Your guide for growing tomatoes in Victoria

close up image of roma tomatoes on a vine

RACV Staff

Posted September 26, 2022

Spring is the best time to start prepping for your flourishing tomato garden. Check out these tips on how to make sure your tomatoes ripen on time.

There’s nothing like growing your own fruit and vegetables, and tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to start with. With a wet summer on its way, and the rising cost of living, there’s never been a better time to get into growing fresh fruit and veggies in your own backyard.

Used in everything from satiating sauces to scrumptious salads, toast toppers and brekkie sides, tomatoes have become a staple in our daily diets. Generally thought of as part of the vegetable family, tomatoes are in fact a savoury berry that can be eaten raw or cooked, and are a great source of vitamins C and K, potassium and folate.

Here’s everything to know about growing your own tomatoes.

bundle of red roma tomatoes

The Diggers Club’s Jac Semmler says October is the ideal time to plant tomatoes in Victoria.

When is the best time to grow tomatoes?

Contrary to popular belief, if you’re following the Australian tradition and planting your tomatoes around Melbourne Cup Day, you could be missing out on a month or more of home-grown goodness.

Jac Semmler is a tomato expert from The Diggers Club, with a mission to 'encourage and inspire gardeners to create beautiful and productive gardens for a sustainable future.’

Specialising in heirloom seeds and plants, when it comes to tomatoes, Semmler says the ideal time to get your tomatoes in the ground is actually late September or October, in order to give them the longest-possible growing season.

“Ideally, you want to get them in before Cup Day,” says Semmler. “I think [previously], Cup Day has just been a handy reminder for gardeners, a bit of a rule of thumb, to get a hurry along.”

“With big beefsteak tomatoes, it’s critical to get them in early,” she says. While she adds that smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes can still be planted in November, “There’s just a higher risk the fruit might not get to the point of ripening.”

Why grow my own tomatoes?

There are many reasons to start growing your own backyard veggie garden, with tomatoes being a great place to start fresh. From budget savings to meditative practise and learning new skills, Semmler says the best part is the flavour that comes from home-grown.

“So many supermarket tomatoes are hybrids bred for particular attributes like uniformity, transportability and shelf life. Flavour is not one of those attributes,” she says. “I don’t want a tomato that tastes like water.”

She says that while tomatoes can be a bit fickle to grow for beginners, they are a quintessential summer experience the whole family can get involved in. “They do have beautiful rewards when you’re using them in salads, or the kids can literally go into the garden and pick them off – the cherry tomatoes don’t make it as far as the kitchen very often!”

Soil preparation for growing tomatoes

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, says Semmler, so make sure you really prepare your soil by adding lots of potassium, rock dust, potash and blood and bone.

Compost, manure and a liquid fertiliser also help to ensure your soil remains rich and well-drained.

Should you grow tomatoes from seeds or seedlings?

Growing from seedlings (seeds that have already sprouted) is a good option for beginners growing their first tomatoes on the vine. Semmler says the key is to choose “good-quality, healthy-looking plants."

If you’re a little more advanced with your green thumb, Semmler says that the world’s your oyster if growing straight from the seed, as you get access to more varieties and can even grow your tomatoes from kitchen scraps.

To do this, Semmler advises that you need to start in late August or early September, in order to plant them out in late September or October and have a nice long season.


close up of tomatoes

Tomatoes require good care in the backyard to ripen. 

How to care for your backyard tomatoes

Once in the ground, ensuring good ventilation is vital in order to prevent any infection. Semmler says your tomatoes should be well staked, and laterals (side shoots) have been pruned so air can move through the plants.

How much sun and water do tomatoes need?

For backyard tomato growing, full sun is a necessity. Tomatoes like a long hot summer, and if there are large spurts of cold weather during the season, it can affect how they produce.

Make sure you prepare your soil adequately, and keep feeding throughout the season to guarantee success. 

Do I need to rotate where I grow tomatoes?

Semmler believes this is a must. “I never grow tomatoes in the same place I did the previous year, as some of the diseases they are prone to are fungal and bacterial,” she says.

Additionally, bacteria and spores can hang around in the soil for the next season, and as it is difficult to eradicate both kinds of diseases naturally, rotation is your best bet.

Can I grow tomatoes in pots?

“You can absolutely grow tomatoes in pots,” says Semmler.

In fact, tomatoes are some of the most space-saving veggies to produce, due to their vertical growth, which can even be added to a balcony garden.

Varieties that can grow in pots include Tasmanian chocolate or green grape, both dwarf plants that produces big tomatoes.

With a big enough pot, Semmler says you can even try growing some of the cherry tomato varieties.

To prepare, she says you want the biggest pot possible, and to ensure you’re growing seeds in an excellent potting mix. Just like the garden variety, feeding your tomatoes regularly is important, so she encourages growers to keep the watering up to date, as pots can dry out quickly.

When are tomatoes ready to harvest?

As tomatoes ripen while growing on the vine, they are best picked when they appear soft and ready for consumption. The seed packet or plant tag should also indicate the colour your variety of tomato should be when ripened.


Tomato and fetta on toast

Tomatoes can be used in a variety of different dishes. 

The best tomato varieties to plant in your backyard

Cherry tomatoes

When it comes to cherry tomatoes, Semmler says there are a wild variety to choose from.

“Black cherry is really beautiful… wild sweetie is [also] great for kids, it’s a tiny tomato but really sweet.”

Her other recommendations include the tasty pink bumblebee, and the yellow crazy cherry, named for looking like beautiful cherry or grape-like clusters of sweet tomatoes.

Beefsteak tomatoes

Despite the title, these tomatoes don’t get their namesake from pairing with a great steak. They are named for their large size, and are known as the biggest tomato variation.

To grow, Seddler says that the mortgage lifter tomato is a great go-to. “It’s such a heavy-yielding plant that produces really big beefsteak tomatoes,” she says. The name is said to come from an American farmer, who literally paid off his mortgage by selling his tomatoes for a dollar each.

Salad tomatoes

When growing to add richness to salads, “tommy toes have beautiful flavour and are a very reliable tomato,” says Semmler.

To those looking to add a kaleidoscope of colour to their tomato collection, she recommends the orange jaune flame, which she says have a “lovely flavour,” and the green zebra, which “have beautiful markings, and a lovely flavour that’s a bit zesty.”

Saucing tomatoes

For delicious pasta sauces, relishes and pizza bases, Semmler says that Nonno’s Italian pear is “always reliable, as is periforme abruzzese, known as ‘granny’s throwing tomato’.”  

It has thin skin, she adds, and is quite fleshy with minimal seeds, so is perfect for making a delicious passata.


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