Growing Roma Tomatoes From Planting To Harvest

Roma tomatoes are one of the most famous varieties of tomato, and you’ve probably seen them on canned tomato goods or mentioned in Italian recipes.

They are not all that different from regular tomatoes in terms of care, but when growing Roma tomatoes there are a few specifics you should keep in mind to ensure that they thrive and produce impressive harvest.

Our growing Roma tomatoes guide takes you from planting to harvesting!

Read on to learn more about this popular tomato, its many cultivars, and how to grow Roma tomatoes in your raised beds, containers, and garden beds.

What is a Roma Tomato? 

What is a Roma Tomato?

Roma tomatoes are a specific type of tomato that are generally used to make tomato paste. They have a lower water content, a thicker fruit wall, dense flesh, and generally have fewer seeds compared to other types of tomato.

All of these characteristics make them well suited for creating concentrated tomato pastes and sauces, and so they are typically used for cooking, canning, and freezing.

Different Cultivars of Roma Tomatoes

Roma tomatoes are determinate, meaning that the plant has a predetermined size it will grow to before setting its fruit, which all ripen around the same time in one main harvest.

Also called Italian plum tomatoes, there are a number of cultivars to choose from within the Roma tomato group. Here are some popular varieties:

1: ‘San Marzano’

‘San Marzano’

A very famous heirloom variety of Roma tomato, San Marzano fruits are a rich red color and shaped like a plum.

Their flesh is meaty and dense, making each individual fruit quite heavy at around 5 – 6 ounces. They are crack-resistant and mature approximately 80 days from seed.

2: ‘Heinz’

'Heinz’

A heirloom variety that produces large tomatoes. Supposedly the tomato that started the famous ketchup brand, and it is still a popular choice for making sauces and salsas. They mature 75-80 days from seed.

3: ‘Viva Italia’

‘Viva Italia’

This heat loving variety produces longer fruits about 72 days from planting. They are high yielding and have a sweet flavor that makes them tasty raw as well as cooked. The fruits are around 3-4 ounces each.

4: ‘La Roma’

‘La Roma’

An early producing variety of tomato whose fruits weigh in between 3 and 4 ounces. The plants are fairly compact and suitable for container growing. Resistant to two types of Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, and Tomato Mosaic Virus.

5: ‘Cream Sausage’

‘Cream Sausage’

These longer fruits are approximately 3 inches long when mature with a slightly pointed tip, and their ripe color is a creamy yellow.

Their bushy plants are very high yielding and do not need to be staked or trellised, making them suitable for containers.

6: ‘Sunrise Sauce’

‘Sunrise Sauce’

A hybrid tomato that produces an early harvest of orange fruits. Highly resistant to one type of Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt.

Fruits weigh around 4 to 6 ounces, and are known for having a rich flavor that develops when cooked down.  Matures in 50- 60 days.

Growing Guide for Roma Tomatoes 

Growing Guide for Roma Tomatoes

Growing Roma tomatoes follow the same growing guidelines as most other types of tomato, but as they are determinate there are some specific care instructions to be followed.

Unlike indeterminate tomatoes, determinate tomatoes do not need to be constantly pruned throughout the season.

Here are the main stages and steps that make up the care cycle for Roma tomatoes:

Stage One: Preparing to Plant 

1: Plant your tomato seeds

Plant your tomato seeds
  • If you want to grow your Roma tomatoes from seed, you will need to start seeds indoors around 6 weeks to 2 months before the last predicted frost. 
  • If you are planning on purchasing tomato seedlings from a plant store or nursery in the spring, you do not need to worry about this!

2: Select the best location for your tomatoes

Select The Best Location For Your Tomatoes
  • Roma tomato plants, like all tomatoes, need at least 6-8 hours of full sun per day to thrive. Whether you are growing your tomatoes in containers or in the ground, make sure to plant them in a spot that gets lots of sunlight. 
  • Roma tomatoes will grow best in loamy soil with good drainage, lots of organic matter, and a slightly acidic pH of 6 – 6.8.

3: Let your seedlings acclimatize to the outdoors

Let your seedlings acclimatize to the outdoors
  • For about a week to ten days before transplanting, you should gradually let your seedlings spend more and more time outside in a process called ‘hardening off’. 
  • Do not expose the seedlings to the cold, but rather let them spend a few hours outside to adjust to wind and climate discrepancies. Gradually increase the amount of time they are outside every day until the date of transplanting.

4: Prepare tomato cages, if needed by your variety.

Prepare Tomato Cages, If Needed By Your Variety.
  • Most Roma tomatoes are determinate, but even some determinate tomatoes need support when growing. Heavy fruits can topple plants and snap branches, and tomato cages can provide some much needed support and framework for growth. 
  • Before you transplant your tomatoes, you can place a tomato cage in the spot you are planning to plant them. Push the legs of the cage firmly into the soil so that it won’t blow over.

Stage Two: Transplant your Roma Tomatoes

Transplant Your Roma Tomatoes

1: Wait until temperatures are sufficiently warm

Once nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50℉, you can transplant your Roma tomato plants outside. No varieties are frost tolerant so make sure all risk of freezing temperatures has passed.

2: Dig holes for your seedlings

Dig Holes To Plant Seedlings
  • Each seedling should get a hole that is around 5 inches deep, but adjust this depth according to how tall your seedlings are. 
  • Holes should be spaced approximately 15-20 inches apart to provide the tomatoes sufficient space to grow. If you are growing in pots this is not a concern. 
  • Place a handful of compost, or your amendment of choice, in the bottom of each hole to give newly planted seedlings a little boost.

3: Bury & water your seedlings

  • Place you seedlings deep in the soil so that the stem is buried and only the first leaves are sticking out of the ground. Make the hole deeper if needed.
  • You might have noticed your Roma tomato plant is covered in many fine hairs, and all of those have the potential to become roots when buried. It is important to ensure root to soil contact, so fill the soil back into the hole securely but without compacting it. 
  • Do not create mounds around the base of the tomato plants, as this will cause uneven irrigation. 
  • Give the seedlings a good, deep watering once planted. They will be in a little bit of shock after being transplanted, so they need to be kept hydrated.

Stage Three: Mid-season Care and Maintenance for Roma Tomatoes

1: Soak your Roma tomatoes 2 – 3 times a week

  • Generally, tomatoes need a regular watering schedule in which they receive a deep drink a few times per week. 
  • If you live in a warmer climate, you may need to water your Roma tomatoes more frequently than this, and vice versa if you live in a colder climate.

2: Fertilize once a month through the growing season

2: Fertilize Once A Month Through The Growing Season
  • Roma tomatoes are heavy feeders and do need lots of nutrients to keep going throughout the season. However, many people dump fertilizer on their plants every week and this can lead to overfertilization and do more harm than good. 
  • Use a fertilizer that is well-balanced in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This will ensure your plant has everything it needs for foliage and fruit growth.

3: Mulch or weed around your plants

Mulch Or Weed Around Your Plants
  • It is a great idea to mulch around your plants a couple weeks after transplanting. Mulches retain moisture in the soil, prevent the spread of disease, and suppress weed growth. 
  • Wood chips, dried leaves, cardboard, and straw are popular biodegradable mulches for tomatoes. 
  • If you choose not to apply a mulch, you will need to weed around your tomatoes regularly to prevent weeds from competing for resources with your Roma tomatoes. You can hand weed or use a hoe- just get them out of there!

4: Treat pest and disease issues as they arise

Treat pest and disease issues as they arise
  • Keep an eye out for fungal spores, spotting on leaves, eggs, larvae, and other signs that your plant might be under threat. The earlier you can detect and diagnose an issue, the better chance of survival your plant has.
  • Yellowing leaves are a common issue on Roma tomatoes, and they can result from a number of underlying causes: too much or too little water, viruses, fungal diseases, nutrient deficiencies in the soil, or they may simply be old leaves dying back. The more time and attention you pay to your plants the more likely you are to understand the causes of issues.

Stage Four: Harvesting Roma Tomatoes

1: Check for ripeness

Check for ripeness
  • Since Roma tomatoes are determinate, the fruits will tend to ripen all around the same time. Within a period of a few weeks, all the tomatoes on your plants will need to be harvested, which can mean a lot of tomatoes at once! 
  • Roma tomatoes can be anywhere on the spectrum from yellow to red, and their color should be even and deep across the entire fruit. Their skin should be shiny, but they will feel firmer than other types of tomatoes when ripe.

2: Check the weather forecast

  • If you think you are approaching the harvest period for your Roma tomatoes, check the weather in advance to make sure that very high or very low anomalous weather events are not expected. 
  • Roma tomatoes won’t do well in temperatures over 90℉, and likewise will be damaged if the temperature drops below 60℉. If either of these are predicted, harvest them early and let them ripen indoors.

3: Twist and tug tomatoes off the vine

Twist And Tug Tomatoes Off The Vine
  • Ripe tomatoes will be easily plucked from the bush with a twist and light tug. Since Roma tomatoes are dense and firm, they may require a slightly firmer hand to remove them compared to smaller, cherry or grape tomatoes.
  • Make sure to use an appropriate receptacle to collect the tomatoes, like a wide crate or tray. Piling tomatoes on top of eachother can crush the ones on the bottom, and that would create some premature paste!

4: Top plants at the end of the season

  • Although determinate tomatoes don’t need to be pruned throughout the season, they will benefit just the same from end-of-season topping. If you still have unripe tomatoes on the bush one month before the first predicted frost, then you should cut the growing tips off your plants. 
  • Use disinfected pruning shears to chop off the growing tips and excessive foliage around the fruits. This focuses all the plants energy on ripening the existing tomatoes, and opens up spaces for the sun to reach the fruits and heat them up- speeding up the ripening process.

Tips for Growing Roma Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes In A Garden
  • Pick the right cultivar for your needs. There are many varieties of Roma tomatoes to choose from, so make sure to select the right one for you. Subtle differences between cultivars make them better suited for sauces, canning, or pastes, and there are some that are delicious raw as well. 
  • Plant in a spot that receives full sun. Roma tomatoes, like all tomatoes, need lots of direct sunlight to grow and thrive. Set them up for success by growing them in a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sun per day, but ideally 8-10.
  • Provide cages for those who need it. Although determinate tomatoes do not need as much trellising support as their indeterminate relatives, a number of varieties will still become very bushy and fruits can be heavy. Weighty tomatoes can cause the branches to snap and cages help take some of the weight off the main stem. 
  • Make sure your fertilizer is well-balanced. Roma tomatoes are dense and meaty with a low water content, and need phosphorus in the soil in order for their fruits to develop these qualities. All tomatoes need both nitrogen and phosphorus for even foliage and fruit development, but you should be especially careful to avoid too much nitrogen in fertilizers for Roma tomatoes. 
  • Roma tomatoes are firm when ripe. Usually firmness is used as a gauge for tomato ripeness, and most other tomatoes will become tender when ripe. However you should keep in mind that Roma tomato cultivars are still quite firm when ripe. You should use the fullness and consistency of the color and shine of the skin as more reliable criteria for ripeness. 
  • Can and freeze sauces & pastes soon after harvesting. Tomatoes retain flavor and nutritional value when canned or frozen better than most other fruits and vegetables. After harvesting your Roma tomatoes, you should process them as soon as you can to maintain these qualities in your pastes, sauces, and salsas.

Updated on by Amber Noyes

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