Roma tomatoes are arguably one of the most well-known and desirable tomatoes on the market, and you’ve probably seen them listed as ingredients in an Italian recipe or seen them as canned goods.
In terms of care, roma tomatoes aren’t that different from traditional tomatoes, but when you choose to grow this specific cultivar, there are a few specifics that you have to meet to pull off a successful harvest and that the plants thrive.
We’ve put together a quick guide to growing roma tomatoes that will take you from getting the seeds to harvesting and using the tomatoes. You can read on to find out more about how to grow them, specifics of the cultivars, and what to watch out for to keep your crop healthy.
Roma tomatoes are a very popular tomato cultivar to grow because they’ve very hardy, resistant to disease, and they produce a lot of fruit.
Defining Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are a specific type that you generally use when you’re making a tomato paste. They have a much lower water content, dense flesh, a thicker fruit wall, and usually fewer seeds when you compare them to other cultivars you could choose. All of these things make the roma tomato well-suited to help you create concentrated sauces and pastes. So, they’re popular additions when you’re canning, cooking, or freezing them.
You may find the roma tomato listed under an Italian tomato or an Italian plum tomato, and the term is the generic one to describe a paste tomato. This was an early variety known as Roma VF, and it was bred in 1963 for a heightened resistance to fusarium wilt and verticillium. Due to this early breeding, most cultivars of roma tomato, including heirloom classifications, have this resistance.
The bright red, yellow, or rose-tinged fruits are oblong, and they come with a pear or egg shape. They usually measure between two and four inches long, and the plants can be determinate or indeterminate. They produce larger fruit clusters that can require stakes, cages, or trellises to provide support for the branches so they don’t bend to the ground under the fruit weight.
When you eat roma tomatoes fresh, they have a slightly more complex flavor that is both tangy and sweet. The fullest flavor profile comes out when you cook it, and this causes them to intensify and deepen. This makes them perfect for slow cooking, roasting, or grilling.
Popular Roma Tomato Types
Roma tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate, depending on the cultivar you pick out. If you choose a determinate cultivar, this means that the plant comes with a predetermined size that it will grow to before it starts to produce the fruit, and it’ll ripen around the same time to give you one large harvest. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, and some of the most popular determinate ones include:
- Heinz – This is a heirloom roma tomato that produces larger fruit. This is also supposedly the tomato that kickstarted the famous ketchup brand, and it’s popular for making salsas and sauces. From seed, they’ll mature between 75 and 80 days.
- La Roma – As an early producing cultivar, this plant’s fruits weigh between three and four ounces each. The plants are more compact and excellent for container gardens. They’re also resistant to Verticillium wilt, two kinds of Fusarium wilt, and Tomato Mosaic Virus to make them very hardy.
- San Marzano – San Marzano is a very famous heirloom roma tomato variety, and the fruits are very rich with the red coloring and a full plum shape. The flesh is very dense and meaty, and each individual fruit is slightly heavier at five to six ounces each. They’re crack-resistant, and they’ll be ready to harvest roughly 80 days from seed.
- Sunrise Sauce – This is a hybrid roma tomato that gives you an earlier harvest of orange fruits. They’re very resistant to Verticillium wilt and one kind of Fusarium wilt, and the fruits weigh between four and six ounces each. They have a very rich flavor that develops when you cook them down, and they mature between 50 and 60 days.
- Viva Italia – Viva Italia is a heat-loving cultivar that will be ready to harvest roughly 72 days from seed. They have a sweet flavor profile with a higher yield per plant, and you can eat them raw or cooked. The fruits weigh between three and four ounces each.
There are dozens of roma tomato cultivars available, and some may do better in your particular climate zone than others.
Quick Overview – Roma Tomatoes
|Diseases:||Blossom end rot, blight, and sclerotonia|
|Hardiness:||3 to 11|
|Height:||Two to eight feet|
|Native to:||North America|
|Pests:||Aphids, hornworms, slugs, stink bugs|
|Planting Depth:||¼ inch|
|Plant Type:||Annual vegetable|
|Soil pH:||6.2 to 6.5|
|Soil Type:||Fertile and organically rich|
|Spacing:||Two feet per plant|
|Spread:||Two to four feet|
|Time to Mature:||70 to 80 days|
Roma Tomato Planting Requirements
This plant is excellent for novice gardeners as it doesn’t require a huge amount of attention to do well in your vegetable garden. They’re some of the hardiest, easiest tomatoes for you to grow, and they tend to be a very sturdy plant that produces a decent amount of fruit during the scorching summer months.
Roma tomatoes will do best if you grow them in an area between 55°F and 90°F, and you shouldn’t plant them extremely early in the season. Even though you may think that you’re getting a jumpstart on the growing season, if you plant them too early and they hit frost, you’ll end up with a failure to thrive. You want to wait until far beyond the final frost of the spring before you plant your roma tomatoes to avoid any issues.
To give your roma tomatoes a good boost and encourage strong growth, give them natural fertilizers like seaweed of fish emulsion. You should also consider starting a compost pile if you don’t have one already. This will give you access to very rich organic matter that is perfect for kickstarting your plant’s growth.
All types of tomatoes love sunlight, and if you want to set up the best conditions for growth possible, they should get eight hours of sunlight every day. They can survive with six, but anything lower than that will cause lower fruit production and stunted plant growth.
The biggest part of growing any type of tomato is to get them in direct, bright sunlight for at least six hours a day to encourage strong fruit production.
Roma tomatoes are a bush type of tomato, and this means that you don’t have to prune them. Instead, you want to trim around the plant to get rid of any damaged or unwanted parts. Too much trimming will lead to lower yields, so trim with a very light hand.
Watering and Soil
Ensure that you give your roma tomatoes sufficient water on a schedule. Don’t water until you oversaturate the soil, especially if you’re growing in a container. This can lead to issues with root rot.
These tomatoes thrive when you plant them in very nutrient-dense, rich soil. However, they do the best when they’re in a loamy, light soil medium. The soil should drain properly so it doesn’t trap too much moisture when you water. If you’re someone who routinely tests their soil, make sure the pH levels fall between 6.2 and 6.8 before you plant your seeds to ensure strong growth. You don’t necessarily have to perform a soil test, but you can for peace of mind.
Cultivate the area around your tomato plants lightly with a spade or garden hoe to get rid of any young weeds before they take hold and turn into a problem. You do want to dig deep enough to cut off the weeds below the soil level, but don’t go so deep that you damage your tomato plants’ root system.
How to Grow Roma Tomatoes
When it comes to growing roma tomatoes, they follow the same general guidelines of almost every other tomato type, with the exception of some minor differences that we outline below. Unlike indeterminate tomatoes, determinate tomatoes won’t need to be pruned constantly throughout the growing season. The main stages of steps of successful roma tomato growth are as follows:
1. Plant the Seeds
If you plant on growing your tomatoes from seed, you’ll want to start the seeds inside roughly six to eight weeks before the last frost of the spring. If you’re planning on buying established seedlings from the local nursery or plant store in the spring months, you can skip this step. If not, plant them in seed trays ¼ inch deep with a well-draining starter mixture and water them to keep the soil moist. Covering the seed tray with plastic will keep it warm enough for germination.
2: Pick a Location for Your Roma Tomatoes
Just like all tomatoes, roma tomatoes require between six and eight hours of sunlight each day to do well. Whether you want to grow them in the ground in your garden or in containers, make sure you pick out a spot that gets plenty of sun. They are best planted in a loamy soil with excellent drainage, slightly acidic pH range of 6 to 6.8, and with lots or compost mixed in.
3: Let Your Seedlings Acclimatize To Outside
Roughly 7 to 10 days before you plant on transplanting your roma tomato seedlings, you should slowly let them spend more and more time outside to harden them off. You shouldn’t expose the seedlings to the cold, but allow them to spend a few hours outside to adjust to the climate changes and wind. Gradually increase how long they spend outside until you hit your transplanting date.
To help avoid shock or killing your seedlings, it’s essential that you allow them to acclimatize to the outdoors before you plant them outside.
4: Prepare Your Tomato Cages – if Needed
Even though most roma tomatoes are determinate cultivars, they may require some support when they grow. The heavy fruit clusters can cause the plants to topple or fall over, or they can snap the branches. Tomato cages can provide much needed support to keep your plant upright and guide the plant’s growth.
Before you transplant your seedlings, you can put a tomato cage in the spot where you’re planning on having them. Push the legs of the cage firmly into the soil to ensure it stays upright in the wind.
5. Transplant Your Roma Tomatoes
Once your nighttime temperatures don’t dip below 50°F, it’s safe for you to transplant your seedlings outside. No varieties or roma tomatoes can tolerate the frost, so make sure every risk of freezing temperatures is well past for the season so you don’t end up with dead plants.
Dig each seedling a hole that is roughly five inches deep, and adjust the depth for how tall your specific seedlings are. You want to space the holes roughly 20 to 24 inches apart to give your plants enough room to spread out and grow without running into one another. If you’re growing them in pots, spacing won’t be an issue. Place a handful of compost or soil amendment of your choice into the bottom of each hole to give each new seedling a nutrient boost.
Put your seedlings deep into the soil so that the stem is completely buried and only the first two leaves stick above the soil’s surface. If needed, make the hole deeper to accommodate taller seedlings. This plant will come covered in fine hairs, and each of these hairs has the potential to become roots when you bury them. It’s essential that you provide root to soil contact, so backfill the soil into the soil without compacting it.
Don’t create mounds around the base of your plants because this will cause uneven watering. When you finish planting, give your seedlings a deep drink. They’ll be in slight shock from transplanting, so you need to water them to pull them out of it.
6. Mid-Season Care And Maintenance
Getting your roma tomatoes in the ground is only half the battle. There is mid-season care and maintenance you have to keep up on to keep the plants healthy and thriving too.
Soak the Tomatoes 2 or 3 Times Each Week
Generally speaking, your roma tomatoes will need a regular watering schedule where you allow them to have a deep drink two or three times a week. If you live in a warmer planting zone, you may need to water them more than two or three times a week, or less if you live in a colder climate.
Fertilize Once Every Month Throughout the Growing Season
Roma tomatoes are very heavy feeders, and they need a large amount of nutrients to support their growth and fruit production throughout the summer. However, a lot of people tend to dump fertilizer on their tomatoes each week, and this can lead to overfertilization that can negatively impact your plant. Get a fertilizer that has a well-balanced NPK ratio, and this will help to ensure that your plant has everything it needs to produce high fruit yields.
Mulch or Weed Around Your Tomatoes
It’s an excellent idea to mulch around the plants for a few weeks after you transplant them as seedlings. Mulches help retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and prevent diseases from spreading. Dried leaves, wood chips, straw, or cardboard are all popular biodegradable mulch alternatives for your space. If you don’t want to apply mulch, you’ll need to make a point to weed around the plants regularly to stop the weeds from stealing resources from your plants. You can use a hoe or weed by hand, but it should be on at least a weekly basis.
Weeding will reduce the amount of plants that are competing with your tomatoes with nutrients.
Treat Pest And Diseases as Needed
Keep an eye on your roma tomatoes for leaf spotting, fungal spores, larvae, eggs, or any other clues that your plant is being attacked. The earlier you can detect these issues and figure out the cause, the better chances your plant has of surviving.
Yellowing leaves are a very common problem you’ll find with these plants, and this can come from a range of causes, including fungal diseases, viruses, too little or too much water, soil nutrient deficiencies, or the old leaves dying off. The more attention and time you have to spend with your roma tomatoes, the more likely you are to be able to pinpoint the cause of any issues that arise.
7. Harvesting Roma Tomatoes
Again, since most cultivars fall into the determinate category, the fruit usually all ripens right around the same time. Within a few weeks, you’ll have to harvest all of the fruits on your plants, so you’ll end up with a large amount of tomatoes at once.
They can be anywhere from red to yellow when it comes to color, and the color should be even across the whole fruit. The skin should be shiny, and they will feel more firm than many tomato cultivars when they’re ripe.
You’ll harvest your tomatoes after roughly three months, and they ripen between 70 and 80 days from planting. When the tomatoes are heavy, firm, and one color, it’s time to pull them from the plant. They’ll start to turn red when the temperature stays above 80°F and 85°F on a consistent basis. If you want to use them on sauces or salsas, you’ll harvest them when they’re very firm and bright red. If you want to can them, allow them to ripen for a few more days until they’re slightly squishy and dark red.
Check the Forecast
If you think it’s time to harvest your roma tomatoes, you want to double-check the forecast a few days in advance to make sure that you have low chances of weather issues, like storms happening at this time. They won’t do well if the temperatures exceed 90°F, and they’ll sustain damage if the temperature dips below 60°F. If you have either of these predicted, harvest your fruits early and ripen them inside.
Twist and Gently Tug Tomatoes off the Plants
It’s easy to pluck ripe tomatoes from the bush with a slight twist and pull. Since these tomatoes are very firm and dense, they may need a firmer hand to remove them from the vine compared to smaller grape or cherry tomatoes. Make sure you use the appropriate basket to collect your tomatoes, like a wide tray or cart. Piling them on top of one another can crush the tomatoes at the bottom of the pile, so you want to avoid this when you harvest.
Top Your Plants at the End of the Growing Season
Even though you won’t do heavy pruning throughout the growing season with most roma tomatoes, they will need topping at the end of the season. If you have unripe tomatoes on the plant a month before the first frost, you want to cut the growing tips off of the plants.
Get a pair of disinfected pruning shears and cut off the growing tips of the plants along with the excessive foliage around the fruits. This forces the plant to use energy to ripen the existing fruit, and it also opens spaces for the sun to filter through and heat them. In turn, this speeds up the ripening process.
Common Roma Tomato Pests and Diseases
When most people picture roma tomatoes, they think of an old heirloom variety that came from Italy decades ago. However, it may surprise you to know that roma tomatoes have only been around since 1955, and they were originally a crossbred hybrid. This plant was specifically bred to resist Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt. However, it’s still prone to issues with certain pests and diseases, including:
Blossom End Rot
This disease is characterized by a water-soaked space at the fruit’s blossom end. A calcium deficiency is the main cause in the fruit, and soil moisture content fluctuations also play in. To help avoid this problem on your roma tomatoes, you shouldn’t plant them until the soil warms up for the season. Also, try to keep your soil evenly moist.
White flies and aphids are huge problems for virtually any type of tomato plant, roma tomatoes included. To help maximize the plant’s fruit production and reduce disease or insect issues, you should pick out cultivars that are suited to your environment. Your local nursery can give you the information and tell you which ones you should plant.
Late blight is a fungal disease that can develop at any point. It can cause gray, moldy spots on the fruits and leaves of each plant, and they can fade to brown. This disease thrives and spreads in persistently damp conditions, and it can also overwinter if you don’t destroy afflicted plants.
Blight is a huge problem with any type of tomato plant, and it can rapidly spread and kill the whole crop if you don’t get rid of infected plants quickly enough.
This is a very large green caterpillar that camouflages themselves along the tomato plant stems. They feed on the fruits and leaves, and they can cause large amounts of damage if you don’t do something about them. The best method for controlling this pest is to pick them off the plant as you spot them.
Roma Tomato Growing Tips
The following growing tips can help maximize your fruit yields and ensure that your plants stay strong and healthy. They can also ensure you use as much fruit as possible when it’s ready to harvest.
- Can and Freeze Pastes and Sauces Quickly – Tomatoes will retain their nutritional value and flavor when you freeze or can them better than virtually any other fruits or vegetables. Once you harvest the fruit, you want to process them as soon as you can to help lock in these qualities in your sauces, pastes, and salsas.
- Make Sure to Use a Well-Balanced Fertilizer – Since roma tomatoes are meaty and dense with lower water content, they need phosphorus in the soil for the fruits to develop. Every tomato type needs both phosphorus and nitrogen for fruit and foliage development, but you want to avoid fertilizers with a higher nitrogen content for these tomatoes.
- Pick the Correct Cultivar – There are dozens of roma tomato varieties to choose from, so you want to pick the correct one for your needs. Very subtle differences in cultivars make them better suited to use in canning, sauces, or pastes, and many are great raw.
- Plant in a Full Sun Location – These plants require a huge amount of direct sunlight to thrive and grow. You can set them up for success by growing them in an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, but they’re better off with 8 to 10 hours of sunlight each day.
- Provide Cages if the Plants Need Them – Most determinate tomatoes don’t need as much support as indeterminate cultivars, but some will grow very bushy with heavier fruits. Weighty fruits can cause the branches to snap or bend, so tomato cages can give them the support they need to grow and keep the weight from damaging the main stem.
- Roma Tomatoes are Firm When They are Ripe – Many people use firmness to gauge how ripe a tomato is, and most other types of tomatoes will get tender when they’re ready to harvest. However, you have to remember that roma tomatoes are firm when they’re ripe. You should use the color consistency and fruit fullness with the skin shine to gauge how ripe they are instead.
This quick guide on how to grow roma tomatoes outlined everything you need to know about getting these bushy plants to thrive and produce a lot of fruit. Once they do, you can easily use them to make salsas, sauces, and tomato pastes to enrich your recipes.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.