Upside-Down Tomatoes

Upside down container tomatoes can produce better yields than the garden.

Credit: Flickr / kkimpel

Hanging containers for upside down tomatoes allow for lots of air circulation, aiding in pollination and pest control.

Grow a tomato upside down? No, this is not about nestling a tumbler tomato into a hanging basket and letting it spill over the edges; it is literally planting and growing a tomato upside down and allowing it to defy gravity.

I first learned of this from a customer at the nursery who was seeking a strong branching tomato suitable to grow upside down in a container. He explained the project and its benefits, and by the end of the week I was growing six upside-down tomatoes. I was very pleased with their yield and ease of care, as well as their ornamental value and use of otherwise uncultivated space.

Why grow tomatoes upside down

The tomatoes produced well for many reasons. They were hung under an overhang, protecting them from strong summer winds, which can damage stems, and late summer rains, which can bring on blight. Being container plants, they were grown in sterilized soil and were not in contact with garden soil, so the introduction of disease was minimized.

The hanging containers allowed for lots of air circulation, aiding in pollination and pest control. Lastly, watering and fertilizing were easy to control and never touched the plants, only the roots, where the plants need it. The only supplies required are a bucket, a hook from which to hang it, sterilized soil, a drill or other cutting tool, organic fertilizer and a suitable starter tomato; a 5-cm (2-in.) basket stuffer size is best.

What you need to grow upside down tomatoes

When choosing a tomato, look for a compact plant that is determinate (has a fixed mature size). ‘Oregon Spring’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Gold Nugget’, and ‘Tumbler’ will perform fantastically upside down in a container.
1. Find a bucket with a lid and a handle. It can be round or rectangular; I found that my recycled fertilizer bucket, 25 by 35 cm (10 by 14 in.), worked very well. Assemble a bag of sterilized soil for hanging baskets, 250 mL (1 cup) of all-purpose organic fertilizer and your tomato plant.

2. Rinse the bucket, then cut or drill a 5-cm (2-in.) hole in the centre of both the top (usually the lid) and bottom of the bucket. Remove the lid and fill the container 3/4 full with sterilized soil. Blend in 250 mL (1 cup) of fertilizer by hand. Place the lid on the container and hang the bucket in a position with a west or south exposure, preferably with overhang protection.

3. Gently insert the roots of the tomato plant into the hole at the bottom of the bucket. You may have to squeeze and trim the roots a bit; you may even have to reach in from the top, through the soil, to gather the plant in. Once the roots are snuggled in and the greens are hanging out, replace the lid and water through the top hole. Don’t overdo it at first; a litre (quart) is fine. (If you have a plant with a large root system you can put it in opposite by sliding the stems through the hole, just be careful not to break or damage the tomato stem.)

4. Use a basket twirler to easily rotate the plant every week. Water daily or as needed.

5. Apply a liquid 4*2*3 every two weeks, and when you see blossoms, apply liquid or granulated bone meal to add the calcium necessary for fruit development and ward off blossom-end rot. I am sure you will have great success with this project.

TIP: Many plants benefit from extra calcium to help develop their fruit. If you have ever experienced black rot at the end of tomatoes, squash or melons, you may have had blossom end rot, a common sign of insufficient calcium and insufficient soil moisture. Luckily this is easily correctable, and treatment begins at the first sign of blossom development, when it’s important to boost the calcium and moisture.

An efficient way to do both is to use liquid bone meal, following the manufacturer’s recommended rate, and continue to apply it right up until harvest is complete. Be sure to maintain adequate moisture levels as your fruit develops, otherwise the plant cannot access the calcium in the soil. The benefit of liquid bone meal, rather than granules, is that it is immediately available to the plant.

This is a preventative and should be part of your standard fertilizing routine. Don’t wait until you have poor fruit development, as it may be too late to correct the problem. Liquid bone meal is also beneficial at transplanting time, as it helps the roots settle in. Find it at your local garden centre.

Related links:
Watch a video on heritage tomatoes
Growing tomatoes in an apartment
Which tomato is right for you?

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