How to Plant, Grow, And Care For Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are a variety of plum tomatoes. They are egg or pear-shaped red tomatoes, although there are also golden Roma tomato varieties.
Roma tomatoes are open-pollinated tomatoes but are generally not considered heirloom tomatoes.
Updated: February 8, 2023.
What Are Roma Tomatoes?
Roma tomatoes, also known as "Italien Plum Tomatoes" or "paste tomatoes," are plum tomatoes grown for sauces and canning, although they are used in salads as well. As such, Roma tomatoes have fewer seeds, dense and firm flesh, and thick fruit wall and skin with generally less moisture.
Fruits are compact, pear-shaped, and up to 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) long with 4-5 large Roma tomatoes in one pound and 7-8 smaller plum/cherry Roma tomatoes in one pound, depending on the exact Roma tomato variety.
Most Roma tomatoes are bright red in color, but some newer varieties are offered in other colors, for example, golden-yellow.
Roma tomatoes are sensitive to frost and low temperatures and should be planted in a permanent location only after the danger of frost is gone.
Depending on the sub-variety, Roma tomatoes grow 3-5 feet (0.90 - 1.50 m) tall and produce large crops.
Are Roma Tomatoes Determinate or Indeterminate Tomatoes?
Like most plum tomatoes, Roma tomatoes are mostly determinate tomatoes, with some Roma tomato varieties being indeterminate tomatoes.
As such, most Roma tomatoes grow only to a specific size, they flower, set fruits, and stop growing in height or width - Romas are more compact plants than San Marzanos, and they are better suited for growing in containers and flower pots in gardens and indoors.
Whether grown in containers or not, Roma tomatoes have the same requirements as all other tomatoes.
How To Sow Roma Tomatoes
Since Roma tomatoes are sensitive to frost, the gardener should sow seeds indoors in pots some 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Also, to prolong the harvesting season, it is recommended to sow seeds every 2-3 weeks.
For example, if You need 12 Roma tomato plants, take 12 pots and fill them with good potting soil and:
- sow 3-4 seeds in 4 pots some 8 weeks before the last frost date,
- sow 3-4 seeds in 4 pots some 4 weeks before the last frost date,
- sow 3-4 seeds in 4 pots around the last frost date.
As the seeds germinate and seedlings start to grow, remove all the seedlings but the strongest ones and keep them indoors, near the window, away from cold drafts and similar. If artificial lighting is required, some LED grow lights can be used to stimulate the growth of seedlings.
Soil should be well aerated, with good drainage, rich in organic matter and nutrients, and slightly acidic (pH around 6.0 - 6.5).
If you have heavy soil, growing plants in raised beds and containers is recommended until the soil is improved by adding plenty of, for example, sand, peat moss, potting soil, and organic matter (organic compost, worm castings, and aged, dried manure) into the soil.
If You already have well-aerated soil with good drainage, add some worm castings and organic compost mixed with some balanced NPK fertilizer.
Similarly, when growing tomatoes in containers, fill them with good potting soil and add some organic compost, aged manure, worm castings, and balanced NPK fertilizers (for example, 15-15-15) with micro-elements.
To simplify things, feel free to use NPK fertilizers with the gradual release of nutrients - over time, they release nutrients without causing nutrient spikes and without the dangers of root burns.
To support the vigorous growth of plants and numerous fruits, the soil must be fertile. Also, when the small tomatoes start to appear, again add some (but not much) organic compost, worm castings, and/or NPK fertilizer into the soil.
Nitrogen stimulates plant growth, but the plants may become sensitive and weak, prone to diseases, so avoiding too much nitrogen is important.
When choosing the location for Roma tomatoes, always go for a sunny location protected from the wind, having crop rotation in mind - don't grow Roma tomatoes where tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family (peppers, potatoes, eggplants, etc.) were grown in the past 2-3 years.
Blossom-End Rot: How To Avoid It?
Blossom-end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the tomatoes, which may occur for several reasons, including fluctuations in the soil moisture, root injuries, and too much nitrogen in the soil.
It is important to discuss the blossom-end rot even before the first seedlings are planted because, in most situations, blossom-end rot can be easily prevented:
- Don't plant tomatoes while the soil is still too cold - the soil should be 60°F (~15°C) or warmer. Cold soil slows root growth which then has issues with providing the plants with enough nutrients, calcium included.
- Soil should be fertilized properly, with a pH of around 6.2-6.5, and without too much nitrogen. If You generally have issues with blossom-end rot, use organic fertilizers and NPK fertilizers with a low amount of nitrogen and rich in phosphorous, for example, 5-20-5.
- Water the plants using rainwater since tap water in some areas may contain too much salts that include sodium, magnesium, potassium, and similar, making calcium less available to plants.
- Don't damage the roots, for example, add stakes and other support as soon as you plant the seedlings. Also, don't dig around the plants (10-12 inches from the base of the plant) after the fruits are set.
- Water regularly, and if possible, use a water dripping system. Regardless of the watering system, add water to the soil and keep the plants dry.
- Protect the plants and soil from the strong wind and add a layer of organic mulch, like straw, for example.
Blossom-end rot can destroy many tomatoes, so it is a good thing to address it even before the first tomato seedlings are planted.
Planting the Seedlings
1-2 weeks after the last frost date, plant the ~8-9 weeks old seedlings in the garden patch - since tomatoes grow new roots from their stems, feel free to plant the seedlings deeper than they were growing in the pots.
Roma tomatoes should be spaced 24-36 inches (60-90 cm) with enough space between the rows to allow the gardener free access to the plants.
When tomato plants are transplanted, add support immediately while plants are small and roots are not fully developed since adding stakes or tomato cages later can damage the roots.
After planting and adding support, water the young plants immediately using stale water.
If You have Roma tomato seedlings that are at different states of growth, plant them in a permanent position when they are ~8 weeks old or when there is absolutely no danger of frost anymore.
How To Water Roma Tomatoes
During the growing period, the soil should be moist, just be aware that tomatoes don't like soggy soil ('wet feet').
When growing them in containers and flower pots, be sure that containers and pots have enough drainage holes. When watering, water often with stale water, but avoid watering with too much water.
When watering, be sure to keep the plants dry - add water directly to the soil.
Note that Romas require some 70-80 days to grow fully ripe fruits and a few more weeks to fully ripe all the fruits - one needs really good soil, rich in nutrients, to support vigorous plant growth before setting first fruits and growth of numerous tomato fruits.
Roma tomatoes prefer plenty of sun, they don't like strong winds and sudden changes in temperatures - grow them in southern positions, well protected from frost and strong winds.
Pruning Roma Tomatoes - Yes or No?
Roma tomatoes are compact, bush-type of tomatoes, and generally, they don't have to be pruned, at least not heavily.
When pruning Roma tomatoes, one should remove damaged or ill parts. Also, remove suckers (small branches that appear between the stem and main branches) to promote the growth of young fruits.
When pruning, have in mind that plants should also be well aerated, not just the soil - air and sun prevent many diseases and help the plants grow strong.
Caring For Roma Tomatoes
Caring for Romas tomatoes is relatively easy - be sure that the soil is moist and rich in nutrients, that they have plenty of sun, and that they are protected from winds.
To protect the soil from strong sun and wind and keep the moisture, one can add a layer of organic mulch - over time, as the mulch decomposes, it refeeds the plants and keeps the soil slightly acidic.
Also, choosing more resistant 'Roma VF' varieties is highly recommended - VF stands for 'Verticillium and Fusarium wilt' resistant variety.
If diseases do happen, remember that Roma tomatoes have a relatively short vegetation period and use chemicals according to the instructions. Sometimes it is better to throw away problematic plant(s) than to use chemicals.
'Baby Roma Tomatoes' are smaller plum Roma tomato varieties that are about the size of cherry tomatoes. They can be grown in pots easily or anywhere in the garden where growing space is limited.
'Windowbox Roma Tomatoes' are even smaller plants than 'Baby Romas' and are suitable for growing on windowsills or hanging baskets.
Few Final Words
Because of their slender and firm nature, Romas are often used for canning and for making various tomato sauces.
They are also often used for salads, especially with other tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, golden tomatoes, etc.), cucumbers, green onions, peppers, and similar vegetables.