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DIY Topsy Turvy Tomato® Planter

DIY Topsy Turvy

When we lived in California we could grow tomatoes without even trying! Our tomato plants would get so big that the hubster would have to tie them up to 6 foot steel rebar stakes. One summer we canned over 50 quarts of tomatoes!

Unfortunately, since moving to Utah, it’s been a whole different story! I can hardly grow a good tomato to save my LIFE here! It’s been frustrating to say the least. The growing season is just so short here. I haven’t figured out a way to make it work.

Topsy Turvy

But of course I’m entirely too stubborn to give up, so a couple of days ago I decided to try a new approach! I decided to try my hand at a DIY version of the popular infomercial product..the Topsy Turvy® Upside Down Tomato Planter.

To be quite honest, even if I was willing to pay $19.99 for one of those things (which I’m not), I wouldn’t do it because I just think they look sorta cheesey.  (No offense to the Topsy Turvey owners out there!) Of course what I came up with doesn’t look a WHOLE lot better…but at least it didn’t cost anywhere NEAR $20. As a matter of fact, I think it ended up costing less than $4.00 including the large tomato plant!

Most of the versions I saw of this online were made in a 5-gallon buckets, but I decided to go the plastic garbage can route instead. It wasn’t quite as big and it wasn’t quite as heavy.

In less than 20 minutes I had an upside down hanging tomato planter that I have HIGH HOPES will be the answer to my tomato-growing woes in Utah!

How To Make Your Own Upside-Down Tomato Planter

What you’ll need:

  • A tomato plant or seedling.
  • A plastic container or bucket.
  • A drill or knife for cutting the hole in the bottom
  • Twine, wire or something similar.
  • Potting soil mix
DIY Topsy Turvy

Turn the trash can upside down and drill a hole in the center of the bottom. The hole should be about 3? in diameter.

DIY Topsy Turvy
DIY Topsy Turvy

Turn your tomato plant upside down and guide it through the hole.

DIY Topsy Turvy

Fill the upside-down trash can with enough potting soil to cover the roots of the upside-down tomato plant plus a few more inches.

DIY Topsy Turvy

Drill small holes on each side of the trash can and thread enough twine through to make a handle.

DIY Topsy Turvy
Photos by Anna Gleave

Hang your new DIY planter from an S-hook on a sturdy structure or a strong tree branch.  Make sure you place in an area that gets plenty of sun!

DIY Topsy Turvy

Water the plant well and frequently.

Then stand back and cross your fingers yours will SOMEDAY look like this……………………

DIY Topsy Turvy

What are YOUR secrets for growing tomatoes?

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • – Too bad about your totomaes! If you make fried green totomaes though, I definitely want to hear about them!Oh, and it’s cool the way Muriel’s hands look like they’re glowing in this picture. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

  • Decide where you will do the concrete mixing- preferably in a well-ventilated
    garage. They can help you with the right materials to use and help you decide with
    the exact greenhouse that fits your needs. This sale is being held in all the chain’s retail stores.

  • If you’ve read anything about companion planting, you know tomato & basil plants thrive together & the tomato is even tastier. Looks to me like there is plenty of room to add a basil plant in the top of your can.

  • I have a lot of hanging flower baskets from previous years – they are smaller, only maybe 2 gallons, but they already have the wire and hanger. Anyone have experience with cutting a hole in the bottom of them to convert them into a topsy turvey?

  • I haven’t tried as much myself, but what about adding some mulch(coconut coir, shredded newspaper) on top of the soil? Even 2 inches would help keep the moisture in so you may need to water only once every day or two depending on temp.

  • After you carefully thread your plant through the hole take a cheap kitchen sponge cut hole in center and slice from side to the hole. Slip sponge around stem. This will prevent soil from being washed away.

  • Long before the Topsy Turvey came out I watched a man on T.V. do the same thing with a hanging planter. The tomato plant was hanging out the bottom and in the top he planted marigolds for pest control. That may be an idea for you. I think your trash can idea is better than the TT and the other man’s planter. The size is perfect!

  • Thanks – I’ve been trying to figure out a DIY way in lieu of Topsy Turvey, but I tend to kill off everything anyway. Love your idea. How about some easy ways of what to hang it on? I’m hung up on that too.
    If people aren’t getting tomatoes – it might be an issue of pollinating the tomatoes – two plants are usually needed to cross pollinate. There is a huge issue with losing so many bees in the US – they are the main pollinators, I think there is a way to hand pollinate – you have to get the yellow buds before you get a tomato, and they need pollination. BTW – most things, even fruit trees, need a male and a female to cross pollinate and produce fruits, veggies, whatever.

  • The foam collar, diy or otherwise, is needed around the stem to hold the soil in place while watering. Also, paint the topsy turvy to compliment outdoor decor with Rustoleum for plastic or the like. Prep is a big deal or it will flake & light coats with drying time between. (Tooth or rough surface with scuff pad, then clean with alcohol. May need touch ups next year due to flexible surface). I also tried two tomato plants per planter with regret, but have not tried flower out the top. Marigolds too close to tomato plants attracted red mites. Brought planters indoors near frost to finish harvest & kept producing well into winter. Amend soil well before planting: google it, additionally liquid fertizilze every couple weeks & check for watering need often in hot weather. Dark drape container in cooler weather, shade in heat of summer.

  • We were given a Topsy Turvy two years ago. We also had tomato plants in the ground. The TT plant rotted inside that awful bag, and the bag tore also. I thought they were ugly bags anyway. Our plants in the ground grew over 6 feet tall. I’ve seen veggies grow upside successfully but not in that bag.

  • I lived in Nephi, UT for 6 years. Having moved from Bremerton, WA, where everything just “grew”, it was quite a shock. I found that it was necessary to grow/purchase healthy tomato seedlings. I set them out in the garden in mid May, protected by a “wall of water” teepee and then then they would grow like crazy.
    Love your idea!!

  • The real topsy turvy planters have been selling at my local Dollar Tree stores for the past couple months at least. I went ahead and got a couple since they were just a buck each but was kinda surprised they didn’t come with the seeds or anything besides the planter. So I gave them to my mom to give it a try. Anyway, just a heads up to those who want to try, have a look at your Dollar Tree. :)

  • I guess my best secret is I have a green thumb.. not sure how to share that.. I have tomatoes & chard coming up volunteer every year.. Its a good problem to have.

    I’ve grown a couple tomatoes using those Topsy Turvey things.. got em cheap somewhere.. Anyways.. the biggest thing you need to remember about them is that you MUST water them daily… I would imagine that your trashcan bucket needs to be watered as much as well.

    Have fun.. its a cute idea!

  • We have done the DIY for 8 years with great results. We use regular hanging planters AND we plant flowers in the top! We get some amazing grape and cherry tomatoes!!

  • I have been gardening for years in the Pacific NW. We do tend to have wet, cool Spring, and have come up with a few suggestions.
    1. Use cloches or “Wall ‘O Waters to start your plants early out side (I’ve started as early as March 15) , and keep the warm and happy. I have had it SNOW, and when I reached my hand in the wall o’ water, it was 20+ degrees warmer in there! You pull them off when the night temps are warmer and day temps are 70-80’s. No warmer, or you can cook them!
    2. Find the right variety for your area. There are several shorter season tomato varieties that work well in the cooler climates. Look for 70-75 (or less) days to maturity.
    3. Keep them warm at night. At the beginning of the season, AND at the end. You can prolong your tomatoes by keeping frost off at night. (clear plastic and hoop houses work great in our area.)
    4. When you use the topsy turvy, please keep in mind your plant still wants to grow “UP” and if you plant tomatoes that get really large 1-2#, the weight CAN break the stems. Cherry/Grape/Roma/Early tomatoes work best.
    5. I have used Cucumber and Zucchini varieties as Ornamental plants in my front yard every year. Cheaper that flowers, I get something really yummy off of them, and in the front yard, I am less likely to miss harvesting and getting the mega large fruit, that no one wants!!
    Good LUCK!

  • Here’s a thought for the top of the tomato plans: what about planting herbs? You can grow your herb garden and your tomatoes in the same space. You could designate a couple “pots” for medicinal herbs and a couple for culinary herbs. Oh, the possibilities are endless!

    Also, what about using the same idea and cut multiple holes in the can and growing strawberries the same way…

    Jillee, you always have the BEST solutions for us! Thank you so much!

  • I am going to have to try this one. I refuse to pay the $ for the store bought one too. I like this one better and I even have two trash can prefect for this

  • I use a TopsyTurvy planter sitting on the ground in a sunny spot- removed the hanger and planted in the top. Perfect– doesn’t take up much space and it is deep for lots of roots ! Had many tomatoes !!!!!

  • I live in WA state and we have a short season too. Right now my tom plants are growing like ‘weeds’, but we’ve had so much rain the leaves aren’t looking too good. I’m hoping the sunshine will help them a long now.

    I also plant in containers on the back deck. They do pretty good getting morning sun, but I will probably move them down so they get more sun in the evening now. I used the topsy turvy last year for a pepper plant, it did ok.

    Good idea on the can, now plant trailing flowers on the top. lol :)

    • Here in WA also and my Tomato plant’s leaves have turned yellow and my cucumbers have wilted and died. Do you think it is the excess rain and cold we got after a week of warm temps? My first year gardening and I have grown attached to my plants I started from seed.:)

      • Yes Rachel I believe it is the weather. We live in Oregon and it happens here as well. Don’t give up.

    • LOL I was just going to post the same thing. 99 cent stores in southern California have them all over. MY problem is trying to find a place to put up a hook and hang the darn things, plus living in a condo we can’t have anything “unsightly” on the balcony/porch that can be seen from the street. I might just put some in a pot on the ground though. =)

  • Hi Jill,
    Really like your idea. I’m going to be optimistic and say you need to have quadrupled your twine, because with several tomatoes hanging, plus your plant, they can add up to a lot of weight. You don’t want to come out one day and find your luscious red, juicey tomatoes splattered all over the ground. : )
    My husband had another idea this year that makes the hanging tomato plants a little more attractive. We have several beautiful hanging baskets of flowers around the eves of our house, over the patio (the straw-like baskets). He bought four different varieties of tomatoes so he made a hole in the bottom of four of our hang planters. He then cut off four 2 liter soda bottles, about 1/3 of the way down, keeping the top part where he threaded a tomato plant down through each of them. He then placed each soda top and plant down through the hole in the hanging basket, brokeup the root ball, and added our usual flowering plants with additional potting soil. With the flowers and the green leaves from the tomato plant they are very nice to look at.
    The reason he put the soda top around the tomato plant was for stability and for holding water around the tomato plant roots a little longer.
    Hopes this gives another idea for someone. Happy tomato eating…yummy!

  • Cukes and zucchini I would do a lattice trellis or some sort of large trellis and encourage them to grow that way. My dad does this in his greenhouse all of the time with melons (you have to put a net around the fruit when they get bigger as a hammock sort of). our cukes went up the fence around our garden last year. Did great. i seen a topsy turvy at the Dollar Tree here. had one when they first came out and hated it. Besides looking weird, my plant didnt grow straight down and tried to curve itself back upward. and was too high to water.

  • I was at Big Lots this weekend and they have the Topsy Turvey tomato planters for $1.50! I didn’t buy, but that’s a super good deal for someone wanting to try this method of growing tomatoes!

  • I grew hot peppers in my topsy turvy last year and it worked great. I actually got some volunteers this year.

    This year, when I planted my tomatoes in a raised bed, I surrounded the tomato cages with clear plastic from April until yesterday (June 2). You leave the top open. I used close pins to pin the plastic to the cages. I just surrounded all the cages with the plastic instead of each individual one and watered from underneath with a hose.

    I learned about this online or TV, can’t remember which. It made a mini hot house and they are doing great. Last year, not so much.

    I live in central California and we have a long growing season but not always great gardens. It probably has to do with the dwindling bee population. We seem to have more this year, though.

  • I tried this a few years ago, and my tomatoes did not do well at all. I also had to water them at least twice a day. I had better success just planting them in the ground.

  • This is a great idea! I got one of the Topsy Turvy planters for my birthday last year. You can now buy them for $1 at the dollar stores. I got a plant yesterday and am going to give it a try. I can’t wait to see how yours works.

  • Jillee, One thing I think you had better change quickly is the garden twine for a heavy wire. It will not be strong enough to support the container when it starts bearing fruit. Soil, when it gets wet is very heavy and then you add the plant and a fall is just waiting to happen! Would be a shame to loose the plant and fruit just when it starts producing.

  • I too live in Utah, and some years we have great crops of tomatoes and others not so great! This year we are trying straw bale gardening with our tomatoes. We also have had great success with cherry tomatoes in large planter pots.

  • An application of Epsom Salts, either directly on the soil or dissolved in the water, will really help the tomatoes. Look it up online – you will find lots of smart people who have done this. Also, make sure you are pinching back the little sprouts that start to grow in the “Y” intersection of the main stem and an off-shoot stem. It helps the plant focus its energy into the plant and not growing more, unnecessary, stems. Best of luck!

  • The problem in Nebraska with the upside down planters…wind. I’ve tried several years, and the do well. Then the wind comes and tears off the branches, tomatoes and all. So, the next year I tried baby tomatoes. Grew great. Wind tore them off!
    So if you can find an area the wind doesn’t get to them, you will be ok. Dark color is better!
    My planter was under the overhang of a balcony. Protected from the east and north winds. But summer storms get swirling winds!!
    We will be moving this summer. I will have an area protected from the north and west winds. So I will try again next year.

  • I got some topsy turvy at the 99C store to use for a display – here is the issue, though, with the homemade versions of upside-down tomatoes, and I used to make my own out of gallon water jugs: The plastic degrades in the sun and leeches into your food. That is why I stopped, and finally just invested in my Tower Garden. Now the investment has paid off, and it has paid for itself.

  • I made DIY upside-down planters one year that are actually pretty. I used a wire basket hanger and the thick basket liner things. Cut an X in the bottom and slide a small plant through. It worked great and looked nice on my back porch. I also did cucumbers this way.

  • I have to try this. I tried using the topsy turvy planters but they didn’t work to well. The bluebirds ended up using them for nests last year. I made you homemade liquid laundry detergent and I love it. Thanks for all your creative ideas.

  • I read a good article a couple of years ago about raising different veggies in an raised bed on legs that was over your head. the pics showed lots of different veggies – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, etc. The cucumbers, tomatoes and beans trailed down and made picking easier.

  • My husband and I were just this minute on our back porch enjoying the morning birds and admiring our plants that we started this year. Today is replant day. We were talking about our Topsy Turvy. At this moment we have flowers and new stem growth but it is all growing in a U shape which tells us that it is not getting enough sun. But it is so heavy it bends all of the yard planter hooks. I just happen to pop over to pinterest and I saw the trash can idea of yours. I clicked on it and my husband laughed because there have been numerous times that we have found a new post of yours that gave us answer’s for exactly what we were researching at the time. I usually head straight for my e-mail in the morning for that very reason. For some reason today I hit pinterest but no worry I follow you there too.

    A tip for all of you out there regrowing your green onion’s. Whether they are in water or dirt don’t cut the new shoots (your old shoots that you have cut will rejuvenate so only use those for this season) those are the seeding shoots which is what will make your onion’s spread. Even if you live in a real yearly climate (I live in Florida) Plant them in the ground in the fall. Then in the spring cut off the brown leaves and you will have new and spreading onions popping up in no time.

  • I have done this for a about 5 years, but have used 5 GAL paint buckets instead. In the Topsy Turvy planters a small disc is used to help keep the plant stable and the soil in the bucket …which is quite useful especially when planting a smaller plant. You can get a cheap pool noodle from the dollar store and make your own disc. After cutting a disc make a vertical slice in the disc so that you can fit it around the stem of you plant (at the base). Then insert your plant into you upside down planter. As with all container gardens you may have to water more frequently than if your plants are in the ground. I add flowers and herbs to the tops of the planters as well, but you don’t have to do that.

  • We tried the DIY of this last year. The thing to remeber most is water water water. We didn’t have much success as we had such hot fays and they dried out so fast. We used pails. Might make a difference with some kind of lid to help keep the moisture in.

  • We’re currently trying this, only we’re using empty milk jugs. So far so good, the tomato plants are growing and getting bunches of flowers so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  • For a little more attractive and only slightly more expensive option you could use a plastic planter (maybe a fake terra cotta one?) instead of the wastebasket. I’m going to try it!

  • I love this! I wonder if it would work for me! We love tomatoes fresh off the vine! We do grow them every year but its hit or miss. Some years we get a great crop, other years its a bust. I would love to try this!

  • I have never been able to grow much of anything that requires water to live, I seem to have a problem remembering to water them. Since I eat tomatoes every day and I live in the south where we only have a few months of winter….I think I am going to try the topsy turvy thing. It will be interesting to see if it will work for me.
    Brenda

  • I have been using buckets for several years. My brother put up two poles and a steel cable so I could hand them on. One other great idea is to cut several holes in the sides and plant Green Beans! You can just put your bowl on the ground and pick Green Beans while you are standing up. I also, plant different kinds of lettuce in the top!

    • You can plant strawberries and other plants in the side holes too. I love the hanging planters. It gives extra ground space to grow even more goodies.
      To lengthen you’re growing season, turn your patio into a greenhouse when the weather starts to cool by surrounding with plastic stapled to the upright posts. It will give you at least another few weeks.

  • I wouldn’t do a black trash can because then it may burn the roots with such a small amount of soil. 6+ hours is a lot of heat on such a small container. I would check it periodically during the day and if the bucket is getting too hot you can use some shade cloth over just the container. I’ve successfully made my own TT in a 5 gallon bucket. You want to make sure you have a container large enough for tomatoes or try a dwarf variety that has been bred for smaller containers/spaces. You also need to fertilize and water more frequently since tomatoes are such heavy feeders. You might have done this and just didn’t mention it, but you should rough up the root ball of all plants when transplanting. I hope this works for you because homegrown tomatoes are one of the best parts of summer!

    • I had someone tell me that when planting from a small pot, to ‘tease’ the roots. It made me think…exactly how does one ‘tease’ the roots of a plant. A comb? Plant jokes? “Your mother smells of elderberries? ;D

  • We are in Illinois and we couldn’t get the tomatoes to grow in the topsy turvey planters. We tried twice using top soil and potting soil. Just no luck.

  • This is really interesting. I live in Illinois, and I don’r have a problem with space or growing tomatoes, but I do have a problem with bunnies. I’m wondering right now just exactly what you can grow upside down….

  • i lived for a while in the very cold and not very sunny netherlands and the tomatoes never really riped wel . i tried cherry tomatoes and that worj out really , becauce they are so small ,then get plenty of sun to riped . it is much faster and. need less sun. the. one that where green at the end af the seasons , i would make a green tomatoes chutney out of it. good luck.

  • We also live in Utah, and I feel your pain about growing tomatoes! We found the Topsy Turvy planters this year in Dollar Tree, and have 3 planted and hanging. We have no idea how these will work. We also planted tomatoes in large containers on the deck to see if there will be any difference in how the plants grow and produce. I like your idea of the trash can, and I hope it works for you…be sure and let us know!

  • Sure hope this works for you! I do have the Topsy Turvy Tomato and Pepper planters…I can’t get either of them to grow…not in my garden or in the TT planters! My FIL grows amazing tomatoes (and lots of other goodies too), and he is only 7 miles from me. You may have better luck with using a black trash can…the warmer the soil (up to a point) the better the plants grow. I’m looking forward to hearing how your tomatoes do!!

  • You are amazing! I love this SO much! I can’t wait to make mine this week! Any ideas for cukes or zucchini? I don’t have much space. Thanks Jilee you are a blessing!

    • Donna..I have a friend who grows cukes and zucchini just like this. They do make some smaller patio sized plants that makes it easier to grow in a small space!

    • I cage my cucumbers just like I do my tomatoes. It worked great when I did it the first time two years ago, so I think doing cucumbers upside down will work great too.

    • I use a tomato cage for cucumbers. I plant 2 or 3 seeds just outside the cage, then train the stems to grow up. My zucchini still take a lot of room, but I do a second planting about halfway through the summer and get another crop before the frost. Then I make curried zucchini soup and freeze it!

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