Hanging baskets packed with pretty blossoms are a common sight in the summer months, but how about hanging tomato plants? Yes, you can create hanging tomato plant containers if you don’t have space for a traditional garden. They’re great for people who have space on the patio but not in the yard, and tomatoes will grow and fruit very well in this setup. They do need more care than container or in-ground tomatoes, but you’ll get a decent haul of tomatoes from each planter you set up if you do it right. We’ll outline how to create a hanging tomato plant and how to care for it to ensure you have a fruitful harvest.
Hanging tomato plants is a great way to enjoy fresh tomatoes without taking up a huge amount of space.
How to Grow Hanging Tomato Plants – Step by Step
Growing hanging tomato plants is relatively easy and fun, and you can make your own planter as a nice DIY project. While we’ll go over two designs, the main one is going to use a five-gallon bucket that you can dress up to make it decorative. You want your hanging tomato plants to be on a very sturdy structure as it can easily weigh upwards of 50 pounds when it’s full of plants and damp soil. Also, make sure you give your plants plenty of sun as most of them require six hours a day at a minimum.
Equipment and Tools
- 5-gallon bucket with lid
- Double-sided waterproof tape
- Fiberglass window screening
- Oilcloth or plastic tablecloth
- Plastic ribbon, twine, or raffia
- Potting soil
- Tape measure
- Tomato seedling
- Utility knife
Step One – Cut the Hole
Get your utility knife and use it to carefully cut the hole in the bucket that is roughly two inches wide. It doesn’t have to be exact or neat to do the job just fine. Some buckets will come with a circle molded on the bottom that you can use as a cutting guide for this hole. As another option, you can drill or cut four small holes in the bottom of the bucket to give it more drainage. Adding a few small holes in the bucket lid is a good idea too as this can boost the air circulation to the plant.
Step Two – Measure for Your Decorative Covering
This is a 100% optional step, but if you don’t want your planter to look like the 5-gallon bucket it is, you’ll make a cover for it. To make the cover, start by measuring down from the lip by the top of the bucket to the bottom edge of your bucket. Wrap the tape measure around the outside to measure the circumference too to ensure you only have to cut the material once.
Step Three – Wrap Your Bucket
When you decide between tablecloth material or oilcloth for your cover, you want to carefully mark your measurements and cut it. Allow for a minimum of two inches of overlap in the width. Depending on the type of fabric you decided on, you might have to fold the edges down to get a clean look and prevent fraying. Oilcloth is different, and you can leave the edges raw.
Next, tape the short edge of your fabric to the side of the bucket using a full-length strep of waterproof, double-sided tape. Wrap the fabric tightly around the bucket and secure it at the seam with a second strip of tape on the underside of your overlapping fabric so that you hide the tape. Again, this is a purely optional step, and you’re free to skip it if you don’t mind the bucket showing.
Step Four – Add Raffia or Ribbon
Working along the edges of the material, use raffia, twine, or ribbon to adorn them. This adds a nice decorative touch, but it also works to secure the cloth along the edges. For more durability with your hanging tomato plant container, secure your ribbon using small pieces of double-sided tape along the whole edge.
Step Five – Cover the Hole With Screening
Cut a piece of your fiberglass window screen to fit in the bottom of your five-gallon bucket on the inside. The screen will help to keep the plant anchored in your soil, and it’ll help keep the soil in the bucket too while allowing the water to drain out. Cut the center of your screen so it looks like a pie with six small flaps. The opening should be as large as your bucket’s drainage hole. To make this easier, fold the screen in half to make the first cut and once you finish, put it in the bottom of the bucket, making sure it lays flat.
Step Six – Prepare the Tomato Plant
To get the tomato seedling ready to plant as a hanging tomato plant, you want to remove it from the cell or pot first. Next, gently separate the roots or slice them using a knife. Take off any excess soil and remove the few leaves on the bottom of the plant. Moisten the root ball and gently squeeze it to help it slide into the bottom of the bucket.
You’ll need to start your seeds indoors or buy tomato seedlings for this project to work. You can’t plant seeds right into the bucket and have them do well.
Step Seven – Plant the Seedling
Fill your bucket with your chosen mix of potting soil. If the soil doesn’t come with fertilizer mixed in, you want to add some now, following the manufacturer’s directions. The amount of soil you end up needing for your hanging tomato plants will depend on how you want to start a new plant. There are two ways to approach planting a hanging tomato plant, including the upside-down method or planting it right-side-up and letting it grow before flipping it upside down.
- Right-Side-Up Method – For this method, you’ll fill the bucket to the top with the potting soil. Put the lid on very securely and turn your five-gallon bucket over so the hole is on the top. Push the tomato plant down into the soil through the hole you cut into the bucket right up to the first set of leaves.
- Upside-Down Method – Fill your bucket with soil but stop between three and five inches from the top of the bucket. Put the lid onto your bucket before you tip the bucket on the side. Stuff your tomato seedling deeply into your bucket’s hole, up to the first set of leaves. Pull down the flaps you cut in the screen so that they ile flat on the soil.
Step Eight – Hang the Planter
Hang the bucket very securely from the handle if you’re starting it as an upside down hanging tomato plant. Remove the bucket’s cover so that the soil will get wet when it rains or when you water it. Immediately water the bucket until you see water starting to run through the drainage hole.
Tips for Growing Hanging Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are some of the perfect garden plants to put in hanging baskets. If you plant them in the garden, you have to rig up support systems like cages as most of them won’t stay upright by themselves. With hanging tomato plants, the tomato plant will naturally grow over the edge of the bucket and tumble downward to display their branches, tomatoes, and flowers in a masse.
Choose the Correct Pot
Tomatoes can grow in a traditional hanging basket or in your upside down bucket. Upside down pots do present unique challenges for growing your tomatoes and keeping them healthy. Plants naturally want to grow toward the sunlight. When you plant them upside down in a container, the tomato stems will start to bend to form a U-shape as they reach for the sun. These bent stems are usually weaker and easy to snap off under the fruit’s weight or during higher winds. This is why it’s essential to pick out a spot that has direct sunlight to encourage more fruit production.
Most hanging tomato plants use buckets as the main basket as these are very breathable, thin plastic planters. However, they tend to dry out very quickly. During dry and hot conditions, you may find yourself watering them more than once a day. Pick a bucket that has a lighter color as dark-colored pots will cause your tomato plant’s roots to get too hot during the summer heat.
Size is also important when you pick out a hanging tomato plant basket. You should pick a container that is between 12 and 24-inches in diameter that holds a minimum of five gallons of soil. Tomatoes come with larger root systems, and these systems fuel the plant’s top growth while anchoring the plant in the pot. Plenty of soil is needed to ensure you have a stronger plant. If you don’t want a bucket, you can make a planter by using the following:
Metal and Coconut Coir Hanging Basket
Equipment and Tools:
- 14-inch metal hanging basket with a liner of coconut coir
- 1 young tomato plant
- 4 sweet basil plants
- Lightweight organic potting soil with fertilizer and vermiculite
- Organic fertilizer
- Sharp garden scissors
How to DIY:
- Turn your basket upside down and make a slit in the liner that is big enough for the plant’s root ball.
- Turn the top right side up and fill it ¾ full with your lightweight potting soil mix
- Break up your plant’s roots on the basil and put them in the top of the basket
- Pick out a sunny location to hang your basket with direct sunlight so it doesn’t start to reach
- Remove a small amount of soil from around the root ball on the tomato plant
- Push the root ball gently up into the cut you made in your liner
- Push the liner back around the plant to securely hold it in place
- Water it generously
The coconut coir will help loosen up the potting soil to ensure that it drains well while helping retain a small amount of moisture.
Feed Your Tomatoes
On top of all of the nice nutrients you find in most potting soil mixes, you should spray a compost tea or liquid fertilizer each week to keep the plants looking green and healthy. Adding a natural liquid bloom and root fertilizer a few times a month will help encourage flower production and ensure you get multiple harvests of tomatoes.
Focus on Light
All tomatoes need a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight each day to grow and produce fruit, especially hanging tomato plants. When you pick out a space for your hanging tomato plants, pick a spot that isn’t shaded by nearby trees, your roof, or a building. Be very mindful of porch roofs as this is where many people commonly have hanging plants as they will cast too much shade on your plants and cause them to reach and weaken the stem.
The best space for your hanging tomato plant is on the south side of your building. If you live in planting zones seven and up, you should find a spot that gets a few hours of shade during the hottest part of the afternoon to prevent scorching. In zones six and lower, they can tolerate full sun all day.
Get the Right Soil Mix
The hanging tomato plants are 100% at your mercy, so you have to give them everything they need to grow. Since this isn’t just an ornamental plant and you want to eat the tomatoes it produces, excellent soil quality is key. Enrich your high-quality potting soil using organic matter, compost, and some organic bloom and root fertilizer from the beginning of the planting process to ensure your tomatoes do well. Use a soil mix that has great water retention, like one with coconut fiber, peat moss, or other materials.
Invest in a Strong Support System
A mature hanging tomato plant can easily top out at 50 pounds and up when the soil is moist. If you add wind with the container’s weight, it’s easy to see why you need to take the time and build or buy a very sturdy support system. You can go to your local hardware store and get wall hangers that are capable of supporting upwards of 50 pounds without buckling.
Location, Location Location
Full sun with wind protection is the best location you can give to your hanging tomato plants. Tomatoes love heat, and they will do very well while producing a range of juicy tomatoes in a warm spot. Also, any hanging tomato plants you have should be easy for you to access, even if you decide to do more than one in your yard or garden space. You should think about maintenance when you pick a spot. For example, hauling a heavy watering can across the yard to give your plants a drink may not be a big deal in spring. However, come July and August, it’s much hotter and you have more things to do. So, it can be hard to care for baskets that are further away.
Pick Small Tomatoes
The best hanging tomato plants are grape and cherry tomato varieties. These are smaller-fruited plants that hold up to growing in containers much better than larger tomatoes that have ropey vines that fall over the edges of the container. A few small tomato plants to consider include:
- Hundreds and Thousands – This hanging tomato plant grows large amounts of sweet, bite-sized, delicious tomatoes on cascading, vigorous plants that are great for hanging baskets and very easy to grow.
- Midnight Snack – Midnight Snack is a hybrid indigo cherry-tomato type that ripens to a brilliant red shade with a glossy purplish-black coloring when you expose it to the sunlight. It produces big fruit clusters.
- Napa Grape – This is another hybrid that has a higher sugar content with a very sweet taste to it. It produces one-inch long fruits that spill over the sides of your container on very vigorous vines.
- Red Robin – Red Robin is an extra-sweet, delicious tomato that is determinate-dwarf bred to grow in containers. The plants have a very compact growth habit, and they get up to a foot tall while producing 1 ¼-inch fruits in just 55 days.
- Tiny Tim – This hanging tomato plant will produce cherry-red, one-inch tomatoes on tidy, small plants. It has a great flavor, and it’s much lower-maintenance as it has a great disease-resistance.
- Tumbler – Tumbler is a hanging tomato plant that gives you bright red tomatoes, and they’re very popular for container growth. The compact vines will produce up to six pounds of fruit per plant per season.
- Tumbling Tom – Instead of the traditional red fruit, this hanging tomato plant produces a yellow fruit, and it’s a hybrid that falls over the edges of your container. You’ll get yellow, sweet fruit that maxes out at one to two inches in diameter.
- Whippersnapper – Finally, this is a pretty tomato plant that has prolific growth, and you’ll get larger tomatoes that can be anything from light pink to deep red. They produce vigorous branches that spill over your container.
Cherry or grape tomatoes are very popular as hanging tomato plants because the stems are less likely to snap under the fruit’s weight.
Unless you choose to get a wildly vining, indeterminate, large tomato plant, you’ll eventually have to prune it to keep it controlled. To prune it, you want to keep three to five main stems on the plant. For most hanging tomato plants, you’ll pick out determinate, smaller types. With this type, all you’ll have to do for pruning is to remove any damaged leaves as you see them. Determinate tomatoes come with a predetermined or finite amount of growth, so it’s important that you keep as many stems, branches, and shoots as you can to maximize your fruit production.
As we touched on earlier, your hanging tomato plants are 100% dependent on you for everything. They adore consistency, so it’s highly recommended that you get an automatic watering system in place to ensure that your plants don’t get stressed out from a lack of water. Because they are up in the air, any hanging tomato plants you have are more prone to developing issues with drying out as the air will dry them out faster. This is especially true on windy, hot days. Having a regular watering schedule twice a day is usually best.
Benefits of Growing Hanging Tomato Plants
There are several benefits that come with choosing to grow hanging tomato plants over traditional plants. They include but are not limited to:
- Better Air Circulation – Hanging tomato plants allow for great air circulation, and this is vital to ensure that your plants stay healthy. Since your container is suspended, air can move freely through and around the plant all day and night to help ward off diseases.
- Easy to Set Up – It’s relatively easy to DIY a hanging tomato plant setup, and it takes less time than normal gardening. There is no digging required, and this makes it more accessible for everyone.
- Fewer Pests and Diseases – Growing hanging tomato plants helps get rid of pests like cutworms and diseases like ground fungus, both of which can cause problems with your tomato plants. So, you’ll get healthier plants with less work for you to worry about.
- Fewer Weeds – Growing tomatoes in the ground or even in containers sometimes means that you’ll have to combat weeds to prevent them from competing for nutrients. When you grow hanging tomato plants, there is no exposed soil, so there is no way for weeds to grow.
- Limited Space – If you have a smaller yard or virtually nowhere to support a tomato plant’s growth but you still want to enjoy tomatoes, this method is one way to do so. If you have a sunny patio or balcony, your hanging tomato plants will give you a great harvest.
- No Stake Struggles – If you have grown tomatoes the conventional way, you know how challenging it can be to deal with the supporting stakes or cages. A steak can break or not be large enough, and they can interfere with the plant’s natural growth if you don’t monitor them. When you grow them as hanging tomato plants, these issues go away.
- Portability – Once you put your tomato plant in your garden, that is where it stays the whole season. As long as you put your hanging tomato plant in a space where it gets direct light, you can move it around as you like. You can even bring it inside if the night temperatures start to drop.
Challenges of Growing a Hanging Tomato Plant
Just like anything in life, there are challenges that come with growing hanging tomato plants, and the biggest ones to consider are:
- Hardware – Hanging tomato plants can be very heavy, especially when you get the soil wet. If you don’t have the correct hardware to hang it or the DIY skills, the hardware can pull away and drop the plant.
- Sun – As we touched on, tomatoes need six to eight hours of direct light to thrive. If you don’t have a sunny location on your balcony or patio, the plant will start to reach for the sun, bend the stems, and they’re weaker and more prone to breaking.
- Watering – Watering is one of the biggest issues to tackle with hanging tomato plants. Containers dry out much quicker than growing the plants in the ground, and it’s also easy to overwater them, leading to rot.
- Wind – Depending on your location, your hanging tomato plants can start to sway or spin when the wind hits it. Eventually, it can knock the container over, so you need to put it in a protected spot.
Growing hanging tomato plants is a way to get a bountiful harvest without having a lot of space to dedicate to them. We’ve outlined a quick guide on how you’d go about making your own setup for these tomatoes, and you can take this information and create your own hanging tomato plants this season.