I have years of experience growing my own food in my garden, and I hope these tips help you to do so as well.
Topsy Turvy Tomato Planters: Truth vs. Hype
Each year, gardeners are bombarded by a new set of TV ads for "upside-down tomato planters," but do products such as "Topsy Turvy" really work? At first glance, you might think there's something seriously wrong with trying to grow tomatoes upside down, but there are some advantages to this method, as well as some disadvantages that I'll discuss later. My wife and I planted tomatoes both the old-fashioned way and in hanging tomato planters last year and had varying results.
Do Hanging Planters Work?
The makers of Topsy Turvy and other hanging tomato planters claim that their product works by allowing gravity to accelerate the delivery of water and nutrients to the plants. There may be some truth to this principle, as we saw from our results. The plants that we put in the upside-down, hanging tomato planters did seem to grow faster at first and did bear much larger tomatoes—at first.
The second advantage of upside-down tomato planters, as claimed by the manufacturers, is that the plastic hanging bag acts as a "mini greenhouse," heating and stimulating the roots inside for incredible growth. This seems to be true, and it may or may not be an advantage, depending on what your normal climate is.
We live in Central Texas, where it can get terribly hot, even during spring when we plant our garden. As summer wore on, the plants hanging in the Topsy Turvy planters required water almost every single day. The plastic bags didn't seem to hold soil moisture as well as traditional planters. (We planted tomatoes in our garden in soil, in pots, and in hanging tomato planters).
We harvested our best tomatoes from the garden until disaster struck. At that point, the hanging tomato planters actually proved their worth.
Upside-Down Planters vs. Tomato Blight
Around late spring, our garden and potted tomato plants were struck with a mysterious disease that caused gray spots on the tomatoes and also caused the fruit to wither and fall off. Later, we learned that almost every gardener in the region was hit by this same mysterious disease, even going so far as to cause a shortage of tomatoes at the local farmer's market.
The cause of tomato crop failure in our part of Texas was the same disease that caused the great potato famine in Ireland many years ago. It is called "late blight," and it's almost always fatal to most varieties of tomatoes, even those that are claimed to be bred for "fungal resistance." In addition to killing your tomatoes, this disease can remain in the soil for many years.
The Topsy Turvy Planters Mostly Avoided the Blight
For some reason, most the tomatoes planted in the upside-down tomato planters did not suffer from late blight disease. One hanging tomato planter did contract late blight, and we promptly removed it and disposed of the soil from it in a hole in the backyard.
We were later told by our county extension agent that late blight can remain in the soil for years and to not plant any new gardens where we had disposed of the diseased plants. Because late blight fungus is probably still in our garden soil, we'll probably plant our tomatoes in upside-down planters and in containers for the next few seasons.
How to Solve Watering Problems for Hanging Planters in Hot Climates
As we prepare for this year's garden, we're planning on installing a drip irrigation system on a timer that will water our potted and upside-down tomato plants automatically each day. In addition, we plan on placing a two-foot piece of bamboo shade material around the hanging tomato planters. This should solve the problem of the upside-down planter bag drying out so fast.
DIY Planter Options
I'm also considering making my own upside-down tomato planter from instructions that we found on YouTube to save some money. Many people have reported success with upside-down tomato planters that they've made from five-gallon buckets, and that's the system we're going to try next.
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If you have a lot of old plastic five-gallon buckets, this might be an economical way to make your own hanging tomato planters; however, be sure to use only containers that were used for food-grade ingredients, since dangerous chemicals may remain in the plastic. Never use any five-gallon bucket for an upside-down tomato planter that was once used for paint, insecticide, oil, etc.
These Planters Work, Though They Have Drawbacks
In our case, we found that upside-down tomato planters do work, as long as you keep the soil inside the bag well-watered. It would be nice if there was some kind of easy way to check the moisture of soil inside the bags. Another downside to the bags is at the end of the summer you could tell that they were beginning to degrade from all the UV rays, which made me wonder what chemicals were being leached into the soil that grew the tomatoes we were eating.
Upside-down tomato planters really do seem to help plants resist fungal diseases such as late blight, and if you do get it, you don't have to abandon an entire garden area.
Do They Work for Every Tomato Variety?
You may find that some varieties of tomatoes don't do that well in upside-down systems, since branches of some varieties tend to curve upward and break at the "elbows," which are created where the stem turns skyward. We found that "Better Boy" and "Celebrity" varieties did well in hanging tomato planters, as did most varieties of cherry tomatoes.
Give Them a Try in Your Garden
If you want to try a new way of growing tomatoes, the upside-down tomato planters as seen on TV work well enough. If you're a handy type person and want to save a few bucks, you might want to try the five-gallon bucket method of upside-down tomato growing that you can find on YouTube. Five-gallon buckets are made out of a denser type of plastic and should not decompose as fast as the plastic bags used by most upside-down tomato growing systems.
Update: We tried the method of using old five-gallons bucket for upside-down tomato planters, and so far they are growing nicely. We used material from old pantyhose to keep the soil from falling out around the hole. So far, it's working very well.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Nolen Hart
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 08, 2021:
I always wondered if these upside-down methods of growing tomatoes worked. Thanks for your review and advice.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on March 07, 2021:
Good to know. I suppose it can save some space too, not having pots sitting on the ground. I only do cherry tomatoes and for the last two years they've been reaching like 8-9 feet in height, so I'd have to have that bucket like ten feet high, if I were to suspend my cherry tomatoes up-side-down. Haha ... I just thought about the bucket dropping on my head lol Anything's possible with me.
Sorry to hear about the diseased plants. I never knew what the disease was but when I looked-up photos, I can now say that my tomatoes had it one year. I think it was two years ago but the thing is, they got it a little late in the summer and by the time it killed off all the leaves, it was already autumn and I already had tomatoes all summer long anyway. Well, good thing I read this piece, at least I know what that drying-off of the leaves was lol
Thanks and good luck with your garden!