Every time my daughter sees the upside down tomato planter (Topsy Turvy) commercial on TV she asks when we can grow tomatoes upside down. I am definitely not one to pay $15 to $20 to buy one of these things in the store when I could have the fun of making my own for much less money.
Though this has been commercialized recently, the concept growing plants upside down is not a new one. Many people have been growing plants like tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets or hanging baskets for decades. Not having any spare bucket or hanging basket to sacrifice I went with my daughters suggestion and used a 2 liter bottle.
Materials required for you upside down tomato planter
- Empty 2-liter bottle
- Eye bolt with washer
- Duct tape, contact paper, or spray paint
- Drill or hot nail
Step 1 — Create access hole
Make a hole on the side of bottle, this has two purposes: it allows adding soil much easier and also provides an convenient way to water your plant. I used a 2-inch hole cutter, though you may also carefully cut a hole with a knife.
Step 2 — Add the hanger
By design 2-liter bottles are extra thick in on the bottom immediate center which will make a perfect place to hang it. I used a drill of the same diameter as the eye bolt. This allowed me to thread the bolt right into the bottle, which was pretty strong it itself. Though expecting a great harvest, I also added a bolt to prevent the discovery of my plant on the ground after having a hard fall.
Step 3 — Covering your planter
Roots can be damaged if exposed to light for long periods of time so you need to cover your planter. You should consider color depending on where you live. In colder regions a darker color will help keep the soil warm on cool mornings, though in hotter climates a dark color could fry the plant. I would recommend a medium to light green color for moderate heat absorption and little more aesthetically pleasing in the garden. Not having any paint I used good ole duct tape. Wrapping around the entire bottle (even covering the access hole.
I then cut an X through the access hole and bent the corners in to soften the rough edges caused by cutting the hole.
Step 4 — Decorate (optional unless you have kids)
We used permanent markers to personalize both of my daughters upside down tomato planters.
This completes the construction of your upside down tomato planter. I will admit the first design flaw of this planter is its size. It will be fine for root growth but it can dry out very quickly. In response to this water retention was my primary concern when deciding on medium to fill the planters with.
I chose 2 parts (peat moss or coconut coir okay substitutes) , 1 part perlite, and 1 part Groden granulates. WonderSoil it contains coconut coir which retains water well but also contains water retaining polymers. The perlite and Groden granulates both provide water retaining properties an allow for proper aeration for easy unrestricted root growth.
To give the plants a good head start I also mixed in a couple of tablespoons of bone meal and tablespoon of balanced organic fertilizer. Add some water until the mix has the consistency of a wrung out sponge .
Lastly I used my tomato plants from my hydroponic experiment and carefully fed the roots into the now bottom opening of the bottle. We then added our soil mix until it reached the bottom of the access hole. Given the plants had a well established root system just the friction and weight of the soil is enough to keep the plant from falling out
Even though the medium retains water well the plants should be watered every day to the point until some water comes out the bottom. Within 24 hours we can already see the leaves turning over to face the sun.
You can also try other heat loving plants such as peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. So if you every wanted to try growing plants upside down with the directions above you can have your own for less than $0.50.
If you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing there is always the commercial option, this one from Gardener’s Supply seems much more sturdy than the ones I have seen on TV:
It has finally started to get a little warmer at night in my garden so seems like a good time for a little update on the upside down tomato planter. I wish I could give a direct comparison of the growth of these plants with plants a planted at the same time in the ground though unfortunately we had a light freeze that killed them off. Interesting enough both plants in the upside down tomato planter survived and even are showing some small blossoms.
Now as part of my pepper planting experiment, I also put a pepper plant in an upside down tomato planter with much less exciting success. Just to test if my super paranoid water retention worries had any backing I simply filled this one with regular potting mix. And the plant dried out very quickly which shows in the following results.