1 Gallon Milk carton upside down tomato planter


I wanted to see if (how much) my yields varied by allowing more volume of dirt in my homemade tomato planter, so I made this variation with the same type and size “Husky Cherry” seedling I am using in my 2-liter planter version.

The build for this one is also very simple:

  • I started with an organic milk carton given it was already opaque, but if you have the non-organic variety you will want to paint or cover the outside with duct tape.
  • Next cut or drill a 1/2 inch hole on the bottom of the milk carton, this will be where the stem of the plant will fit through.
  • Cut four slits out from the center of the 1/2 inch hole to make it easier to insert the plant into the planter.
  • Insert plant through the bottom.
  • Fill with soil (mix of 1 part peat moss/coconut coir)
  • Finally drill a hole and feed though eyelet secured with a nut from the back side


Now here is where you can stop or you can go with the advanced auto-watering option.

Materials Needed:

  • 20 ounce water bottle
  • plastic straw
  • sponge

Build Instructions:

  • Drill hole just large enough to barely be able to pull the straw through
  • Cut a 1 inch long piece of sponge just wide enough to be able to slip inside the straw.
  • Fill with water and screw on cap and insert into top of planter


As the dirt dries it will also dry out the sponge which will release water and repeat as necessary.  This works in a very similar concept as a Aqua Globe you may have seen advertised on TV.

15 Responses to “1 Gallon Milk carton upside down tomato planter”

  1. Red Icculus Says:

    The improvised aqua globe is great because the upside-down planters tend to dry out every day when plants are mature. Great ingenuity!

  2. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Though did not have any handy, but I would bet if the straw was a swizel stick you probably could skip the whole sponge part.

  3. Michael Says:

    I don’t think I understand the sponge. What part of the straw is it in? Does it need to be submerged in the soil?

  4. Moe Says:

    Yes, I am lost on the sponge, too. do you drill a hole in the sponge? I don’t see the straw or the sponge in the final product.

  5. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    I probably should include some more pictures on this one. Will add some this weekend. The basic idea with the sponge is for it to be in the soil. As the soil drys so dies the sponge, as the sponge dries more water is released from above. If you have some cotton fabric or string (not nylon) you could feed this through the hole and into the soil and the wicking action will keep the soil moist. The trick with this adding water without pulling the string out of the soil.

  6. Cathy Says:

    What type of sponge do you use, 2 of my bottles are leaking, I’m thinking the sponge is not sturdy enough. I love this idea of using milk cartons as upside down planters and the 2 liter bottle as a watering system!

  7. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    I used a typical household sponge. Is the sponge within the dirt? You might try seeing if you can fit a slightly larger piece of sponge (dry) within the straw.

  8. Brian Says:

    What a great idea! We had a very late start to summer, so I thought I’d try your design. Here are my results:


    Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Allen Says:

    Can you provide more details about the auto watering, ideally with photos? Is there an air hole drilled into the bottom of the bottle? How much of the sponge sticks out of the end of the straw? Do you size the sponge to fit when dry (smaller size) or wet (when you can roll it up and force more in the straw)? Perhaps you could take a photo of the unassembled components. Thank you!

  10. First Tomato 2010 Says:

    […] This is an unfortunately record being the latest I have gotten my first ripe tomato.  In case anyone was wondering this was on the 1 gallon milk carton upside down garden planter. […]

  11. Biddinghuizen Says:

    The improvised aqua globe is great because the upside-down planters tend to dry out every day when plants are mature. Great ingenuity!

  12. Southanding Says:

    You mention at the beginning that you tried different sizes of soil containers to see which would provide the most yield. Which were the best in the end? Was there much of a difference between the 2-liter, one gallon, and five gallon container?

    Did you use only water or some fertilizer or homemade fertilizer?

    Thanks for documenting all your work. Really helpful. I’m just starting now (cuz I live in Chile, where Spring has now sprung and the time for planting maters is upon us).

  13. hroush Says:

    When I saw your 2L upside down planter last year, I said, “why not a 1G?” What I decided on was to take 2 1G jugs, cut off the bottom, put the plant through 1 opening, and duct tape the two jugs together. I just hang it from the upper handle with fishing line and it’s still almost vertical. I did this with a pepper plant and got a couple small peppers before it got too cold.

  14. Matt Says:

    Could I put ground cherries or large tomatoes in these?

  15. How to make your own upside Down Planter In your Garden - The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    […] 1 gallon milk jug (with auto-watering) — I was curious about if the extra 1.799 liters with a larger contain would significantly help yields so I went with this version.  Also decided to add an experimental external watering source.Pros: Larger volume of soil, extra watering capacityCons: Keeping the whole thing balanced was a pain, currently have it under control with a couple rubber band but will probably have to be replaced with something more permanent later. […]

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