Tomatoes are a favourite to grow and every region seems to have a local show day, race day or community event that is the green light to plant out your tomato plants.
Tomatoes love the warmth and grow best in southern areas of Australia from mid spring into the summer. In warmer areas, they can be grown all year. The plants are fast growing and fruits form and develop quickly once the conditions are favourable.
There are many varieties of tomatoes. There are different sizes from cherry tomatoes to large fruits such as Beefsteak or Big Red. There are different colours, flavours, shapes and growing habits so check with the experts at your garden centre to select the best varieties that suit your needs.
Tomato plants are available in seedling punnets, cell packs or in single pots. These single pots are very popular as they allow a selection of different varieties to be made without ending up with too many plants.
Whichever variety you select, the fruits are all filled with nutrients, antioxidants and home grown tomatoes are fresh, flavoursome and fun to grow.
Where to grow
Tomatoes love plenty of light and require at least 4 hours of direct sun each day. A nice sunny garden bed with lots of air circulation is ideal. Plant tomato seedlings once the soil temperature reaches 15 degrees and the risk of frost has passed. Growing tomatoes in pots is very popular and gives the opportunity for an early start in a sheltered position before moving the potted plant out once conditions are right. Although most tomatoes will grow in a suitable size pot, shorter growing varieties such as Patio Prize and First Prize are ideal without the need for tall stakes or trellis.
Prepare the soil
If planting in garden beds, prepare the soil by digging through some quality garden compost and animal manure. To avoid problems, do not grow tomatoes in the same garden bed for two years running or in the same bed as potatoes.
If growing tomatoes in pots always use a premium quality potting mix with slow release fertiliser added as well as water retention granules. There are some specialised potting mixes that are formulated for growing tomatoes but a general premium quality mix will be fine.
The need for support
Other than a few smaller growing varieties and even some for hanging baskets, most tomatoes grow as a vine so need to be supported as they grow. Many homemade structures are created but there are stakes, trellis and tomato cages that tend to be much neater and easier. Bamboo or tea tree teepees are often used and can look very impressive – but whatever the method, ensure that the structure will hold a fully grown plant laden with fruit
Plant your tomato seedlings
With the soil (or pots) prepared, the best plants for your needs selected and the growing support ready – it’s time to plant. Tomato seedlings can be planted a little deeper than they are in the seedling punnet or pot. Where the stem comes into contact with the soil, roots will form so burying the stem a little deeper will create a deeper and stronger root system.
Plant the young seedlings within or alongside the support structures and water in well with a plant tonic such as seasol. Begin to fertilise the plants after about 2 weeks with a plant food high in potassium to encourage flower and fruit production. Too much nitrogen will result in massive plants with limited fruit. Ask your garden centre experts for the best advice.
Keep the soil moist — neither dry nor wet. Water the ground and avoid wetting the foliage as this may cause some fungal problems.
Pests and Diseases
There a few bugs to watch for such as aphids and caterpillars. Safe sprays are available so ask your garden centre for the best advice.
Tomatoes grow quickly and generally a healthy well-fertilised and well-watered plant will not be prone to serious disease problems. If problems do occur it is often best to discard the infected plant rather than risk the problem spreading to other plants.
Tomatoes are fun to grow. They grow quickly and supply an abundance of fresh, tasty, home-grown goodness that will delight the taste buds of the whole family.