upside down tomatoes is maintaining the moisture level of the plant and managing the weight of the mature plant.
What Variety of Tomato Do I Grow?
It doesn’t matter if you grow hybrids, heirlooms, or the standard variety of tomatoes. What matters most is the size of the tomato. If this is your first venture into upside down container gardening I recommend growing a cherry type of tomato or a tomato that grows to 6 ounces or less. I have had the best success with smaller tomatoes. I have attempted to grow 12 ounce fruits and the weight of the plant broke the handle that was holding the container on the beam. That is why I know reinforce the handle. The 12 ounce plants also dried out more quickly. Watering and plant weight are your nemeses.
n. pl. nem·e·ses (-sz)
1. A source of harm or ruin: Uncritical trust is my nemesis.
2. Retributive justice in its execution or outcome: To follow the proposed course of action is to invite nemesis.
3. An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.
4. One that inflicts retribution or vengeance.
5. Nemesis Greek Mythology The goddess of retributive justice or vengeance.
Watering and Plant Weight Problems
The most critical factor in growing an upside down tomato is moisture or watering. I have had fruit crack because of moisture problems and I have had plants develop blossom end root because of moisture problems. Two different problems both related to watering and moisture control. Cracking occurs when watering is inconsistent. The plant dries out and then the soil is soaked. That is the basic scenario that gets repeated and it is the culprit to the problems. The cycle of drying and drenching, causes the plant to quickly suck down water and the fruit cracks. Blossom end rot occurs due to a calcium deficiency. The constant drying of the roots causes problems with the way the plant absorbs nutrients. Blossom end rot is the browning of the bottom of your tomatoes.
Solutions to Watering
The first solution is using a large 5 gallon container. The smaller bags or containers on the market are setting you up for failure in my opinion. The second solution is using moisture control garden soil. I recommend Miracle Grow moisture control garden soil. Not only does it help with moisture but it feeds your plant. You can also use garden soil and add a good amount of peat moss into the mix.
It is pretty simple, the bigger the plant grows and the larger the tomatoes, additional weight is added to your container over time. Bigger plants and larger fruit often require a lot more watering. Water, large plants and large tomatoes can actually break the handle on the 5 gallon bucket.
Solutions to Weight
The solutions are up to you. No matter what I say, if you are like me, you will want to grow the 1 pound tomato in your upside down container. Here are the basic solutions. Grow determinate tomatoes. Grow smaller sized indeterminate tomatoes from cherry size to about 6 ounce fruits. If you want to grow bigger tomatoes, you will have to secure the container for the heavy weight.
Getting Started: The Supplies
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Supplies
You now have an idea of what goes into selecting a tomato plant for an upside down container. You will need to select a sunny location with six or more hours of sunlight. You will need a place to hang the container. You will need to purchase plants, garden soil, containers, hooks, fertilizer and rope. You will need a cutting tool to cut plastic. All these items can be purchased at a large home improvement store.
- A tomato plant
- Two cubic feet of moisture control garden soil (fills two plus containers)
- A five gallon paint bucket with lid (one per tomato plant)
- Sphagnum peat moss if you want to make your own moisture control blend of soil
- A hook to hang the container if it is going under a deck or other structure ( a very secure hook)
- A post of some sort if you are hanging your container elsewhere
- A box of water soluble fertilizer (one box will feed many upside down tomatoes for the entire season)
- Six feet of 3/16 inch rope or strong nylon equivalent (if you are going to grow large weighted tomatoes)
- A two inch blade that can cut a plastic paint bucket (I use a basic two inch kitchen paring knife)
The picture includes three bags of miracle grow garden soil ($3.97 per 1 cubic foot bag) and a bail of sphagnum peat moss ($9.97 for a bail). Rope to create a strong handle. A knife with a short blade for cutting and a five gallon paint bucket. There are enough supplies to make four upside down tomato containers.
Step One: Cut a Hole in the Bottom of the Container
The 5 gallon container can be purchased at any home improvement store. They can be found in the paint section. This container cost $2.97 and the lid that goes with it cost $1.97. The knife I use is a stainless steel kitchen knife.
I grow my tomatoes seedlings/transplants in 8.5 oz Styro-Foam cups. You want to make the hole in the center of the container just a little smaller then the top of a 8.5 oz cup.
When you cut the hole make sure your hand is away from the direction you are pulling the blade of the knife.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: The Hole
You want the hole to be about that size. If it is to large, the soil will fall out. If it is to small, you run the risk of the edge of the hole cutting into the stem of the tomato when the wind blows.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Check the Hole
If you drop the cup into the hole it should look something like this. You don’t need to cut the perfect hole. Just something close to the pictures.
Step Two: Reinforce the Handle
Even if you aren’t going to grow large varieties of tomatoes, you may one day. It is a good idea to reinforce the handle using 3/16 rope. The rope I use cost $4.97 and it is 50 feet. Plenty of rope. Cut a 3 1/2 foot piece of rope or the size you need for your hanger.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Building the Container
Use the point of your knife and poke a hole beneath each end of the handle that is already attached to the container. The rope gets threaded through the holes and you now have a secure way to hang your container. It will hold wet soil, a heavy plant and large tomatoes.
Step Three: Make the Soil and Fill the Bucket
Before you fill the container you will need to turn it over and cover the hole you just cut. I used a cabbage leaf while making this one. You can use a piece of paper.
If you bought moisture control garden soil, just fill the bucket almost to the top and your done. You want to leave about 2 inches of space from the top of the bucket.
If you bought peat moss and basic garden soil, fill the bucket with 2/3 garden soil and 1/3 peat moss. Mix them thoroughly together. Also leave 2 inches of space from the top of the bucket.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Filling the Container
Step Four: Plant the Tomato
Place the lid on your container and flip the bucket. Pull out your cabbage leaf or piece of paper and dig down as far as you can go with your fingers. The reason you left 2 inches or so of space in your bucket is to give yourself some space to plant the tomato to a good depth. You want the tomato plant to be firmly in the container. You should get at least a good 5 inches of root and stem into the container.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Plant the Tomato
Drop the tomato into the hole. Remove any leaves that would be inside the bucket. You only want stem in the container. Tomatoes are vines. Roots will grow out off any part of the stem that is buried. Once the tomato is in the hole, drop more garden soil into the hole. Fill the entire container until the soil around the stem of the tomato is well packed with dirt.
Step Five: Hang Your Upside Down Tomato
I use an old club house to hang my containers. I hang two upside down tomatoes on each beam. You can keep the lid on the container or you can remove it. This year I am not using a lid. I want the rain to get in. You can use a lid and poke several holes into the lid to let the rain in.
|Upside Down Tomatoes: Planted and Hanging
Step Six: Tending to Your Upside Down Tomato
You will have to water your tomato daily once it gets large. Do not let it dry out. Sometimes, at peak size and on hot days, you will have to water you tomatoes two times a day. You should fertilize each plant every two weeks with a gallon of water soluble fertilizer.
I am leaving the lid off my container this year and will be installing a soda bottle slow drip water system. That should help greatly with managing moisture and it will be the subject of an upcoming Knol.
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