When to plant tomatoes in Melbourne

Set yourself up to harvest all summer long.

If you’re looking to grow tomatoes this season, one of the first things to figure out is when exactly you should plant them.

Below, we answer all your questions about planting tomatoes in Melbourne.

When should you plant tomatoes in Melbourne?

Spring is the best time to plant tomatoes in Melbourne. 

Traditionally the advice has been to not plant tomatoes in Melbourne before Melbourne Cup Day (first Tuesday in November). However, this is being overly cautious in most cases. 

So long you’re comfortable temperatures won’t again drop below 5°C, feel free to go ahead and plant your tomatoes anytime from mid to late September once the weather starts to warm up. 

Tomatoes can be planted in Melbourne right through summer, although tomatoes planted in summer will have a shorter growing window.

How late can you plant tomatoes in Melbourne?

You can still plant tomatoes in Melbourne as late as January, but they will have a much shorter window to grow before dying off in Autumn/Winter.

Any tomatoes planted after the start of December are going to have limited harvest periods. That’s why it is best to plant your tomatoes in Spring, so they are established in time to take advantage of the prime growing period of Summer.

If you are planting tomatoes late in the season, consider the following options:

  • Cool-season tomatoes (as discussed below)
  • Quick growing tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes

Can you grow tomatoes in Melbourne winter?

No, growing tomatoes in Melbourne winter is generally not recommended.

However, using a greenhouse to protect tomato seedlings from frost and strong winds enables you to grow plants indoors during winter and transplant them outdoors in late spring.

If you have a sunny room inside your house (e.g. sunroom or sunny windowsill), you can grow tomato seedlings there, then move them into your garden when the weather warms up.

There are also some cool-season tomato varieties such as the Giant Tree Tomato that can tolerate cooler temperatures than others if you want to try growing tomatoes outdoors during winter.

Just keep in mind that they will still need protection from strong winds and frosty nights.

The best thing is to grow other cool-season crops like onions, carrots, lettuce etc until it warms up again then plant tomatoes.

The best soil for growing tomatoes

Tomatoes prefer rich, well-drained soil with high levels of organic matter, though they will grow in almost any soil type. They do particularly well in loam or sandy loam soils.

Tomatoes are best grown in slightly acidic soil (pH level of around 5 to 7). You can add compost, manure, or fertiliser to improve the quality of your soil.

Growing tomatoes from seed

You can plant tomato seeds direct into your garden. However, it is important that the soil temperature is above 15°C (ideally 20°C+).

You can check this by using a soil thermometer or by asking your local nursery.

Once planted, water the seeds regularly for a couple of weeks until the seedlings emerge.

Tomato pest control

Fruit flies, aphids, whiteflies, thrips and caterpillars can all be troublesome to tomatoes. 

To avoid infestation, keep a close eye on your plants, especially if you’re growing early or in humid conditions.

If you think you have a pest problem look into solutions that target your specific pest. There are plenty of options available for dealing with common pests.

You can also consider non-chemical methods first such as releasing predatory insects like ladybirds or handpicking caterpillars off leaves.

Fertilising tomatoes

Fertilisers aren’t necessary for tomatoes if you have a healthy growing environment, but they can give your plants a boost. 

If you choose to use fertiliser, stick to those with low nitrogen levels. Nitrogen encourages leafy growth at the expense of fruit production, so it’s better to focus on other nutrients—potassium and phosphorus.

A high potassium fertiliser will help promote strong roots and sturdy stems, which are essential for supporting heavy crops of fruit.

You can also supplement your fertilising regime with compost or animal manure. Compost is especially useful for growing tomatoes as it adds nutrients and improves water retention.

Watering tomatoes

How often you water your tomatoes depends on the stage of growth. 

Tomato plants will only need a little bit of water to regularly moisten the soil when they are first planted.

As young plants begin to grow, you’ll want to continue watering them regularly but with more water each time.

Other tomato growing tips

Here are some helpful tips for growing tomatoes in Melbourne:

  • Let tomatoes get plenty of sun. Tomatoes require full sunlight; at least six hours a day. But in severe high temperatures, it’s beneficial to give your tomato plants some shade on their leaves and fruit. This will help prevent the fruit from scorching in the intense heat.
  • Plant early. If you plant tomatoes in early spring, you can take advantage of the extended harvest period that late summer brings.
  • Don’t replant tomatoes in the same spot each year. If you’re planting tomatoes in soil you’ve already used for tomatoes, diseases like verticillium may build up in the soil and negatively impact your tomato crop.
  • Experiment with late-maturing varieties like “Brandy Wine” for an extended harvest period.

When to harvest tomatoes in Melbourne

Tomatoes ripen on the vine so harvest them when they look ripe and ready to eat. You should be able to easily pull them from the plant, with no resistance.

Store the tomatoes in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight until you’re ready to use them.

Popular tomato varieties

There are many varieties to choose from when planting tomatoes in Melbourne.

Popular tomato varieties that you can grow at home include Gross Lisse, Tommy Toe, Black Russian, Sweet Cherry Gold, Beefsteak, and many more.