Introduction: Upside-down Hanging Pot With Things You (May) Have in Your House
Someone gave me a free aloe that had been growing at the edge of a pot. It didn't have the root mass to hold itself up or to dangle over the edge of a pot like it had been, so I decided to try growing it upside down. Aloes apparently do OK like this although they often still try to grow up. Hopefully mine will continue to spiral like it has been!
I didn't want to buy an upside-down pot so I decided to make one. This project was very much experimental so I didn't spend too much time on any one step. I've thought of some refinements, which I'll discuss.
I made this project with the things I had available. It's pretty flexible and forgiving. Where I've thought of substitutes, I've included them.
To make this roughly how I made it, you will need:
- A plastic bottle, or another waterproof container that you can easily cut
- White glue (or ingredients for another paper mache recipe)
- Drywall joint compound (or spackle, or ingredients for paper mache clay)
- Paint -- I used acryclics
- A plastic take-out lid (or
- Wire or string for hanging
- Something to put a hole in plastic (I used a heated nail)
Step 1: Cut Bottle
Unlike many paper-mache armatures, the plastic bottle will remain in place and form the structural core of the pot. So cut it to a shape you can live with. I had used this 2L bottle as a cloche this spring, but it's too narrow to do a good job for that, so I repurposed it for this. I cut off the bottle neck so I could fit the roots through and marked and cut the base to get a shape I liked.
Two notes here: when cutting (especially the wider base) take note of the direction you're cutting. One side of the cut will tend to have sharper edges and little "splinters" of plastic. Make sure that's the side that's coming off. For these right-handed scissors, the correct way to cut was as shown in the photo.
Also: It turned out that I could have still fit the roots through with less of an opening in the neck, and it might have been easier or it might have been harder to get the plant to stick. The issue is that if the hole is smaller, you need less support around the stem, but you also can't fit any fingers in the neck hole to finagle things. (You can still stick your hand in from the other end, of course.) If I had left the bottle neck, I think a donut of tinfoil might have been enough to stick the aloe in securely, but I don't know. With a hole this size, the solution was more complicated than that -- more on it later.
Step 2: Make Holes
I made three holes about an inch from the new top of the pot. Four would also be good. For me, the easiest way to make them was to grab a candle and a nail, as shown. The nail doesn't have to be very hot to make a hole in thin plastic! Drill bits tend to catch in plastic and tear out, but that could also work.
Step 3: Cover Plastic in One Layer of Paper Mache
Start by envisioning what you want your pot to look like. I used just one layer of paper mache plus some sculpture on one part. I think it could be nice to build it up more and make it look like terracotta. The easiest way to do that would probably be drywall joint compound or paper mache clay, but I suppose it could be done with newspaper as well, or newspaper could be used for bulk with joint compound on top for the smooth texture.
I made paper mache mixture the easiest way possible: by diluting Elmer's glue. Go for a ratio of 2 parts glue to 1 part water, or as thin as half and half. I chose this because it was easy, less susceptible to mold than some recipes, and I really didn't need a lot -- I used a third of a cup of each and I had way too much. (You can store this; it keeps at room temperature for a long time, possibly indefinitely, I'm not sure). However, if your design calls for more layers, it may be worth it to use one of the cheaper recipes available. Ultimatepapermache.com is my go-to source for paper mache advice and recipes. (No affiliation.)
Anyway, dip the newspaper strips in your mixture and apply straight to the plastic. For the sculpture armature, I just balled up tinfoil and stuck it to the side with newspaper strips. I also twisted strips and used them to make a "bark" texture.
Step 4: Clay
I knew I wanted more sculptural detail than I could get with newspaper, and there are several ways to achieve this. Ultimate Paper Mache has a recipe for paper mache clay that I've used in the past that dries very hard and strong. She says you can also use drywall joint compound (any brand except DAP) as a sculpting material. It's strong and smooth, it's just more expensive. However, I didn't have any joint compound, and it's also an ingredient in paper mache clay, and I didn't feel like making clay anyway, so I decided to try spackle. Please use caution if you try spackle! In general, it is apparently more prone to cracking than joint compound and it's also not as strong. It's also not that easy to sculpt with because it wants to stick to your fingers.
The spackle I had is lightweight spackle and specifically advertised on the tub that it does not crack. I think it's a pretty different animal than normal spackle. Again, it's probably worth getting joint compound instead, but it worked out for me, with no cracks, and it held up well to painting. Since the plant itself is fairly delicate, I'm not too worried about the weakness of the spackle.
The third photo is the dried spackle. I just let it dry overnight. It was probably ready sooner, if you're in a hurry -- consult your tub or recipe.
Step 5: Paint!
I used acrylics. They are forgiving and widely available. I allowed plenty of time for each coat to dry. I haven't done a lot of 3D acrylic painting, and one thing I would do differently is not bother not to run over the margins on the bottom coat. You can see that I was pretty exact with the brown edges, and it only annoyed me later when I found a couple of small unpainted spots on the bark next to the possum and had to touch it up. Go over the edges freely if you're using acrylic. Even white paint will cover up dark paint in one coat.
If you do need to do corner touch-ups, I had good luck with them by getting a small amount of relatively dry paint only one side of a small flat paintbrush and using that to paint the correct side without getting paint on the other side.
By the way, I was happy with this color when painting, but in a room, it's pretty dark. Consider lighter, more neutral colors since this is home decor, unless you're specifically going for a dark look.
Step 6: Wrangle Plant
I don't have great pictures of this step because I needed both hands the entire time. This is potentially the most complicated step and worth planning out in advance.
My first idea was to take a bottle identical to my base bottle and use that as a plant holder, but I hated the way the naked plastic bottle neck looked sticking out of the bottom of the pot. My second idea was a donut of tinfoil cinched tight around the woody stem, which sort of worked, but didn't really seem secure enough due to the size of the hole. Another tutorial online recommended part of an AC filter. That seems like a good idea but I did not have any handy so I can't vouch for it.
I was Facetiming my mom while doing this and she suggested trying to cut a hole in a tupperware lid. I ended up cutting one to look somewhat like a soda lid, as shown in the picture. The cut on the side is important because it makes the size adjustable. Note that with the type of plastic I used (a cheap takeout lid), trying to cut it too enthusiastically cracked the whole thing. This type of plastic still works! I just cut more gently the second time and used a piece of packing tape as a ripstop. You can see the contrasting cuts.
I did use a bit of foil, too, to brace the steam against the bottom hole in the pot, prevent rubbing, and make the whole thing more secure. The exact method will depend on your plant and your pot. If it has a big strong root system and a narrow crown, and you use a plastic lid, I recommend cutting the inner hole slightly differently -- try to make it more of a true circle so the pointy tabs don't injure the crown or stem of the plant. In my case, they grip the stem and I think they help keep the aloe situated, so I left them on.
I added dirt, watered sparingly and hung the plant using some copper wire. It's been a few days and the aloe hasn't died yet, so so far I can call this a success!
Step 7: Variations
As I mentioned, I think a sleeker terracotta-like look would be pretty cool. Mine ended up looking very much like paper mache and acrylic. For this version, I was fine with that! I was in a hurry to pot the aloe more securely because it kept falling out of its regular pot, and I wasn't sure how it would all fit together. If I ever do another one featuring a more sculpted look, I will upload pictures here. Meanwhile, I hope you use these basic steps to make and enjoy your own upside-down hanging pots!