Have you run out of space in your greenhouse? Are your benches packed? Can you no longer dream of a large philodendron because there is simply no space for another flowerpot? If you answered yes, look towards the greenhouse roof. Chances are good there is empty space above your head. If you saw a truss or horizontal support, you are in luck! It is now time to use that space.
A hanging basket is an easy option and very common. Unfortunately, I am typically drawn to the unusual. Everywhere I shop seems to have a kit for upside down tomatoes. The concept looked so simple that I decided to try it myself. Instead of buying the kit I used a 5-gallon bucket. Of course, my tomato died. Then my second died and I gave up for about a year.
By this point I had several buckets with holes in the bottom, that I could no longer use for watering and how many buckets do you really need for dead heading? I decided to try again as I was convinced that I could make something grow. Instead of a tomato I tried a cucumber and had mild success. The bucket hung from a metal bar and the cucumber grew down towards the floor. It bloomed, produced 2 cucumbers, and died.
Now that I had one decent plant under my belt I decided to try again. At the time I had a lot of propagations in the greenhouse and decided I would try to grow a house plant upside down. Now this was my real success! Into the buckets went a spider plant and a purple heart. The plants went wild, growing with a vengeance. Each of these plants is probably 3-4 feet in length at this point. Without training or direction, the purple heart grew out the top of the bucket on its own, in addition to growing out the bottom.
In a third bucket I planted a hoya. This propagation grew, but not with a vengeance. In about a year’s time the hoya did bloom but had not grown much. To encourage growth, I added compost to the potting soil. After several weeks I saw a weed growing out the top of the bucket. I pulled the container down to find, not a weed, but a tomato. Consistent watering, daylight, heat, and bright light encouraged the tomato seedling to grow. It grew upwards like a normal tomato, bloomed, and gave me small red cherry tomatoes. I cursed that tomato.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to try this growing in a bucket, take any plastic bucket and drill a hole in the bottom at 1/4” diameter; this is where your plant will grow. Next to this hole drill several smaller holes for water drainage. The plant you pick for bucket growing needs to be small so the stem will still fit in the drilled hole. After the plant has been inserted into the hole fill half of the bucket with potting soil and then water. I use a typical plant hook and hang the bucket from the horizontal bars in the greenhouse framing. Remember to fertilize and water these plants. It seems simple, but because the buckets are above your head it is easy to forget to give them water.
The more I fertilize, the more the plants grow. I think my first attempts did not get enough fertilizer and I probably forgot to water them. It can be hard to judge the amount of water the plant is getting because you cannot stick your finger into the soil to feel the moisture. Every so often you should hop up onto a bench, check the soil and pull any weeds that have sprouted. This is an easy greenhouse activity and is great for children and the grandkids. Pick a plant that is easy to grow, remember to water, and you should be golden.
Lyndsey Roth is an experienced gardener and greenhouse grower.