Posted on 27 May 2008 by

Upside Down Tomatoes

By Cindy Naas

Recently, I received an email from a friend asking my opinion on growing tomatoes upside down.

Honestly, I didn’t have an opinion at the time, although I did suggest that the person eat a little something with her pinot noir before emailing me next time. However, after doing some research, I had to apologize to my friend.

Upside down tomato growing is becoming a popular way of adding tomatoes to a small garden.

I discovered that some people feel that growing tomatoes upside down will prevent rot and blight by keeping the tomatoes off the ground, and will increase yield, too. I’m not convinced, so I am going to grow one tomato plant upside down and another planted in a traditional pot. By the end of this summer, I should be able to answer this question and have photos to prove it.

The Method

You will need:

  • 1 large bucket- 5 gallon is good
  • potting soil with some manure added
  • a drill or knife for cutting the hole in the bottom

Drill a hole in the center of the bottom of the bucket. The hole should be about 2″ in diameter. Fill the bucket with potting soil mix. Cover with a lid or place a piece of cardboard over to serve as a lid.

Turn the bucket upside down, and plant one tomato seedling through the hole you’ve drilled in the bottom of your bucket. Make sure to plant deeply. Water the entire bucket with a mix of water and organic fertilizer, and hang from a sturdy hook.

As with any hanging basket, this will dry out easily in hot or windy weather, so watering frequently is a must.

The Project

I have planted one tomato in a planter and have one hanging upside down in its bucket. I’m going to take pictures as the season progresses, and I’ll also be logging all of the tomatoes produced by both plants. I’m excited to see if this new growing method actually works.

I’ll be posting pictures and more details as the plants grow.

[ For more tomato growing tips and ideas, be sure to visit our sister site, Tomato Casual ]

129 Responses to “Upside Down Tomatoes”

  1. Daddio Says:

    Wow! I should have checked my spelling before I sent that last message out.

  2. TLP gardener Says:

    My hanging plants are doing well so far, but I live in Illinois and have a very shaded acre of ground with 10 one hundred year old Oaks. They steal all of the sunshine and nutrients from the soil, thus no ground planting. I have just this week seen small tomatoes forming. Am I on schedule or will I end up buying tomotoes from my neighbor again?

  3. TLP gardener Says:

    type too fast… tomato if I can spell it how can I expect to grow them???

  4. Daddio Says:

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Disaster! We had a sudden tornadic type wind blow (gusts to 60) just out of nowhere. I was standing at the kitchen window washing dishes when I heard the wind coming. I was sure it was a tornado when it hit hard and all of the trees just bent sideways. The neighbors peach tree blew right over (no over the fence peaches this year). Then I watched in horror as the shepherd hooks I had bound together just bent right over until the buckets hit the ground. The plants hit directly on the patio with the full force of the heavy buckets falling directly on them. I had watered just a bit earlier and the combined weight and heavy winds was just too much. Of course it was my favorite and best growing plant that broke right off at the bottom of the bucket where the plant came out. A smaller plant that was growing in that bucket survived so it’s not a total loss. The other plant that hit was one of the “bush” varieties that was in a little clump and so far it looks like it might be okay. I took the other 2 plants off of the other shepherd hooks and hung all 4 buckets on a dog run wire cable that is about 10 feet off the ground. So now the plants are up higher, but they aren’t in a place where they will be getting the best sun. I sure ope they all keep growing.

    So someone had asked about using shepherd hooks and wondering if they would hold up to a wind. I told them that I had tied 2 hooks together with heavy copper wire and after a pretty windy storm I was sure they would hold up to anything. Well now I have to say that isn’t the case anymore. Those hooks just can’t take the weight. A 5 gallon bucket that is filled with about 2/3 of dirt and then watered weighs around 50 pounds. The hooks just can’t hld the weight.

  5. c.j. Says:

    I have used a commercial “topsy-turvy” set-up for 3 years and have found the results disappointing when compared with my in-ground and normal container-grown tomatoes.

    Although this is a purely subjective observation, I think these things are also UGLY.

    It DOES have advantages in areas where varmints are a problem. While I had to devise protection for my in-ground and container tomatoes, the raccoons didn’t or couldn’t get to the topsy-turvy rig.

    If production is an issue, my preference is the “Earth Box”-“Grow Box”-etc. self-watering container approach. I have been using both Earth boxes and Grow Boxes, as well as some homemade units (which aren’t worth it unless you have a lot of food grade plastic materials lying around) for 5 years now. The production rivals that of my in-ground plants with far less work, greater convenience, and a lower water requirement. The footprint is small and they aren’t unattractive.


  6. Daddio Says:

    Yes those topsy turvy things are atrociously ugly. I wonder if they got a huge deal on that ugly material or if they did that on purpose. If it was on purpose then someone at topsy turvy is a total fool. lastic buckets are pretty easy to come by if there is a Burger King near by. They used to give them up for free but now they charge about $2.50. They are food grade so there’s no problem there. I’m about to give up on the whole idea because for the third year in a row, and after trying 12 varieties of tomato, the yield is never as good as my in the ground plants. The only plant that has grown exceptionally well is called “Lemon Boy”. It has grown like crazy, but is light on the fruit. I’m dieing to try the yellow tomato to see if it tastes as good as the good ole red ones. Once again I will say that anyone thinking about growing tomatoes this way should steer clear of any “Bush” varieties as they just don’t grow any larger than 6-8 inches, and don’t grow out or down from under the bucket.

  7. R E LEE Says:

    Ahhhhhhhhhh, like me, there are some statisticians on this blog. Did you know that many psychological theories have been based on an N = 1 rather an N >= 30? Anyway, back to upside down tomatoes, some (n > 3) of my neighbors have them, and their plants/tomatoes don’t come close to the advertised pictures. I’ll continue to grow them the traditional way.

  8. Cindy Says:

    R E Lee, there is always room for one more statistician!

    So far this season, my upside down plants got a lot of foliage and have set far fewer fruits than my tomatoes in-ground. Since I now have all the room I need, I’m ready to give up on the upside-down tomatoes. I think.

  9. Lynn Says:

    I bought a topsy turvey for my gardener husband this year. Although he appeared very skeptical, he tried it. We grew Big Boy plant and have kept it well moistened, watering at least once every other day, every day on these really HOT ones like today. The tomatoes are beautiful, great shape, large, juicy, bug free, and great taste. So far, we’ve gotten 16 tomatoes from this one plant. It’s starting to yellow out, and we’ve just snipped those leaves off the plant and it’s actually starting to put out a set of new flowers. Hubby was so pleased, he too figured out a way to do this without buying the hanger. We have 5 cats, needless to say, we go through a lot of litter during the year…so hubby is just saving all those litter buckets down in the basement until next year, when he plans on having the majority of his tomatoe crop hanging upside down.

    When the bucket wears out, just replace with a new cat litter bucket. Don’t forget to use lots of nutrients through the season. We started our plant out in rich home-grown compost, and have added to it through the summer with a little liquid plant food from time to time. Try this…it really works!! I love the idea of planting flowers or herbs on the “up” side of the bucket…great idea, i’ll have to try that next year too.

  10. sam87108 Says:

    I have used 5 topsy-turvy planters this year and accomplished watering via drip irrigation. The trial worked very well. The plants are medium in size with excellent production, the fruit ripening two weeks earlier than their potted counterparts. The varieties used were a standard Roma and Abe Lincoln heirlooms. Each plant has so far produced close to if not more than 30 tomatoes each. The plants need watering twice daily. I also used Botanicare problend growth and blossom formulas. This company provides nutrients for hydroponics as well as soil plants. Excellent results. I have used these products for three years now. You can get virus and fungi, if you don’t take care not to work on the potted plants as well as the hanging plants.

  11. Frank Csorba Says:

    Mine haven’t done quite as well. I have a lot of yellowed stems that eventually dry out and fall off. I suspect it may have dried out. Still I got a lot of tomatoes, and unlike the ones I planted in the garden, they did not get the blight. Anyway I am thinking of extending the growing season by bagging them with clear plastic garbage bags to make individual greenhouses for them. Since I can’t regulate the temperature, I am just going to cut open the bottom of the bags. It should survive several frosts this way, since heat rises, even with the bottoms open, they should retain enough heat.

  12. Judy B Says:

    It would be helpful to know from which part of the country/world you are located in when you post a comment. For example, I am in Arizona and I pretty much had to dump my plants the beginning of June because it got to hot for the fruit to set and my husband wouldn’t water them when I went out of town. Now that the nights are cooling down, I’m thinking about setting out some new plants. I don’t have to worry about frost but I have other issues since I live on the face of the sun.

  13. Jack in Ann Arbor Says:

    At the risk of meddling, Judy B, I think it’s time to find yourself a decent husband. How difficult could it be for him to get his lazy ass out to the patio with a watering can? And tomatoes love heat. You might give them a little half-shade to get past the worst of the day, but refer to my previous note: tomatoes love heat. Try growing them in cages in 5-gallon paint pails from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Set up a trickle irrigation system so you don’t have to deal with hubby at all. Worked for us, despite the crappy summer (in Michigan). Here’s a page that deals specifically with growing tomatoes in Arizona.

  14. Daddio Says:

    Well it has been snowing here in Colorado Springs the last 2 days so the season draws close to an end. Over all I would say that I had pretty good success with the 4 buckets I grew this year. As I sid earlier, I made a big mistake by planting 2 of the buckets with “Bush” variety plants and they just don’t work as a hanging plant. They want to remain bushy and will not hang below the bucket very far. I had one that grew about 15 inches down and the other that went 20 inches. One had a couple of large clusters of tomatoes late in the season and only about 6 were red. If the season was a little longer I might have maybe 20-25 tomatoes from it because it’s loaded with greenies right now. The other maybe only had 8 tomatoes all season. The third plant was called “Lemon Boy” and it grew like mad. It went 6-7 feet down and was really full of tomatoes. They are yellow when ripe and the flavor is excellent. They are tart and have a sour bite as well. Very good. The 4th plant was one of the ones that broke off during a storm at the end of June. One stem broke completely off and the other bent. I thought it was a goner. It did real well though and grw about 5-6 feet long and was full of tomatoes. There were some very large tomatoes too.

    I have to say one thing about the bucket plants that left me pretty upset. To me, the best part of home grown tomatoes is the acid bite the tomatoes have. The bucket plants were missing that acid bite though. The tomatoes were big and juicy, but basically tasted very bland. Compared to the ground plants that had the acid bite and an excellent flavor, the bucket plants were dissappointingly drab and tasteless. My ground plants produced at a rate of 3:1 over the bucket plants. The Lemon Boys did have the acidy flavor but the other 3 plants didn’t. All of the ground plants were delicious and the tomatoes were much more lentiful. So after two years of trying this method out, I am going to label the experiment as a failure. Yes the plants grew, yes the plants were disease and bug free, but so were my ground plants so no big advantage. It was a pain in the ass to have to water the buckets at least once a day and twice a day during the hotter weather. The largest plant (Lemon Boy) would wilt until it looked totally dead every day until about 30 minutes after I had watered it. That’s way too much trouble to put into tomatoes. Next year I’m back to 12 ground plants and a lot more tomatoes. My entire family depends upon my garden to produce BLT Night at least once a week.

  15. Judy B Says:

    To Jack in Ann Arbor

    Your comments really made me laugh this morning. Failure to water the tomatoes might be grounds for a divorce, but he didn’t kill any of the other plants or the cats, so I guess I’ll keep him. Thanks for the tips on growing tomatoes in Arizona too. One of the main problems we have out here is that it gets too hot for the plants to set fruit during the summer. My dad used to cover them with a white sheet from late May to late September and we’d get a second crop right before Thanksgiving. That’s why I’m going to try planting new plants this weekend.

  16. Charles Queensland Says:

    I am currently trying a Topsy Turvey. Everything has been going fine except recently the stems coming out the bottom have gone ‘brown’. Looks a little like bark. Can’t be good as the flowers are getting to the fruiting stage.I also have some toms growing the right way up and they seem fine. Remember I’m in the southern hemisphere.

  17. David Says:

    The biggest threat to my heirloom tomatoes here in N.E. FLA. is tomatohorn caterpillars. The eggs are deposited by a large moth, almost the size of a small hummingbird.

    I used to have my third crop of some 20 tomatoes coming in now, Dec 19th, from my otherwise very healthy and large ‘tomato bush’, but they have been attacked and have had holes eaten in them, mostly as very small green tomatoes, by these caterpillars.

    I was thinking, that doing the upside down thing, would offer no protection from the mother moth laying her eggs, would it?

    In fact, about the only organic protection I’ve read might work, is planting your tomatoes alongside with marigolds.

    Obviously having a tomato plant hanging 5 or more feet above the ground, would present a problem for having marigolds alongside. Upside down marigolds??

    Tell me what you think

  18. Jack Etsweiler Says:

    I believe bT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) is considered organic. Once the worm eats anything that has been treated with it, the bacillus eats away at the worm’s digestive system and that’s that. No worm, no moth, no eggs, no problem.

  19. SharleneT Says:

    I did the TopsyTurvy planting for tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers, last year. The yield was all right but nothing to write home about. The biggest plus was no bugs on the squash and cucumbers. It was hard to figure out the tomato yield because it was just a bad year for tomatoes for everyone in NC last year. But, I had enough to for salads, main meals, and canning. Still like the ground tomatoes and veggies, though. Watering became a fulltime job.

    Congratulations on your Sunshing Blog Award from Terria at Daily Good. So glad she’s introduced me to your blog. Hope you’ll come visit me when you get a moment.

  20. John Dutton Says:

    I have a problem with deer in my part of south Eugene Oregon. So I decided to give this hanging method a try. The cherry and plum tomatoes did the best, but I was only using gallon milk jugs and a drip line to water. The gallon jugs are ugly but boy did I get a crop of tomatoes. I ate the last one in March, a world record here in Oregon.

  21. Dave Mowers Says:

    There is a fellow in Wilmington NC named Donnie Nelson that has full-size tomatoes plants growing upside down for the last ten years. You can grow any size plant upside down, the plant’s branches become stronger over time and the yield becomes bigger. Donnie’s plants are so thick you cannot break them with your hands.

  22. The Prudent Wife » Blog Archive » Growing Tomatoes on the Cheap! Says:

    […] Urban Garden Casual has some ideas too! […]

  23. Michele Says:

    I decided to try a small salsa garden this year, motivated by the fact that I received a Topsy Turvy planter as a gift from my parents. That tiny garden has blossomed into three raised beds hosting tomatoes, marigolds, tomatillos, jalapenos, onions, garlic, watermelon, pumpkins, sunflowers and peas (also had some herbs, but the Las Vegas sun killed them all).

    Among the tomatoes, I have one each Early Girl, Cherry and Grape growing in a raised bed, plus a Topsy Turvy planted with a Mortgage Lifter plant. All tomatoes except the grape were planted in February, and the Early Girl and Cherry have multiple fruits (some of which are ripening as I write), but the Mortgage Lifter has yet to produce one fruit, though it has had multiple blooms and I’ve used the blossom set spray.

    The three most immediate problems I have discovered with the TT are:

    1. Watering – I was on the same schedule for the TT as I was for the raised beds (every 3 days or so), so it was totally dehydrated until I started watering once a day (just recently).

    2. Fertilizer – After reading Daddio’s comments, I realize that fertilizing every 2 months or so was too little, too late. So I have stepped that up as well.

    3. Variety – While the plant has grown big and strong (much quicker than my raised-bed plants), and even started blooming first, it never set any fruit. This is probably a blessing, because I now realize that the 1-3 lb fruits that this plant is capable of producing would be far too heavy for the TT. The plant is also on a super heavy-duty sheperd’s hook in the corner of my tiny little urban yard, so the walls protect it some from the wind and sun, but it is VERY heavy.

    Also, I caught a caterpillar in the garden a few weeks ago, after holes started appearing in my tomato, sweet potato and Topsy Turvy tomato plant leaves, so it isn’t impervious to ALL pests.

    Despite the TT’s apparent failure, I remain optimistic. I trimmed back the sucker branches and a new set of blooms has emerged. If I get at least one tomato from this plant, I will be overjoyed. If not, at least I have a bushel of other tomatoes, peppers, melons and peas to console me.

  24. Mamma Blogga Says:

    This is my second year using upside down planters. Last year I only tried my own using empty cat litter buckets. Although they seemed to work well I found that the stem of the tomatoes was tending to rot. It wasn’t until my Mom gave me her two Topsy Turvy units (she is no longer gardening) that I discovered that the T/T hangers had additional holes in the bottom outer ring, allowing better drainage.

    This year I added the extra holes to my litter buckets and they are doing just wonderful in comparison to last year. Due to excess shade, I also did not plant my traditional garden and opted to plant everything in litter buckets on my patio. They all have added drain holes, both at the bottom and at the top where the mulch is so they can shed heavy rains without drowning.

    I keep my site updated with photos showing the results at for anyone interested in seeing them. So far the patio pots with tomatoes and green peppers are showing signs of growing a bigger harvest than the hanging planters. I have no weed or bug problems since I added perforated black plastic under the two inches of free mulch compliments of our local public works department that mulches up trees that are removed. I will be giving the excess away to our local food pantry which just started their very own community garden.

  25. Wetterman Says:

    I read on someones post that they sock chunks of wood until they are water logged and then put them in the container. They always have a couple soaking and change them out every few days.

    I am not sure if it will wok but plan on experimenting with it in the spring.

  26. Karen Says:

    I have 2 Topsy Turvy Planters w/2 store bought plants in them. I live in New England & planted them around the middle of June. They are growing -but taking a longer time to grow than I thought.I water a lot-& it’s been really hot steadily for weeks the last 2 months-with hardly any rain. The last 2 weeks we’ve had several long rains & downpours & a few short showers.I have 2 tomatoes Med. sized & 1 Sm. (green-still, ) & the other one has none on it yet. I forgot about adding vinegar. Don’t forget to give some sugar to your plants every week once they start to change color. Makes them sweet & juicy.Also put some seeds in a large upright container in mid-July,with some Merigolds. The plants look like thin stalks & are only about 6-8 in. tall & the flowers never grew at all. I’ve feed these & all of my other plants w/Osmocote pellets for indoor & outdoor plants, Feed All w/Fish emulsion & also Thrive, all a few weeks apart -alternating them between the weeks & I also used organic soil & these are still the results! I don’t know what’s wrong-but I will try the vinegar. Lot of great stuff on this site .Thanks for being here. : )

  27. linda m Says:

    I tried the topsy turvy last year, I also planted 2 plants in my window box on my terrace, in the Bronx, NY. I grew 0 tomatoes with the topsy turvy and got about 4 or 5 small tomatoes from my window box. Don’t waste your time with THE TOPSY TURVY. The old fashioned way works much better. This year I picked up some tomatoe planst from South Carolina while on vacation. Looks like this might be my biggest crop ever. I planted them in late may I already see 5 little tomatoes showing already. I hope they get really big or at least a nice size, I can’t wait. They are Marion tomatoes, anyone ever hear of them?

  28. Paul @ 5 Gallon Water Says:

    I can’t say that I have much experience growing tomatoes, but my father and his parents all grew up on farms, and I will have to run this “upside down tomatoes” thing by them and see what they know about it.

  29. Tomato Upside Down 5 Gallon Bucket Gardening Says:

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