There’s nothing like the flavour of home-grown tomatoes picked fresh from the plant. They’re aromatic, juicy and packed full of flavour.
Best of all, growing tomatoes in your garden is easy and fun. Just follow these simple steps:
- Choosing which varieties to grow
- Sowing tomatoes seeds
- Buying tomato seedlings
- Growing tomatoes in the garden
- Growing tomatoes in pots
Choosing the right tomatoes to grow
Tomatoes are undoubtedly one of the most satisfying home grown veggies (or fruits) and provide ample reward for effort. In fact, they have the highest yield for the amount of space they occupy, mainly because they grow up!
Growing tomatoes from seedlings or grafted plants is the easiest way to get started. Look for:
If you like smaller salad tomatoes, try growing cherry or grape tomatoes; if you want to make passata, look for larger growing tomatoes like ‘Beefsteak’ or ‘Mortgage Lifter’; for sauces and chutneys, try ‘Roma’. If you’ve got plenty of space in the veggie patch and want big and juicy tomatoes, try ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Beefsteak’.
The type of tomatoes you grow may also depend on how much space you have. For small areas like balconies, try planting cherry tomatoes as they are perfect to grow in pots. If you have extra space in your backyard try growing big juicy tomatoes such ‘Big Boy’, Beefsteak’, ‘Black Krum’ or ‘Brandywine’.
*Grafted tomato plants have strong root systems and are capable of thriving in almost any soil. They will usually grow faster and sturdier than seedlings.
How to grow tomatoes from seeds
There are dozens of tomato varieties available in seed packs from regular and mail order retailers. Some are modern types while others are ‘heirloom’ or old-fashioned varieties that have been around for generations. There’s an almost endless array to choose from but ultimately what you choose comes down to personal taste and perhaps recommendations from family or friends.
Tomato seed is best sown into individual peat pots (Jiffy Pots), seed trays or egg cartons filled with seed raising mix in early spring, when the soil in the veggie garden is still too cold to promote good germination. The seed containers should be placed in a warm, sheltered spot indoors but not in direct sun through a window. Keep moist but not wet.
When the seedlings are about 5-8cm high and have their first set of true tomato leaves (not seed leaves), thin them out to give them room to develop, transplanting the ‘thinnings’ into another seed tray.
As the weather warms and the seedlings grow, gradually harden them off by placing the trays outside during the day but bringing them in at night for protection. By mid to late spring, they should be tough enough to be outside all the time and ready to transplant into the garden.
Don’t be tempted to plant them out too soon though. One or two very cold nights could really set them back. Wait until day time temperatures are in the mid-20s and the possibility of night-time frost has passed.
How to grow tomatoes in the garden
To prepare for planting, break up the soil by digging it over and improve its texture and fertility by mixing soil improver and fertiliser into the soil. Water the tomato seedlings prior to planting. Choose a spot that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day, preferably protected from the wind.
Make a hole in the prepared garden bed large enough for the tomato seedling and its complete root ball.
Carefully tap the tomato seedling out of the pot or gently lift it from the seed tray, trying to keep as much of the seed raising mix around the seedling's roots as possible. Carefully place the plant in the hole, making sure it is planted at the same depth as it was previously.
Backfill around the tomato seedling, pressing the soil down firmly to hold it in place
Insert a stake or tomato hoop, ready for tomato training. Water tomato plants well.
Apply snail and slug pellets to protect the young tender tomato seedlings.
NOTE: Tomatoes should be spaced at 50-60cm intervals, to give them room to grow. Do not overcrowd.
Here’s a few extra tips for tasty home-grown tomatoes:
- Water plants regularly. Consider installing an automatic irrigation system. If this is not an option, water in the morning and try to avoid wetting the foliage.
- Apply a liquid fertiliser to seedlings to improve their frost tolerance while young.
How to grow tomatoes in pots
Tomatoes are one the best crop for pots, growing just as well in pots as they do in garden beds. Find a suitable pot, large enough for the full sized plant, and water your tomato seedling prior to potting up.
To plant and grow tomatoes in pots, you will need:
- A 40cm pot for each tomato
- A trowel
- Premium potting mix for vegetables and herbs
- Tomato hoop or stake
- Tomato seedlings or grafted plant
Make sure pots are clean and water tomato seedlings before you start.
Fill the pot with a premium quality potting mix such as Osmocote Professional Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Mix or Scotts Performance Naturals Premium Potting Mix. Make a hole in the centre of the mix large enough for the tomato seedling plus its root ball.
Make a hole in the centre of the mix large enough for the tomato seedling plus its root ball.
Carefully place the tomato seedling in the hole. Make sure it is at the same depth as it was in the pot, then backfill around the plant, firming the potting mix without compacting it too much.
Insert a stake or tomato hoop, ready for tomato training. Water pots thoroughly.
More tips for growing tomatoes in pots:
- Place pots in an area with at least six hours of full sun and protect from cold winds.
- Water daily or more often in hot dry weather.
- Apply a liquid fertiliser for tomatoes (with added calcium to prevent blossom end rot) fortnightly throughout the growing season to keep plants healthy.
Caring for tomatoes
Tomato plants require regular watering and feeding to produce healthy fruits. When watering tomato plants, the soil should be kept moist enough for moisture to reach the roots. Refrain from overwatering as too much water can deprive the roots of oxygen.
Feeding young tomato plants requires care as it is quite easy to overfeed and damage their sensitive roots. Young tomato plants should be fed as soon as they are transplanted using half the recommended feed dosage indicated on the package. If a good compost is used and tomato plants have been potted with new compost every four weeks, you may not need to feed the tomato plant until it begins to fruit.
Tomato plant problems
Tomato plants can be susceptible to pests and diseases so it is essential to ensure that these problems are prevented from the start. One of the common problems is blight which can be in 2 forms. Early blight occurs due to a fungus which flourishes in wet conditions. It is visible as concentric spots on plant leaves and can weaken the tomato plant. Late blight shows up as grey, greasy spots on leaves, stems and fruit. They can pose as a potential threat to your garden.
Other diseases include powdery mildew, blossom end rot and veticillium and fasarium wilt.
Pests such as the tomato fruitworm, aphids, hornworms and cutworms can destroy your tomato plants so it is ideal to treat them with a naturally based insecticide spray such as Defender Pyrethrum Spray.
For more information on pests and diseases download our free guide.
When to harvest tomatoes
Tomatoes should be harvested when the fruit is ripe and fully coloured. Here are some tips to help you identify ripe tomatoes.
- Check the tomato seed packet or plant tag as this will provide information on the colour and hue of a ripe tomato.
- Ripe tomatoes has a distinctly fresh aroma that can easily be identified.
- Gently squeeze the tomato, ripe tomatoes will feel slightly soft.
For more great tips and some tasty recipes, download our free guide to growing big, juicy tomatoes.