How to Grow and Care for Roma Tomatoes

The Tomatoes of Choice for Making Sauce and Canning

Roma tomatoes

GomezDavid / Getty Images

Roma refers to a group of tomato varieties that are the prime choice for sauces and canning. They have less moisture content than other, juicier tomato varieties such as beefsteak tomatoes. Romas have a thick fruit wall and skin, firm and dense flesh, and they have fewer seeds. These properties make them an ideal tomato type for cooking down, which has also earned them the name paste tomatoes. 

What makes Roma tomato varieties stand out is their elongated, egg-like shape, which in some varieties is pear- or plum-shaped. Roma type tomatoes don’t get very big, only about 3 inches long. The skin is usually bright red, although new hybrids are being introduced in a variety of other colors.

As with all tomato varieties, the plants are highly sensitive to cold damage so wait to plant out until after danger of frost has passed They are a fast-growing annual vegetable whose life cycle ends with the onset of fall frosts.

The non-fruit parts of tomatoes are toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.

 Common Name:  Roma tomato, paste tomato
 Botanical Name:  Solanum lycopersicum
 Family:  Solanaceae
 Plant Type:  Annual, vegetable 
 Size:  3-5 ft. tall, 2-4 ft. spread
 Sun Exposure:  Full
 Soil Type:  Loamy, well-drained
 Soil pH:  Acidic
Bloom Time:  Summer
Hardiness Zones: 3-11 (USDA)
Native Area: South America
Toxicity: Toxic to humans, toxic to pets (non-fruit parts)

How to Plant Roma Tomatoes 

Planting Roma tomatoes does not differ much from planting any other type of tomato. 

When to Plant

The planting time depends on your local climate but the overall rule is to wait to plant until after the last spring frost. The plants, and especially young seedlings, are frost-sensitive. Planting them too early even if there is no more frost can be risky. Pay attention also to cold weather spells, which may not kill the plant, but they can stunt its growth and damage the flower buds or flowers.

Taking your time to properly harden off the seedlings is crucial for a successful tomato season. 

Selecting a Planting Site

Find a spot in your garden with rich, well-draining soil where the tomatoes get full sun. Keep in mind that you need to follow crop rotation—avoid planting tomatoes in the same location where you grew tomatoes, or other members of the nightshade family-pepper, eggplant, potatoes- the year before, ideally for the previous two years.

Consider what else you are planting, and make sure that other, fast-growing plants such as corn or pole beans, don’t shade the tomatoes. You can take advantage, however, of the tomatoes shading other crops that benefit during hot summer weather, such as lettuce. 

Spacing, Depth, and Support

Roma tomatoes should be planted deeply, in fact, as deeply as possible, as they will develop roots from any part that is buried in the soil, which leads to extra-strong plants. 

The spacing depends on whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate. Leave 12 to 24 inches space between determinate, and 2 to 3 feet between indeterminate varieties. Rows should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart. 

Roma tomatoes need staking, trellising, or tomato cages for support. 

Roma Tomato Plant Care

Caring for Roma tomatoes is similar to other tomato varieties.

Light

Tomatoes need lots of light during their entire life cycle, starting with the seedlings. Keep that in mind when you start tomato plants indoors—you need a large, south-facing window, a greenhouse, or grow lights to produce healthy tomato seedlings.

The plants need full sun, which means a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight. Anything less will result in leggy plants and poor fruit.

Soil

Tomatoes grow best in deep, loamy, well-drained, rich soil that is slightly acidic (pH between 6.2 and 6.8). Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter.

For yards with heavy clay soil, it is best to grow tomatoes in raised beds filled with suitable soil.

Water

Tomatoes needs to be well-watered at all times so you need to keep an eye on the soil moisture level all season long. In the absence of rain, give them at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. The soil should never dry out, which can lead to fast wilting. Water slowly and deeply and try not to get the foliage wet, which increases the risk of spreading fungal diseases such as blight.

Temperature and Humidity

Romas need warm temperatures, so if you live in a cold climate with a short growing season, pick the quickest maturing varieties. In the spring, delay planting until nighttime temperatures reach at least 60 degrees. 

Tomatoes can withstand humid conditions but high humidity can foster the spread of diseases, especially if there is a lack of air circulation within the plant, and between plants.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing tomatoes is largely dependent on the condition of the soil when they are planted. At planting time, add 2 tablespoons of a high-phosphorus granular fertilizer such as NPK 5-10-5 to the soil around each plant. There are a number of different approaches to fertilizing mid-season and recommended NPK ratios can vary widely. As a general rule, the mid-season application should be low in nitrogen to avoid boosting leafy growth at the expense of fruit production. If you live in a hot climate with a very long growing season, a third fertilization may be warranted in the late summer but in most climates, just two fertilizations will suffice provided the soil is rich in organic matter. 

Pollination

Roma tomatoes are self-pollinating so you only need one plant and pollinating insects aren’t required for fruiting. However, insects and wind move the process of pollination along. Attracting beneficial insects such as natural predators can also help keep pests such as the tomato hornworm under control.

San Marzano tomatoes
San Marzano tomatoes

Erika Edqvist / Getty Images

Types of Roma Tomatoes

There are several different varieties of Roma tomatoes, both hybrids and heirlooms, and determinate and indeterminate types. They vary in fruit size, days to maturity, disease-resistance, and other features. 

  • ‘Amish Paste’, an indeterminate heirloom variety with irregularly shaped fruit, 85 days to maturity
  • ‘Granadero’, an indeterminate hybrid with 75 days to maturity, prolific yield, resistance to fusarium wilt, tomato mosaic virus, and verticillium wilt
  • San Marzano', this popular paste tomato, is an indeterminate heirloom variety, 85 days to maturity 
  • ‘Plum Regal’, a hybrid determinate tomato with 75 days to maturity, resistance to fusarium wilt, late blight, tomato spotted wilt virus, and verticillium wilt 
  • ‘Sunrise Sauce’, a hybrid determinate variety with orange fruit, 57 days to maturity, resistance to fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt. The compact plants are especially suitable for container growing.

Harvesting Roma Tomatoes

Roma tomatoes are ripe and ready to be harvested when they are evenly colored red. They should still be firm so don’t let them turn overripe on the vine.

If cold fall weather hits and you still have green Roma tomatoes on the plants, pick them all and ripen them indoors in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper. They won’t all ripen the same way as outdoors but at least you can save a few. 

How to Grow Roma Tomatoes in Pots

For growing tomatoes in containers, select a compact, determinate Roma tomato variety. Choose a 5-gallon container with large drainage holes and fill it with potting mix. As the tomato grows, it will need some staking.

Tomatoes in containers need daily watering and a balanced fertilizer once a month throughout the summer.

Pruning

Regularly removing tomato suckers (or side shoots) while they are still small and can be snapped off easily is an important part of tomato plant care. It is essential to keep the vigorously growing plants under control. Plants that grow too densely lack air circulation and traps moisture, which fosters the spread of plant diseases.

Roma tomato seedlings
Roma tomato seedlings

Barbara Rich / Getty Images

How to Grow Roma Tomatoes From Seed

You can start Roma tomatoes from seed. In most climates, they need to be started indoors to get a head start on the outdoor growing season. The exact timing depends on your local climate and the days to maturity of the variety.

Starting Roma tomatoes from seed only makes sense for heirloom, open-pollinated varieties such as San Marzano. The seeds from hybrids produce unpredictable results so if you want to grow a hybrid, start with new seeds from a seed company, as those have been pollinated under controlled conditions.

  1. Based on your average last frost date, count back about 6 weeks to start the seeds indoors in seedlings trays. 
  2. Sow seeds ¼ inch deep in flats filled with moist potting mix. Lightly cover the seeds with potting mix.
  3. Keep the flat at 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65 degrees at night in a place with direct sunlight or grow lights. Spray with water daily to keep the soil moist but not soggy at all times. 
  4. When the first true leaf appears, transplant the seedlings in 4-inch pots filled with potting mix and keep them well-watered at all times. 
  5. Gradually harden off the seedlings before planting them outdoors in garden soil or containers. 

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Like all tomatoes, Roma tomatoes are prone to a range of diseases. Growing healthy plants and choosing resistant varieties are the best prevention but even when grown in ideal conditions, the plants are not immune to common tomato diseases. 

Potential fungal diseases include early and late blight, septoria leaf spot, verticillium wilt, and fusarium wilt

Two common viral diseases of tomatoes are mosaic virus and tomato spotted wilt virus

Other problems can be blossom end rot, or tomato hornworms attacking the plants.

FAQ
  • Do Roma tomatoes need a trellis?

    Both determinate and indeterminate varieties needs a trellis to keep them off the ground.

  • How many Roma tomatoes do you get per plant?

    The yield depends on how vigorous the plant is. There is a record a plant yielding 200 pounds of fruit, but on average a healthy plant will yield 20 to 30 pounds of fruit.

  • Are Roma tomatoes determinate or indeterminate?

    Roma tomatoes come in both indeterminate and determinate varieties. The harvest window of determinate plants is narrower, which is helpful for making sauce and canning because. Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, keep growing their vines with fruit and ripening over a longer period of time up until late summer or early fall depending on the climate.

Article Sources
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  1. Toxic Plants. University of California.

  2. Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants: Tomato Plant. ASPCA.