These tomatoes, marked by their unconventional and ugly appearance, have long intrigued gardeners. Catfacing on tomatoes is a physiological disorder that affects the appearance of the fruit.
This oddity of nature is characterized by irregular and often distorted growth, resulting in misshapen tomatoes or puckered areas on the tomato’s surface. These deformities remind us of the appearance of a cat’s face, hence the common name for the disorder.
Keep reading to learn why tomato catfacing occurs and discover ways to prevent the disorder from happening.
What do catfaced tomatoes look like?
A catfaced tomato has distorted growth that results in deformities on the surface of the fruit. The appearance can vary but has some common characteristics:
- Puckered and wrinkled areas on tomatoes. These areas can appear raised and uneven compared to the smooth surface of a regular tomato.
- Tomatoes with indentations and grooves. The disorder can lead to irregular grooves that sometimes extend deeply into the fruit.
- Ridges and furrows. These irregularities may give the tomato a rough or bumpy texture.
- Multiple lobes. In severe cases of catfacing, the tomato may develop multiple lobes or sections, resembling the appearance of a cat’s face – hence the common name.
- Asymmetric shape. The uneven growth caused by tomato catfacing can result in a lopsided shape.
- Uneven coloring. The color of a catfaced tomato can be uneven, with patches of lighter and darker areas. This becomes less noticeable as the fruit ripens.
Tomatoes are the most common fruit affected by catfacing, but strawberries can also develop the condition.
Is tomato catfacing a disease?
It is a physiological abiotic disorder that affects the appearance of tomatoes during their growth and development. Unlike diseases that are caused by pathogens like bacteria or viruses, catfacing is primarily a result of environmental factors.
The way the tomato’s cells respond to those conditions leads to catfacing.
What causes catfaced tomatoes?
Catfacing occurs when tomatoes are exposed to cool temperatures or temperature fluctuations, usually during the early stages of fruit development.
This exposure disrupts the normal cell division and expansion, leading to irregular and distorted growth patterns on the surface of the fruit.
These irregularities during early growing time give the tomatoes their characteristic puckered, wrinkled, and sometimes multi-lobed appearance. (Heirloom pumpkins also exhibit these characteristics!)
Other causes of catfacing in tomatoes
- Some tomato varieties are more susceptible to catfacing due to their genetic makeup. Certain heirloom or open-pollinated varieties may be more prone to developing catfacing under unfavorable environmental conditions.
- Poor pollination due to cold or rainy weather can lead to uneven fruit development. If only a portion of the flower is successfully pollinated, the rest of the fruit may not develop properly, leading to catfacing.
- Too much nitrogen fertilizer can encourage rapid vegetative growth at the expense of proper fruit development, making tomatoes more susceptible to catfacing.
- Any stress factors that the tomato plants experience during the flowering and fruit-setting period, such as drought or nutrient imbalances, can increase the likelihood of catfacing.
Will catfaced tomatoes turn red?
Yes, catfaced tomatoes can still turn red and ripen just like normal tomatoes do. The deformities caused by catfacing primarily affect mainly the external appearance of the tomatoes.
However, the disorder doesn’t typically impact the ripening process of the fruit.
As the tomatoes mature and reach their appropriate level of ripeness, they will still change color to red, or the appropriate color (if you grow another variety).
Does catfacing affect the taste of tomatoes?
While catfacing certainly leads to ugly and unappetizing looking tomatoes, it typically doesn’t affect their quality or taste. The fruit is safe to eat, and its nutritional content and flavor remains the same as that of normal tomatoes.
Although the fruit might not have the same smooth and uniform appearance as typical tomatoes, the deformities are primarily cosmetic and do not indicate any health risks or changes in flavor.
One thing to consider is whether your catfaced tomatoes causes the fruit to have open wounds. If it does, this can invite bacteria and disease to form, so care should be taken eating these fruits.
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How to prevent catfaced tomatoes
In order to prevent catfaced tomatoes, it is necessary to create an environment that minimizes the conditions that lead to temperature fluctuations during fruit development.
While it can be a challenge to completely eliminate the possibility of catfacing, you can take some measures to reduce the chances of it happening. Here are some steps to take:
Choose suitable varieties
Select tomato varieties that are less prone to catfacing. Some modern hybrid varieties have been bred to be more resistant to this issue. Heirloom varieties are often affected by catfacing.
Some types to grow that are less likely to become catfaced are:
- Roma or plum-type tomatoes have elongated shapes and a relatively smooth skin. They tend to have fewer irregularities, making them less prone to catfacing.
- Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes (and other small fruited types) are generally less susceptible to catfacing. Their smaller size seems to reduce the likelihood of severe deformities.
- Determinant tomato varieties, which produce a more compact and bushy plant, might be less susceptible to catfacing because they tend to set fruit earlier in the season when temperatures are warmer.
- Paste tomatoes, specifically bred for making tomato sauce, such as San Marzano types, often have smoother fruit with fewer deformities.
Know when to plant
Plant your tomatoes after the risk of extreme temperature fluctuations has passed. Wait until the weather has consistently warmed up to provide a more stable environment for fruit development.
Tomatoes are warm-season plants that thrive in temperatures that are consistently warm and frost-free. Planting tomatoes when the weather is too cool can increase the risk of issues like catfacing and slow growth.
Tomato seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is around 60-85°F (15-29°C). For transplanting young tomato seedlings, the soil temperature should be around 60°F (15°C) or higher.
Provide protective covers
In regions where unexpected cold snaps are common, consider using protective covers or cloths to shield young plants from temperature fluctuations.
Mulch well and fertilize correctly
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants to help regulate soil temperature and moisture, reducing stress on the plants.
Avoid fertilizers that have too much nitrogen in them, since this can encourage rapid vegetative growth at the expense of proper fruit development.
Use a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes according to recommended rates.
Water consistently and support plants
Provide consistent watering to maintain stable soil moisture levels. Fluctuations in soil moisture can contribute to stress on the plants.
Stake tomatoes or use tomato cages to support the plants and keep the fruit off the ground. This can reduce the risk of fruit contact with cool soil, which can contribute to catfacing.
Monitor the weather
Stay informed about weather conditions in your area. If a cold snap is predicted, take precautions to protect your tomato plants.
While these measures can help reduce the likelihood of catfacing, it’s possible that some degree of variation in fruit shape may still occur. Remember that catfacing is a cosmetic issue and does not affect the quality or taste of your tomatoes.
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