Choose your tomato type
Compact (bush) tomatoes are ideal for containers, but they bear fruit for just a short period. For a steady harvest over summer, have a series of pots so you can plant more seedlings every four weeks.
Vine tomatoes are climbers, but need support, either stakes in a garden bed or loose ties around a wire fence or a pole, such as one holding up a pergola, or even your clothes line post. Remove lateral shoots and suckers so the vine grows as a single leader. This concentrates the plant’s energy into producing more fruit, which it’ll do for months.
How to plant vine tomato seedlings
Gather your supplies
- Vine tomato seedlings
- Soil booster
- Hessian wrap
You’ll also need
Hand fork; hammer; string or wire.
Remove weeds from soil and dig over soil to aerate it.
Dig hole for seedling with fork and put in fertiliser pellets.
Fill hole with water and wait until it drains away.
Remove seedling’s lateral shoots and lower foliage to reduce contact with soil and improve air circulation around seedling.
Plant seedling gently into soil, replace soil and press down gently.
Water soil, not foliage.
Hammer in three three stakes around each seedling to create tepee, with stakes meeting at top.
Tie top meeting point with string or wire.
Wrap stakes with hessian to protect from birds, possums and any cold snaps. Remove hessian when cold snaps are over.
Apart from taking up less space and being easy-to-grow, cherry tomatoes are generally hardier, suffer fewer diseases and have fewer natural predators than their bigger cousins. Plus, many of the trendy truss varieties are ranked the tastiest. Choices abound, with mini truss tomatoes such as ‘Truss Sweet’ and ‘Double Cherry Truss’ (Fresh Start range from Floriana, in Bunnings) producing trusses of well textured fruit for snacking and salads. For something a little larger, try, ‘Gladiator’, a roma fruit perfect for sauces.
Australia is home to a wide variety of tomatoes, the most popular are:
- Cherries, grapes: small red and yellow fruits. They add a pop of colour and flavour in salads.
- Plum: red, round and medium-sized fruit, they are great in sandwiches.
- Heirloom: large colourful fruit that is perfect in salads and roasted.
- Roma: are the size and shape of an egg, they’re ideal for cooking or stuffing.
- Beefsteak: the biggest in the tomato family.
You can grow tomatoes throughout Australia, they love the heat so plant them in early spring to reap the rewards. If you’re in the sunshine state (Queensland) you might need to make a tomato tent during peak heat to stop them from getting sunburnt.
Tomatoes love the sun so make sure you plant them somewhere they’ll get between six and eight hours of sun per day. Make sure you keep tomatoes well hydrated, they will wilt easily, especially on warm days.
Hint: they’ll dry out quicker in pots so make sure you check on them every couple of days.
You can grow tomatoes in containers, pots, hanging baskets, raised garden beds of just in the ground. Tomatoes love a good quality soil with ideally a pH of 6.5-6.7 so start preparing the soil by laying down some compost and a good quality potting mix.
You can purchase tomato seeds or plants from your local Bunnings or hardware store or did you know that you can actually just slice a tomato in quarters and plant it in the ground. This process is why many gardens often find tomatoes and pumpkins growing out of their compost!
If left to their own devices, tomato plants will turn into a large vine with many branches and possibly take over your garden. To keep them at bay you can train them so that they are more compact and produce even more fruit. To do this when side shoots form pinch them off using your fingers and encourage one or two stems to continue to grow. For more read our full guide on training tomatoes.
Tiny Tim vines produce cherry tomatoes but they will support themselves and don’t require any staking. They are perfect for those who are new to tomato growing and look great in a hanging basket.
As the tomato vines start to grow they will want to reach and climb something. Use a single stake, tomato cage or trellis that is at least 2.5m tall so that you give them plenty of room. Don’t use wire ties as it could hurt the soft vines.
For the best yield, fertilise your tomatoes every two to three weeks.
How to harvest
Generally speaking, it will take between 10-14 weeks for tomatoes to mature (11-13 weeks for cherry tomatoes). You can pick tomatoes when they are yellow and let them ripen in the fruit bowl or leave them on the vine until they’re red don’t leave them too long or they’ll split and go rotten (or that critters don’t beat you to it!).
Plant Care & Troubleshooting
Tomato leaves are one of caterpillars favourites if you notice a couple of holes in the leaves then spray with a natural caterpillar killer.
Tomato crops are susceptible to numerous diseases including:
- Septoria leaf spot
- Fusarium and verticillium wilt
- Early Blight
- Late Blight
- Mosaic Virus
To identify and avoid these read our guide on tomato plant diseases.
There are a couple of reasons why your tomato plant is not fruiting.
- Insufficient light
- Too little or irregular watering
- Cold conditions
The best companion plants for tomatoes are garlic, onions and chives which help keep pests away.
For more information on Graham's segment, please visit Piccolo Farm.
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