Small Space Gardening: How To Make Inverted Hanging Tomato Planters Out Of Plastic Water Jugs

April 15th, 2013 - filed under: The Farm » Flora

Boy howdy, this project. This project! I heart it, is what I mean to say. Because it combines so many of my favorite things, like reusing/upcycling, and small-scale gardening, and inventive solutions to common problems, and also tomatoes. And twine! I love twine.

Tomatoes are so, so much fun to grow, because there’s a huge yield and wow, if you’ve never tasted a sun-warm tomato right off the vine, then get thee to a farm STAT. But the thing about tomatoes is that they can take up a lot of space, and they require trellising, which can be messy and/or expensive.

Enter ingenuity.

I’d seen hanging tomato set-ups around Portland, and I’d always wanted to try it. The idea is simple – you suspend the plant up high, upside down, so that instead of needing to spread up and out, you let gravity take care of everything. No trellising necessary!

And it makes use of the water jugs I had to buy when I first moved back to SB, because the tap water here ohmigod . . . well, let’s not even go there. So! Starting with gallon-sized jugs, remove the labels (you could also paint these puppies to make ‘em even prettier) and then use a pair of scissors to carefully cut off the bottoms.

In order too thread with twine, you’ll need to make a hole in each of the four sides, about an inch or so down from the now-missing bottom. I did this by hammering a nail to start the hole, and then using one side of my scissors to widen the hole.

Thread the twine through so that you have four loops of equal length, to evenly distribute the wight of the container.

Now comes the hard part.

You’ll need to slip your tomato start, leaves and all, through the very small mouth of the water jug. It’s pretty awkward, and I suggest using smaller starts than I did. Regardless, you should be able to make it work with minimal damage. I broke a few leaves but mostly my tomatoes faired okay.

Once they’re in, fill the rest of the jug with organic potting soil. Hang ‘em up and water ‘em good!

I’m so excited to see how this project unfolds! I know they’ll need extra watering since there’s no “ground” around them to protect them from drying. My biggest concern, though, is the size of the containers – and the roots having enough room to spread. We’ll see how that plays out. I know my potato tire tower project took a few years to iron out, but in the end it was awesome. I have high hopes for this one as well.

I’ll keep you all posted!

  • Lara

    How smart! I hope it works!!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Love this! I’m attempting hanging squash planters this season for the first time – I will thwart the squash borers that have plagued my life for the past five summers, oh yes I will!

  • Deirdre

    my favorite kind of clever.

  • Somer Vedge

    I can’t wait to borrow this idea! I can’t plant a garden in the ground yet because my vegan dog would eat everything in site!

  • Linda Everman

    I am just thinking that loosely tying the leafy tops to a dowel and guide it down through the hole. Once it is through, cut off the twine and pull out the dowel.

  • delightfulisle

    Love this idea! But I’m concerned about BPA from the plastic leaching into the soil from being in the sun, then the tomatoes. Thoughts??

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Lara, me too!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    What are you using as planters??

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Deirdre!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Aww, that’s awesome! Veggie-loving dogs are the best. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    That is a GREAT idea, I’ll definitely try it next time I do this.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I think that’s a valid concern. I’m not sure how much BPA is actually taken up by plants, but I think it’s definitely worth investigating. Thanks for the insight.

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Terra cotta pots for round one – I have dozens of them, and chose those with really large drainage holes. The plants emerge from the drainage holes and the pots remain upright; I stretched a nylon stocking over the top of each pot, and another over the bottom, encasing the plant. {An excellent use for all of my retired thigh highs!} I’m hoping this will let in adequate airflow and light while keeping squash bugs OUT. Once the plants have begun to flower I’ll remove the stockings, but not before.

    For round two, I want to try this with inverted wine bottles – but I haven’t gotten around to sawing off the bottoms of any bottles yet. I think it will be beautiful seeing the roots grow through various hues of glass! Also BONUS: science tutorial for the Neenster.

    And yes, I know I need to take pictures! Or rather, to post them. I’ve taken several but haven’t sorted or uploaded them to Flickr yet.

  • Amyah

    I had a glitch and don’t know if my first comment was posted as I don’t see it so… I send my comment a second time. Sorry if their is double :D

    Ya! The BPA stuff concerned me too… and I have a question… how big of a tomato plant do you think we can grow that way? Just cherry tomatoes or couls we go up to black russian or bigger? Could put to much strain on the roots with all that weight? Just wonder if we can do the same with cucumbers?

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    When I was researching this idea for my squash, the biggest things I gleaned were 1. select for determinate plants whenever possible, as they don’t spread/vine out as much and are more ‘bushy’; 2. select plants that don’t have heavy fruit/veg; and 3. if need be, simply support your growing plants/heavy produce with a trellis or some other structure. So, I would think you could grow any type of tomato as long as the plant and fruiting bodies are supported from below if need be.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    That sounds awesome, yes please pictures!

    FOr the wine bottles, do you worry about the small size restricting the growth?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I agree with Monika, I think you can grow big fruits/veg, though you may have to offer additional support. And cukes are DEFINITELY on my list if this works for tomatoes. Big time. =)

  • bohemianmatka

    I would really like to try this with the squash plants and terra cotta pots… Our ground is horribly sandy and only good for growing watermelons. My attempt at gardening squash and pumpkins last year was an epic fail… hopefully I’ll have luck with both your and Sayward’s ideas

  • Fanny

    I did this as soon as I read your post about this. It’s hanging in my window though, since living in Sweden won’t enable it to be outside for yet a couple of months. I took a pretty small seedling, and the roots where so small I could get it in that way. At first, it was really wilted from the re-potting and I saw little hopes for it to live on. Two days later, it’s now strong again and growing!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Ha, our soil is either extremely sandy, or extremely hard-packed with clay (we’ve been amending it w/green manure for five freaking years). And always teeming with squash borers. Watermelon are the only cucurbits I’ve been able to grow successfully. I hope these ideas for hanging planters work for you!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    No, I think that for one growing season the roots should be okay. They will have the full length of their bottles to spread out in (I’m only going to cut about an inch off the bottoms). They might get a little root-bound, but even a root-bound dwarf citrus tree thrives in a pot, right? Maybe I’ll have Nina propose a hypothesis about what she thinks will happen, and then we can get our nerd on and talk about null and one-tailed hypotheses . . . oooh, it’s going to be a good summer. :D

  • April

    Not all plastics are created equally. Perhaps use a plastic that is on the ‘safer’ side?

  • April

    Would wrapping the plant paper help? Then you could gently pass it through the opening.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Another great idea!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yay! Let us know how it goes!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    It sounds so pretty, I’m totally going to try it. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    My godfather and I just cut the bottom off a wine bottle, now I have allt hese ideas! Totally getting crafty. =)

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    Yay! Dude, I love gardening so much, even without the DIY aspect – but this feels like such a collaborative project (even though we’re on different coasts!). I wonder if the color of glass will make a difference on a plant’s growth?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Well darker would certainly soak up more heat, no? I think that’s one of the toughest issues with hanging planters – the drying/overheating that can occur. I’m going to try out non-edible plants in my wine bottles. I have a dream of a hanging succulent garden . . .

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    A hanging succulent garden would be beautiful!

  • Fanny

    I planted a tomato like this some time ago, and it has grown as crazy, only “problem” is that it’s not growing down, it’s bent upwards alongside the planter and it’s growing straight upwards in the “air”.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Mine are doing the exact same thing! Hopefully the weight of the fruit will pull them down . . . slowly.

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  • Joleanna Ann

    reading this and had idea! you can buy gallon or 1/2 gallon size wine bottles for partys or find them at thrift stores/yard sales and then use those. there are a lot of gallon glass jugs here in southern oh, wv, ky area bc of old moonshiners ;)

  • siavashs

    Brilliant! I’m gonna try it!

  • SC UrbanGarden

    Oh my! I’m currently growing barleywine tomato’s from a hanging pot on my front porch. They are growing up not down yet, but hope the fruit push them down soon. The wine bottle idea is exquisite. This is going to be an addition to my garden next season!

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  • Seemab Waleed

    Brilliant! Would you kindly tell whether it would be a seed or a little plant that we use?

  • Nightblade

    Beautiful idea, but is it possible to make them stackable. I can’t trust the people in my complex not to steal anything outside our apartment. I want to plant a garden inside.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    You can definitely do indoor gardening, and you could even use this concept as well – hanging one planter in front of each window. I’m not sure about stacking them, but I know tomatoes do fine indoors, as long as they get adequate light.

  • rumtea

    I started the baby plants with this kind of container and slowly move up to bigger one when I feel like they need more soil. I don’t think BPA is a problem because the container made for drinking water, it should be safe enough :-)

  • rumtea

    My baby tomato did the same thing, but I saw on internet that when it grow up bigger, it will pulled itself down :D

  • Lynn

    HI Sayward! How did this Tomato Planter Project end up working out for you last year? I really want to grow my own tomatoes this year and I’m collecting ideas on what has been working best for people :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Lynn,

    I’d say it worked, but it wasn’t the best. The hanging upside-down part was fantastic and really a great way to grow tomatoes. The main issue was with the size of the pot. I’d look for some way to get a larger vessel if I did it again. Also perhaps wrapping the vessel to create insulation, as the soil dried out very easily.

    Hope that helps!

  • Lynn

    Definitely! I wonder if there’s a way to rig up a clay pot or some sort of container that would hold moisture more efficiently…..hmmm…

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