Tips For Watering Plants Grown Upside Down


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Upside down planting systems are an innovative approach to gardening. These systems, including the well-known Topsy-Turvy planters, are beneficial for people with limited gardening space. What about watering though? Read on to learn how, when, and where to water upside down container plants properly.

Upside Down Watering Issues

While upside down gardening is often used for tomatoes, you can also grow a variety of plants including cucumbers, peppers, and herbs. Upside down gardening offers many benefits too. The planters may be the answer when cutworms or other nasty creatures in the soil are making short work of your plants, when you’re losing the battle against weeds, or when your back is tired of bending, stooping, and digging but watering the containers can be a challenge.

When watering plants grown upside down, it can be difficult to gauge exactly how much water to use. Watering is especially difficult if the container is hanging so high that you can’t see the top. Most gardeners don’t want to drag out a stepstool or ladder for daily watering.

If you’re wondering when to water plants upside down, the answer is every day because containers dry out quickly, especially during hot, dry weather. The problem is that it’s easy to overwater, which can result in root rot and other water-borne diseases.

How to Water an Upside Down Plant

When you’re shopping for an upside down planter, look for a planter with a built-in sponge or water reservoir that keeps the roots cool and prevents the soil from drying out quickly. Adding a lightweight water-retention material, such as perlite or vermiculite, to the potting mix also helps absorb and retain moisture. Water-retentive, polymer crystals also improve water retention.

Some gardeners aren’t sure exactly where to water upside down container plants. The containers are almost always watered from the top so gravity can pull the moisture evenly through the potting mix. The important thing is to water very slowly so the water is evenly absorbed and water trickles through the bottom.

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Read more about General Vegetable Garden Care


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Keeping your plants watered while you are away on vacation can be a hassle, especially for plants in containers or those in the ground that require a lot of moisture. If you can't find a neighbor to give them a daily dousing for you, you might want to try one of the bottle methods. Be sure to test those methods before your vacation to see how long they will keep soil damp in your climate.


Gather Supplies

All of the materials for this project are widely available. You can buy a 5-gallon bucket at a home center, or you can ask for a free bucket at a local bakery or restaurant. You can find oilcloth at fabric or craft stores, or you can opt for a plastic tablecloth from a discount store. Potting soil and fertilizer are available at home improvement centers or garden stores, as are the tomato plants.

Cut a Hole

Use a utility knife to carefully cut a hole in the bucket that is about 2 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have to be neat or exact. Some buckets may have a molded circle on the bottom that you can use as a guide for cutting.

As an option, you can also cut or drill four small holes in the bottom of the bucket for extra drainage, and/or add some small holes in the bucket lid to increase air circulation.

Measure for Decorative Covering

Measure the height of the bucket for the decorative covering, if you are adding one (it's purely optional). Measure straight down from the lip near the top of the bucket to the bottom edge of the bucket. Also, measure the circumference of the bucket by wrapping the tape measure around the outside.

Wrap the Bucket

Cut oilcloth or tablecloth material to fit the bucket, allowing for at least 2 inches of overlap in width. Depending on the type of fabric you are using, you may have to fold down the edges to get a clean look and prevent fraying, but with oilcloth, you can leave the edge raw.

Tape the short edge of the fabric to the side of the bucket with a full-length strip of double-sided waterproof tape. Wrap the fabric tightly around the bucket and secure it at the seam with another strip of tape applied on the underside of the overlapping fabric so the tape is hidden.

Add Ribbon or Raffia

Adorn the edges of the oilcloth with plastic ribbon, twine, or raffia, if desired. This adds a decorative touch and helps secure the cloth along the edges. For added durability, secure the ribbon with small pieces of double-sided tape along its length.

Cover the Hole With Screening

Cut a piece of fiberglass window screening to fit the bottom of the bucket on the inside. The screen helps to keep the plant and soil in the bucket while letting water drain out. Cut the center of the screen like a pie, so there are six small flaps, making the opening at least as big as the bucket's drainage hole. It helps to fold the screen in half to make the first cut. Place the screen into the bottom of the bucket so it lies flat.

Prepare the Tomato Plant

To get your tomato seedling ready for planting, remove it from its pot or cell. If the plant is root-bound, separate the roots or lightly slice them with a knife. Take off any excess soil and remove the bottom few leaves. Moisten the root ball and then squeeze it firmly, which will help it slide into the bottom of your tomato bucket.

Plant the Tomato

Fill the bucket with potting soil. If the soil doesn’t already have fertilizer mixed in, add some now, as directed. The amount of soil you need depends on how you want to start the new plant. There are two approaches for planting an upside-down tomato: planting it right-side-up and letting it grow for a while before hanging it up or planting it upside-down from the start.

Some people like to plant the tomato right-side-up to start with and let it grow until the plant reaches around 12 inches tall. The advantage of this is that the container won’t shade the tomato plant when the sun is overhead. Also, upside-down tomatoes try to grow upward even if they are upside down when you start it right-side-up, the plant won't contort so quickly.

  • Right-side-up method: Fill the bucket to the top with potting soil. Put the lid on securely and turn the bucket over (so the hole is on top). Push your tomato plant down into the soil through the hole in the bucket, up to the first set of sturdy leaves.
  • Upside-down method: Fill the bucket with potting soil up to 3 to 5 inches from the top. Put the lid onto the bucket, then tip the bucket onto its side. Stuff the tomato seedling deeply into the hole in the bucket, up to its first set of sturdy leaves. Pull down the flaps of screening so they lie flat on the soil.

Hang the Planter

Hang your tomato securely from its handle (if you're starting it upside down). Remove the cover on the bucket so that the soil can receive rainfall or irrigation water. Immediately water the bucket until water begins to drain though the bottom hole.

Care for your plant with a few expert tips:

  • Keep soil moist, not soggy. One of the fastest ways to kill a tomato plant is not to give it enough water, but too much moisture is equally damaging. The soil should be consistently damp but not wet. A common problem known as blossom end rot occurs because of uneven calcium absorption, which is caused by fluctuating soil moisture levels.
  • Leave the bucket lid partially on, if desired, to prevent the bucket from getting too heavy in a sudden downpour, while still allowing for air circulation.
  • Feed your tomatoes every week with a diluted liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion. Because containers must be watered frequently, nutrients are depleted quickly. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, which can encourage blossom end rot. A balanced fertilizer works best.


New Ways to Grow Tomatoes

Do you enjoy a ripe, juicy tomato? Many people do. They're delicious, healthy, prolific, and easy to cultivate.

Growing tomatoes is often the impetus to begin vegetable gardening. Let's take a look at some newer ideas and techniques for growing them.

Pop-up Tomato Accelerator

Pop-up accelerators create a warmer, more sheltered growing environment that protects transplants from cold temperatures and wind. This allows them to be set out several weeks earlier than usual and can accelerate growth up to 25%. Release the toggles, the accelerator pops open.

A zippered mesh top allows warm air to escape and prevents overheating. It also lets in water. As the weather warms, unzip the top and leave it open to provide increased ventilation. Loops at the base can be anchored to the ground for stability.

Plant Directly In Bags

You can plant directly into a bag of soil or compost. Lay the bag on its side and use a trowel to make a hole. Carefully knock the tomato plant out of the pot and place it in the planting hole. Gently firm the soil around the plant. Water well. Or simply open the top of the bag and plant.

Planting bags like the one pictured below are available commercially.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders so you will need to fertilize plants growing in bags at least once a week. Choose a fertilizer that has a balanced ratio of the three major elements, like a 10-10-10, or one having a phosphorus number larger than the nitrogen number, such as 2-3-1.

Tomato Halos, Tube Waterers and DIY Dribblers

Mini Grow Houses

Grow houses are available in various sizes. Some have wheels that allow them to be easily moved.


(Above photo mine)

Have an Old Ladder?

Re-purpose it as a support for tomatoes.

Upside-down Planters

You may have heard of the Topsy Turvy, which has been around for over a decade. It was the first tomato planter of its kind. Now there are numerous variations.

An upside-down planter lets gardeners grow tomatoes up off the ground, allowing for the added use of vertical planting space. You can buy a planter or make your own using buckets or pots.

Advantages

  1. Allows for excellent air circulation around the plant.
  2. No staking.
  3. Fewer weeds.
  4. Doesn't take up limited yard space.
  5. Allows you to stand while tending plants and harvesting.
  6. Birds are less likely to peck the fruit because it’s harder for them to perch.

Disadvantages

  1. Upside-down tomatoes need frequent watering, and it can be tricky to determine just how much and how often.
  2. Many gardeners experience lower yields.
  3. You generally need to install some kind of hardware to securely hang these types of planters.

(Above photo mine)

Plant Fresh Tomato Slices

Place slices of your favorite tomato variety on top of potting mix in a pot or other container. Cover with about an inch of soil and pat down. Cover the container with plastic wrap to provide warmth and retain moisture. Within a week, your tomato should start to sprout. Remove the plastic wrap.

When seedlings begin to grow, water the pot and place in a sunny location. After about 2 weeks, transplant to a larger pot or into your garden.

Fertilize twice a month and cut off suckers. Give plants about an inch of water a week, being careful not to water the leaves.

Tomato slice propagation is a new one to me, but really, there are seeds in there, so why not? Of course, there is one thing to keep in mind: your tomatoes might be sterile. So you might get plants by planting tomato slices, but they may never beget fruit. Still, if you have a couple of tomatoes that are going south, instead of throwing them out, a little experiment in tomato slice propagation should be order. How to Grow a Tomato from Sliced Tomato Fruit Growing tomatoes from a tomato slice is a really easy project, and the mystery of what may or may not come from it is part of the fun. You can use romas, beefsteaks, or even cherry tomatoes when planting tomato slices. To begin, fill a pot or container with potting soil, almost to the top of the container. Slice the tomato into ¼ inch thick slices. Lay the tomato slices cut sides down in a circle around the pot, and lightly cover them with more potting soil. Don’t put too many slices in. Three or four slices per gallon pot is enough. Trust me, you are going to get plenty of tomato starts. Water the pot of slicing tomatoes and keep it moist. The seeds should begin to germinate within 7-14 days. You will end up with upwards of 30-50 tomato seedlings. Select the strongest ones and transplant them to another pot in groups of four. After the four have grown a bit, select the 1 or 2 strongest and allow them to grow. Voila, you have tomato plants!

Read more at Gardening Know How: Planting Tomato Slices: Learn How To Grow A Tomato From Sliced Fruit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/tomato/planting-tomato-slices.htm

Tomato slice propagation is a new one to me, but really, there are seeds in there, so why not? Of course, there is one thing to keep in mind: your tomatoes might be sterile. So you might get plants by planting tomato slices, but they may never beget fruit. Still, if you have a couple of tomatoes that are going south, instead of throwing them out, a little experiment in tomato slice propagation should be order. How to Grow a Tomato from Sliced Tomato Fruit Growing tomatoes from a tomato slice is a really easy project, and the mystery of what may or may not come from it is part of the fun. You can use romas, beefsteaks, or even cherry tomatoes when planting tomato slices. To begin, fill a pot or container with potting soil, almost to the top of the container. Slice the tomato into ¼ inch thick slices. Lay the tomato slices cut sides down in a circle around the pot, and lightly cover them with more potting soil. Don’t put too many slices in. Three or four slices per gallon pot is enough. Trust me, you are going to get plenty of tomato starts. Water the pot of slicing tomatoes and keep it moist. The seeds should begin to germinate within 7-14 days. You will end up with upwards of 30-50 tomato seedlings. Select the strongest ones and transplant them to another pot in groups of four. After the four have grown a bit, select the 1 or 2 strongest and allow them to grow. Voila, you have tomato plants!

Read more at Gardening Know How: Planting Tomato Slices: Learn How To Grow A Tomato From Sliced Fruit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/tomato/planting-tomato-slices.htm

Cordon Tomatoes

The cordon growing method refers to training the plant on a single stem tied to a stake and removing all the side shoots as they start to grow. Ample light and regular feeding will promote flowering soon after the 10th true leaf has formed and will continue to produce bloom trusses up the stem. In a greenhouse, you can have as many as six trusses of fruit per plant by September.

Remove the growing tip back to a leaf joint just above the uppermost truss so all the plant’s energy goes into fruit production. In the proper outdoor location, you should get at least three trusses to ripen fully.

Straw Bales

Tomato slice propagation is a new one to me, but really, there are seeds in there, so why not? Of course, there is one thing to keep in mind: your tomatoes might be sterile. So you might get plants by planting tomato slices, but they may never beget fruit. Still, if you have a couple of tomatoes that are going south, instead of throwing them out, a little experiment in tomato slice propagation should be order. How to Grow a Tomato from Sliced Tomato Fruit Growing tomatoes from a tomato slice is a really easy project, and the mystery of what may or may not come from it is part of the fun. You can use romas, beefsteaks, or even cherry tomatoes when planting tomato slices. To begin, fill a pot or container with potting soil, almost to the top of the container. Slice the tomato into ¼ inch thick slices. Lay the tomato slices cut sides down in a circle around the pot, and lightly cover them with more potting soil. Don’t put too many slices in. Three or four slices per gallon pot is enough. Trust me, you are going to get plenty of tomato starts. Water the pot of slicing tomatoes and keep it moist. The seeds should begin to germinate within 7-14 days. You will end up with upwards of 30-50 tomato seedlings. Select the strongest ones and transplant them to another pot in groups of four. After the four have grown a bit, select the 1 or 2 strongest and allow them to grow.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Planting Tomato Slices: Learn How To Grow A Tomato From Sliced Fruit https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/tomato/planting-tomato-slices.htm

Grow Bags

Grow bags are relatively new to the container market. The bags are often made of felt or non-woven, pressed fabrics with small holes in them to allow air to circulate freely. This free air circulation benefits the roots by allowing them to more efficiently absorb nutrients and water.

Tomato Cylinders And Compost Towers

Place a wire cylinder over each tomato plant soon after transplanting and keep all the tomato branches inside the wire framework. The plants will eventually grow over the top of the cylinders and down the outside to make a vine length of about 10 feet. Do not prune any branches. Self-fertilizing cylinders utilize a smaller inside cylinder filled with compost.

Just Outside Your Window

Bring the harvest to you. Plant window boxes that hold at least 1.5 gallons of soil. Make sure they have small holes along the sides or bottom for drainage. Notice what's located directly beneath the boxes before you choose this method.

Simply open your window and pick tomatoes.

Plant care is easy and convenient.

The higher above ground level plants are located, the fewer insect pests tend to find them.

Considerations

Weight is the primary concern. Cultivate cherry tomatoes (either dwarf bush or vines) since the fruit is light and small.

Window boxes always require proper attachment. Don't just sit them on a windowsill. Strong winds can dislodge plants and boxes if they aren’t anchored properly.

Tomato Plants Need Lots of Water

Tomatoes are some of the thirstiest plants you can grow. Water deeply and regularly, especially when the fruits are developing. Irregular watering schedules can lead to rotting, cracking, and splitting so make sure to stay on a schedule.

As a general rule, give your plants an inch or two of water every week. But you may need to provide more during hot, dry times of the year. As the fruits ripen, slowly reduce watering to produce better flavor. However, too little water will damage the plant. Use your best judgment.

When tomato plants take in too much water, especially late in fruit development, fruits grow rapidly and their flavor becomes diluted.


The Best Varieties for Upside Down Tomato Growers

Most any tomato variety can be successfully grown upside down, but you will find that the smaller varieties are better suited for it.

Cherry tomatoes and Grape tomatoes make an excellent choice for upside down growing.

When tomatoes are growing upside down, the shoots and stems are not fighting gravity.

Gravity is actually helping the plants to grow so the stems grow stronger and healthier as a result.

There is improved air circulation around the plant which also encourages growth.

You may also consider using Organic Tomato’s Seeds. Check our selection for??the Best 5 Tomato Organic Seeds: Features and Review : Features and Review.


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