Roma tomatoes are a popular variety of paste tomato. Their dense, meaty flesh, low moisture content, and few seeds make them ideal for sauces and pastes.
Roma tomatoes grow to about 3 inches long in a cylindrical shape. They can vary in color ranging from deep red to pink and orange.
The Roma tomato plant grows in a compact bush, and when tended well, can produce a massive yield. This is one of the reasons it’s an excellent choice for a home garden.
Common varieties the Roma tomato include:
- Plum Regal: a fleshy, flavorful, dark red variety of Roma tomato with immunity to blight disease.
- Sunrise Sauce: a variety popular for its sweet flavor, ideal for making sauces and pastes.
- Heinz: the best-known paste tomato variety. It produces large, flavorful tomatoes, rich in lycopene.
- Martino’s Roma: these produce dark red, pear-shaped tomatoes with high yields and excellent blight resistance.
Here’s everything you need to know about growing Roma tomatoes.
Are Roma Tomatoes Bush or Vine Tomatoes?
The Roma tomato is determinate, which means it grows in a bush to a predetermined height.
Consider the following comparison between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes:
How to Grow Roma Tomatoes
How to Grow Roma Tomatoes from Seed
When growing Roma tomatoes, you can start them from seeds, or buy seedlings from your local nursery.
Roma tomato plants require a long growing season. They are best started indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date.
For best results, sow the seeds about ½ deep in a moist, well-drained starting mix, at about 65℉ – 90℉.
Place the seedlings next to a south-facing window or use artificial lights. Without adequate light, the seedling stems will elongate and lean over.
Thin out the seedling after true leaves appear, and continue growing them in the mix two inches apart.
When the seedlings get to 5 inches tall and are between 6 to 8 weeks old, you can start hardening them.
Hardening Off Your Roma Tomato Plants
Hardening refers to the process of gradually exposing seedling to outdoor conditions. Do this from mid to late April before transplanting to containers or the garden.
To harden off your tomato seedlings, place them outside in the shade for a few hours daily. Slowly increase their time outside and introduce them to direct sunlight.
On sunny, breezy days, keep an eye on the seedlings to prevent wilting, or wind damage. And when the weather is too harsh, use a windbreak, or place the seedlings next to an open window instead.
After a week of doing this, your seedlings will be hardy enough to transplant.
Do NOT harden off your Roma seedlings by exposing them to the cold. This can stress the plants and cause stunted growth.
Growing Roma Tomatoes in Pots
When growing tomatoes in containers, use material pots. These allow for better drainage and root aeration.
If you don’t have access to material pots, you can use traditional planters with plenty of holes in the bottom. Use containers with a minimum depth of 14 to 16 inches and 20 to 24 inches in diameter.
Use a loose potting mix with organic material such as perlite, vermiculite, or coco coir.
For potted Roma tomatoes, install the stakes or cage before planting. These will encourage vertical growth and support the plant when it starts fruiting.
Place the pots where your plants will get between 6 to 8 hours of sunlight and don’t forget to water them regularly.
Transplanting Roma Seedlings
Only transplant the seedlings after the last frost. And when night temperatures no longer drop below 50℉.
When selecting seedlings for transplanting, look for short, sturdy, dark green plants. Avoid tall, leggy, or yellowish seedlings and those that have started flowering.
Mature seedlings will stall after transplanting while younger seedlings thrive.
Here are the steps you need to follow when transplanting your seedlings:
- Water the plants well before transplanting.
- Install the plant supports, i.e: stakes, tomato cages, trellises, etc.
- Pinch off a few of the lower branches.
- Plant the root ball such that the lower leaves are just above the surface.
- Space the seedlings between 14 and 20 inches for optimal growth
- Firm the soil around the base and water to establish good root-soil contact.
TIP: To ensure healthy transplants, plant the seedlings such that part of the stem is below the soil. Tomato stems can sprout new roots when buried.
Caring for Your Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomato plants need the same conditions as any other tomato. That is:
- Soil: warm, well-drained, soil rich in organic content. They can tolerate slightly acidic soil but will be most productive at pH levels between 6.0 and 6.5.
- Sun: The Roma tomato requires full sun for maximum productivity. Ensure your tomatoes get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.
- Temperature: Roma tomatoes grow best between 55℉ and 90℉. Don’t start your tomatoes too early in the season, they are highly susceptible to frost.
- Water: Growing Roma tomatoes need plenty of water, especially when fruiting. Inconsistent or inadequate water may lead to split tomatoes.
But be careful not to overwater your tomatoes, especially in colder climates.
- Fertilizer: Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Incorporate a balanced, slow-releasing fertilizer when planting. You can also add in some compost or manure throughout the season.
Alternatively, you can use a liquid fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks. But avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. They encourage foliage growth but affect fruit quality in tomato Roma.
Also, don’t use any fertilizers containing weed killers. They may end up killing your tomatoes as well.
- Pruning: Since Roma tomatoes are a bush variety, they don’t need pruning. Instead, you should trim around the plant to get rid of any unwanted or damaged parts. But remember, too much trimming can lead to reduced yields.
- Weeding: Cultivate lightly with a garden hoe or spade to get rid of young weed before they become a problem. Be sure to dig just deep enough to cut off the weeds below the soil surface. But not so deep you damage your tomatoes’ roots.
You can also mulch with herbicide-free grass clippings or straw. Mulch helps reduce weed growth and also promotes moisture retention in the soil.
Harvesting Roma Tomatoes
Your tomatoes will be ready to harvest in about 70 to 80 days after planting. Because Roma tomato is a determinate plant, all its fruits will ripen at about the same time. This is a big advantage, especially if you’re making sauces. That’s why they make such great paste tomatoes.
But if you just want to eat the fruit, the Roma tomato is very tasty eaten raw.
Harvest your Roma tomatoes when the fruit is firm and evenly colored. If the temperature reaches 90℉, it’s best to pick the fruits and ripen them indoors at about 70℉.
Romas won’t survive a frost. If frost is predicted, bring in the unripe fruits and ripen them in paper bags at 60℉ or so.
Roma Tomatoes Pest and Diseases
When you think of Roma tomatoes, you imagine that they are an old heirloom that came over from some village in Italy years ago. But in truth, Roma tomatoes were developed as crossbred hybrids back in 1955.
That said, the most common tomato pests and diseases are:
- Tomato Hornworms: These are large green caterpillars that camouflage themselves along the stems of tomato plants.
They feed on the leaves and fruits and can cause significant damage if left unchecked.
The best method for controlling hornworms is to pick them off the plant – if you can find them!
- Late Blight: This is a fungal disease that can strike at any time. It causes moldy grey spots on the leaves and fruits, which later turn brown.
Late blight spreads and thrives in persistently damp conditions and can overwinter. So be sure to destroy all afflicted plants.
- Blossom End Rot: This is characterized by a water-soaked area at the blossom end of the fruit. It’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit and fluctuations in soil moisture content.
To help avoid blossom end rot with the Roma tomato (and many other varieties of tomato plants too.) Don’t plant your tomatoes until the soil has warmed up, and keep the soil evenly moist.
In addition to these, your plants might also be susceptible to insects such as Aphids, and White Flies.
To maximize fruit productivity and reduce insect and disease problems, select varieties that grow well in your area.
Your local nursery or Cooperative Extension can give you that information.
Growing Roma tomatoes, or indeed any crop in your home garden can be a challenge without the right information.
Thankfully, you can visit Gardening Channel, to get free access to all the information you need. Here, you also get tips and advice from experienced gardeners to help you unlock your full green thumb potential!