Why Grow Tomatoes Upside Down?

If you are a novice in growing tomatoes and you approach an experienced vegetable grower for some inspiration, you might be more than a little surprised when he asks you “Why not grow your tomato plants upside down?”

“Upside down? What do you mean?” you are likely to respond in astonishment. “Who on earth would want to grow tomatoes – or anything else for that matter – like that?” Clearly, growing a plant upside down is not something that the uninitiated can easily visualize.

Actually, this method of growing tomatoes is by no means considered unorthodox and has many advantages.

Basically, it involves taking a bucket, pot, basket or similar container, drilling a couple of holes at or near the bottom, filling it with a mixture of soil and compost, and then very carefully inserting a tomato seedling through one of the holes roots first, leaving most of the stem outside, dangling in the air. Thus, you have literally planted your seedling upside down. (In theory, you can plant seeds this way also, but this will require more patience.)

Once this is done, you can hang your container from the ceiling with string or wire. Many people use old paint buckets for this purpose (5 gallons is a popular size). Of, these buckets are not particularly attractive, so growers with an eye on aesthetics may prefer decorative ceramic bowls or pots especially designed for this purpose course.

More on the mechanics of upside down tomato growing in upcoming articles. What I’d like to do here is summarize the many benefits of using this technique rather than the conventional way of growing the right way up. These advantages include:

  • Tomato plants are, in effect, a type of vine. Protruding from firmly anchored roots are stems that burst through the soil in the very early stages and grow longer and longer. Because these stems are soft and pliable, they often need to be supported with stakes as they grow upwards. Allowing these stems to grow freely downwards instead of upwards obviously removes the need for support the stem artificially.
  • Since your plants will be growing in pots or buckets rather than in your garden, this technique is particularly useful wherever space – or the lack of it – is a critical factor.
  • Further, you can take advantage of your plant’s portability to maximize the amount of sunlight it receives. Simply move your pot or adjust its position throughout the day according to the path of the sun across the sky
  • Plants growing high up in the air will be out of the reach of pests that sometimes attack tomato plants growing in the ground. By the same token, they will be isolated from diseases that typically are transmitted from one infected plant to other neighboring ones in the ground.
  • Stunted growth and other problems caused by overcrowding in the ground will be avoided in the case of individual plants hanging with plenty of “breathing space”, and the improved circulation of air should make for healthier plants, which are also likely to ripen faster.