Hanging baskets aren’t just for annual flowers and perennials anymore. While we generally consider planting (or purchasing) baskets strictly as ornamental showcases, with a little creativity we can use them as suspended vegetable gardens, too.

Tomato basket

Your tomato basket should be hung in an area where it receives at least 6 hours of full sun a day. Note that this hanger was incorrectly installed upside down - the top bar should be perpendicular to the wall or post for better stability and strength.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Tomato basket supplies

The only supplies needed to build a tomato basket are the hanging basket, the tomato plant, sphagnum moss, a bucket to soak said moss in and a trowel (optional).

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Sphagnum lined tomato basket

Sphagnum should be moist – not dripping wet – when it’s placed in the basket.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Planting tomato in basket

The tomato plant should be positioned below crown level, so it can form lots of roots. (Notice that I selected a tomato grown in a peat container for easy planting.)

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Finished tomato basket

All done, ready for hanging – and later harvesting!

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

I’m thinking tomatoes, fellow gardeners!

In planning my garden this season, it occurred to me that we might grow tomatoes alongside petunias and bougainvilleas, and have some summer veggies to boot. This spring I planted tomatoes by the bunch – antique varieties, reliable winners for my location, early ripening champions and some little squatty ones I can grow in containers without needing stakes. I’m even trying a “foolproof” tomato box that arrived with soil, fertilizer and a watering tube to make growing the delicious “love apples” almost too easy. Needless to say, I expect an amazing bounty I can share with family and neighbors this summer.

Even though I had all my tomato bases covered, I still wanted to try growing crops in the sky. And why not – if baskets are showcases for fuchsias and spider plants, why not tomatoes?! So, I went to work and was pleased with the results.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I needed to either grow my tomato plant from seed (and start at least 6 weeks early) or buy a patio or cherry tomato plant (which is what I did). It’s important to use small, determinate tomatoes so they don’t outgrow the basket. Selecting early ripening varieties is always a good idea in warm areas – like in Texas, where I live.

Next, I selected a basket and a good growing medium. There are lots of basket choices, some fancy and expensive, but a simple and affordable wire one (typically found at local retail nurseries and garden centers) works well. These baskets are reusable, too, so don’t discard them after the growing season ends! The one I chose is a 14-inch wire basket that cost me $6.97 at Lowe’s. You can select a basket that comes with a coconut-fiber liner, as I did, but you’ll still have to fill it with a suitable growing medium.

Probably the best growing medium for a tomato basket is sphagnum moss. Note that I said sphagnum – not peat – because peat crumbles, whereas sphagnum holds together. It also has a high water-holding capacity, which is good. You’ll need to wet the sphagnum thoroughly, but once it’s wet, it will retain its moisture well – just don’t let it dry out, otherwise it’ll lose its consistency. Allow the sphagnum to set in a bucket of water for a few hours before you place it in the basket.

I filled the basket about halfway with the moist moss, then set the plant firmly in the basket and filled in with more wet sphagnum. It’s a good idea to plant tomatoes deeper than the crown of the plant (that’s at the soil line, or where the stem and roots meet), as it will form new roots in the growing medium to give the plant a better start in life. Unless you use a very large basket, one tomato plant per basket should be enough to eventually fill the container.

Keep in mind that the baskets can get pretty heavy when full of planting medium, water and tomato plant, so it’s important to find a nice sturdy structure to attach the hanger to. It is even more important if you hang your tomato basket in a windy area where the basket can act like a big pendulum and apply a lot of stress to the hanger. The hanger should be rated to hold all that weight. This can be found somewhere on the packaging. If the hanger package says that it's good for a certain dimension of basket, go a size bigger (just to be sure).

After planting, I gave my little plant a shot of water-soluble, 24-8-16 fertilizer, a common formulation for vegetables. A handy way to keep hanging baskets well-fed is to surface-apply a slow-release fertilizer, like 17-17-17, which will dissolve slowly as you add water and continue to feed the plant. (And as always, carefully read and follow all directions on the label!)

Plan on watering your tomato basket frequently to make sure it has uniform moisture, just as you would a flower basket. (Remember, the larger the plant grows, the more often it’ll require watering.) Tomatoes that go through a wet and dry cycle often contract an ugly blackening disease of the fruit, called blossom-end rot, but you should be able to avoid that problem in a basket simply by sticking a finger into the medium to check the moisture level.

I hung my basket in a full sun location where I can water it easily – and be ready to pick the fruit when it arrives. Wherever you hang yours, don’t keep it hidden from sight. A basket full of ripening tomatoes is just as attractive as any container of pansies – and much tastier!