I know you've seen them even if only on late night infomercials - those green Topsy Turvy upside-down tomato planters. Some people think they look rather odd, but the fact is there are a number of reasons to grow tomatoes upside down. And while upside-down tomato planters have been a popular space-saving solution for at least a decade, what works for one person may not work for the next.
Here we'll discuss both sides, upside-down tomato pros versus the cons of upside-down tomatoes, and see if the systems are really worth using.
Pros - Reasons to Grow Tomatoes Upside Down
(Amy's viewpoint) As a gardener and one that has been plagued with space issues in the past, I feel there are numerous benefits of growing tomatoes upside down.
- You can have tomatoes with little to no garden space. The most glaringly obvious of upside-down tomato pros is the ability to maximize space. Space is at a premium on our little planet. If you watch television, the astonishing number of shows on tiny houses reinforces that fact. More and more people are living in increasingly smaller spaces. While this means a number of things, for those who like to garden, it means a surfeit of gardening space. The solution has become vertical gardening and growing tomatoes upside down is an excellent example of the method.
- They're flexible. Another benefit to growing tomatoes upside down is mobility. Tomatoes thrive in full sun and some gardeners just don't have sufficient sun in any one area to grow a good crop. Upside down planters can be moved so the plant gets the maximum sun exposure it needs to yield well. They can also be moved if bad weather (i.e. storms) are imminent.
- No staking or cages needed. Upside down tomato planters also do not need staking. Staking is usually required to help the plant support the weight of the growing fruit. Cherry types of tomatoes are recommended for use when growing tomatoes upside down. This smaller fruit does well when grown upside down.
- Pest and diseases are limited. Also, because the plant and fruit does not come into contact with the soil, growing tomatoes upside down reduces the incidence of soil borne issues such as pests and disease. In addition, upside down planters get better air circulation, which eliminates fungi and allows for better pollination.
- Maintenance is a breeze. Lastly, planting tomatoes in an upside-down manner is perfect for folks with limited mobility. It isn't easy to squat and stretch in the garden for some people. A hanging tomato plant eliminates the need to get down on your knees. They are easy to water as well as harvest without bending. Oh, and maybe even one of the best attributes of upside-down tomato growing? No weeds!
Cons - Drawbacks of Upside-Down Tomato Growing
(Bonnie's viewpoint) You've seen them. Those green sack-like planters with a tomato poked into a hole at the bottom. They go up in spring with a brave attempt to grow tomatoes, but if you take a walk, they are abandoned by midsummer. What could be the cause of this?
Gardeners discover that the systems simply don't work adequately. Sure, if you water daily and fertilize frequently, you might get some tomatoes, but most won't ripen well and only the smaller varieties are suitable for suspended growing. What are other drawbacks of upside-down tomato growing? There are concerns regarding plant size and weight, ability to hold moisture, lack of sunlight and a little biological reality that causes strange growth.
- There are weight issues to consider. Upside down planters need to be able to hold the combined weight of the planting medium, the plant itself and its fruit. That is a huge weight and one of the reasons why these planters are more commonly used with cherry or grape tomato varieties. If you want beefsteak tomatoes, you are out of luck, as the system simply won't support such a big plant and fruit.
- They require a lot more water. Another of the disadvantages of growing tomatoes upside down is the exposure of the root ball. It is right at the top, open to drying air and wind and the leaching, dryness of full sun exposure. You need to water that root ball often, sometimes even twice per day in really hot locations. Watering the system must be done slowly to soak the entire growing medium without splashing out all the soil.
- The fruit may become shaded out. Tomatoes need lots of sunshine to ripen properly. In an upside-down container, the bulk of the stems and leaves covers the fruit, preventing bright light from penetrating. The result will be several greenish orange fruits with poor flavor.
- Stems can become stressed. Tomatoes produce hormones called auxins which drive the stem growth. The hormones cause the tips of the branches to turn upward towards the light. In an upside-down scenario, this puts stress on the plant with the heavy fruit forming in a u-shaped branch. Wind or even heavy rain can really damage these already burdened stems.
How Drawbacks of Upside-Down Tomato Growing Compare to Pros
All in all, there are far more benefits to growing tomatoes upside down then any cons. They allow for easy harvest, eliminate soil born pests and disease, and can be moved from place to place. Upside down planters can be made from a variety of low-cost materials and can be reused year after year.
That said, while the idea is very clever, there may still be a need for some improvements to upside-down container gardens. Tomatoes will grow very well right side up without so many issues and their flavor will be much better with open exposure to light. If you have absolutely no space, by all means try the upside-down planters. However, it may be easier and have a better outcome to simply grow them right side up in a container.
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