I've been making these for the past couple years and people often ask me how I do it. Today I decided to document my method for creating these wonderful, space-saving planters that let you grow delicious tomatoes in the tiniest of spaces.
The design is simple: it's basically a hanging planter with a hole cut into the bottom and a tomato plant pushed through the hole. On the top of the planter you can put anything you want: flowers, herbs, or other small plants. I'm using oregano, because it can be easily grown in a pot this size, and it makes a wonderful seasoning for the tomatoes in a fresh garden salad.
The tomatoes I'm using are a variety called "Supersweet 100". I've grown these for the past few years and they are just delicious -- sweet & tart with a crisp bite. They aren't very big, about the diameter of a penny, but that's fine for our purposes. Smaller tomatoes do better in these planters than larger ones, which require more soil and space. Also, larger tomatoes tend to sag towards the ground, which puts stresses on the stem of the plant.
Properly watered and cared for, a planter like this can yield a great harvest. Last year I picked over 150 tomatoes from a single plant! And you can reuse the planter year after year!
Regarding planting time, you should follow the instructions that come with the plant, usually located on the back of the little plastic tag that indicates the variety. The nice thing about these planters, however, is that if you start them a little early you can just hang them inside until it's time to bring them outside.
Step 1: What You'll Need
You will need:
A pair of scissors.
A 10x10" square of peat paper (also known as mulch paper). If you don't have peat paper, or don't want to buy a 50' roll of the stuff for just this little project, you can use a paper coffee filter (even a used one will work if you dry it out).
A knife or wire clippers to cut out the bottom of the plastic planter. I'm using my Leatherman (not shown), because I use it all the time.
A hanging planter with an inverted frustrum at the bottom. This is an important feature, because it traps water and keeps the soil from washing out through the hole.
A tomato plant -- any grape or cherry variety will do. I'm using the 'Supersweet 100" small cherry variety.
An herb plant -- I'm using Golden Oregano, though you could also use basil, thyme, or even small flowers. Any plant with a root system that stays close to the surface will do.
Topsoil -- Choose a good one. I use MiracleGro Organic Choice for my potted plants, though pretty much any enriched quality topsoil will work.
Step 2: Making the Cut(s)
You should have a piece of peat paper, about 10x10" square. Enough to cover the entire bottom of the pot. If you want to cut it into a circle, you can do that too.
Cut into the paper from the middle of one side, approximately halfway through, and then at the center cut out a small diamond shaped hole, no bigger than a dime. This is where the tomato plant stem will pass through the paper.
If your planter has a removable bottom base, you should remove it because you won't need it. Save it to use it as a coaster under other potted plants, or have a game of frisbee. :)
Step 3: Cut Out the Middleman
Most pots have a hole in the bottom to release excess water, but in hanging pots there is usually some sort of perforated grille, to prevent dirt from falling out of the hole along with the water.
Because we're putting the tomato plant through this hole and using peat paper as a barrier, we need to cut it out. You can use a knife, as I am doing in this photo, or you can use heavy-duty wire clippers. I wouldn't recommend using scissors, because they don't have the jaw action that wire cutters have.
Step 4: Inserting the Tomato Plant
FIrst, you'll want to remove your tomato plant from the nursery planter it came in. The rule throughout this whole process is to be gentle. These young plants are fragile and can be damaged quite easily, so you'll want to use care.
Once you have the plant extracted from the nursery planter, gently shake it to get excess dirt off.
Now take your peat paper, and put it around the base of the tomato plant stem.
With the hanging planter on it's side, carefully pass the tomato plant through the hole in the bottom. Take each "branch" of the stem individually and put it through the hole -- you don't want them breaking off.
Hold the pot upright and let the plant orient itself vertically. The peat paper will keep it from falling out of the hole. It will also give the young plant some stability until it develops a root network.
Step 5: Fill It Up
Take the empty nursery planter and place it under the hanging planter and (gently) put the tomato plant inside it. This will protect the plant and make it easier for you to work on the topside of the planter.
Fill the hanging planter with soil until it's about 2 inches from the top edge.
Step 6: Plant Your Herbs
Once you've filled the pot with dirt, dig out a small hole in the center. Follow the same instructions for extracting the tomato plant to remove your herb plant from the nursery planter. Place your herb plant in the hole, and be sure to pack dirt around it so as not to expose the roots.
Step 7: Hang It All!
Congratulations, you've got yourself one fine looking inverted tomato planter!
I like to transfer the ID tags from the nursery planters to the new pot so that I can remember what's in each pot (at this point I make 3 or 4 of these a year -- each with different varieties -- so this is very helpful).
Once you've got the planter hung up on a hook, you need to water it. The first time you water it, you need to saturate the soil because the plants from the nursery have become dried out. Water the plant until water starts streaming out of the bottom.
Future waterings don't need to be so heavy. If the plant is in direct afternoon sun, a cup or two each day will do the job nicely.