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Tomato plants some ripe and some greet tomatoes
There really is no excuse not to plant a tomato or two – not only are they bursting with flavour, they are available in many different varieties and sizes, and are easy to grow in either pots or garden beds. You can even find miniature tumbler tomatoes that grow well in hanging baskets.

 

What you need to know about tomatoes

Name: tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum).

Height: 0.5–2.5m, depending on the variety.

Plant type: annual.

Foliage: light or dark green, multi-lobed.

Climate: grow as a summer crop in warm and cool temperate zones; grow year-round in sub-tropical/tropical areas, although autumn and winter are preferable as pest/disease issues are more likely in summer.

Soil: moist, well-drained and enriched with plenty of organic matter.

Position: full sun, with protection from strong winds.

Flowering and fruiting: small yellow flowers with soft, hairy stems, followed by small, medium or large fruit. The fruit is generally red, but can also be shades of orange, yellow, green or purple, or even bi-coloured (like the ‘Tigerella’). 

Feeding: feed regularly throughout the season.

Watering: water regularly to keep soil moist, especially when flowering and fruiting.

Appearance, characteristics and varieties of tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the most popular backyard vegies. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and will suit any size garden. They are very productive, too. There are two main types: determinate and indeterminate. 

Determinate

Also known as ‘bush’ tomatoes, these varieties only grow to between 50cm and 1m tall, so are perfect for growing in pots. No staking is required, unless planted in a windy spot or to support heavy stems. They have a shorter harvest window than indeterminate forms, as all the fruit is produced in a short period (instead of throughout the growing season), which is particularly useful if you’re making a large batch of sauce. Once they fruit, the plants are done, so stagger plantings throughout the season if you want to extend the harvest. 

Indeterminate

Indeterminate: also known as ‘vining’ tomatoes, these are the traditional varieties that most gardeners grow. They like to climb – some varieties as high as 2.5m – so need to be staked or given a support system. Their harvest window usually spans the whole growing season, until conditions become too cold to continue. They will produce a steady crop, so pick often to encourage more flowers and fruit.

There is a wonderful assortment of tomatoes available in both determinate and indeterminate forms. From cherry tomatoes to hearty beefsteaks, and everything in between, you’re sure to find one (or more!) to suit your space. 

A variety of tomatoes on a chopping board

How to use tomatoes

Tomatoes are so versatile. Eat them straight off the vine – cherry tomatoes are a great snack – or enjoy them in salads, roasts, sandwiches, pastas, soups, stir-fries and so much more. They can also be used to make sauce such as passata, paste or chutney.

How to grow tomatoes

Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Enrich with compost and aged manure and fork in well. A dusting of garden lime will also help reduce the likelihood of blossom end rot (a physiological disorder that causes the base of the fruit to rot). In cool and warm temperate zones, get a head start on the season by sowing seed indoors in late winter. By the time the weather warms up, the tomato seedlings will be ready to plant in the garden. Alternatively, sow seed direct into the garden once the soil has been improved.

When planting seedlings, plant a little deeper than normal. Remove the first set of leaves and use this as a guide for planting depth. Tomatoes develop roots along the stem and planting them deeper helps anchor the plants and provides a more stable base to support growth. Gently water seeds or seedlings after planting. 

How to care for tomatoes

For tall-growing vines, insert garden stakes or a trellis for support as they grow. Tie plants loosely to the stakes with soft garden ties. There is no need to support bush forms, unless planted in windy sites or the branches are weighed down by fruit. Spread a layer of organic mulch, such as sugarcane or pea straw, over the soil to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

As plants grow, pinch out the lateral or side shoots (the shoots between the main stem and branches) to encourage plants to grow straight up. This helps manage growth and allows plants to focus more energy on producing delicious fruit.  

How often should you water and feed tomatoes?

Water regularly to keep the soil moist, especially when flowering and fruiting. To prevent fungal diseases, avoid wetting the foliage. Watering in the early morning around the base of the plant is the most beneficial method. 

Apply an organic pelletised fertiliser at the beginning of each month and supplement regularly throughout the season with a liquid fertiliser that’s high in potassium.

How and when to harvest tomatoes

Tomatoes are generally ready to harvest 10-12 weeks from sowing. Pick fruit when the skin is firm and the colour has changed. Don’t leave them on the vine for too long, otherwise they can over-ripen and split. 

Diseases and pests that affect tomatoes

Aphids, whitefly, caterpillars (budworm) and mites are all common pests of tomatoes. Keep a close eye on plants and, if sighted, treat with a suitable organic insecticide. 

Fruit fly can also be a serious pest. The female fruit fly lays its eggs in the tomato and as the larvae develop, they feed on the fruit causing it to spoil and prematurely drop. Use traps early in the season to monitor and detect fruit fly activity in the garden and spray plants with a suitable fruit fly insecticide, taking note of when and how to apply. 

Fungal diseases like powdery mildew and leaf spots can be an issue. This generally occurs if leaves are consistently wet and/or there is poor air flow between plants. Ensure there is adequate spacing between plants and treat with suitable fungicides if needed.

How to propagate tomatoes

Tomatoes can be grown from seed or seedlings.  

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. 

If you like this then try

Beans: a versatile vegie that can be grown in pots or garden beds.

Sweet basil: an aromatic herb that is the perfect companion plant for tomatoes. 

Squash: a fast-growing vegie that comes in a variety of shapes, colours and flavours.

Start growing today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!

 

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.