For many gardeners, the promise of lush, red tomatoes is one of the highlights of summer. However, a common question that I get from readers is “why are my tomatoes splitting?”
The problem of splitting tomatoes shows itself two ways, and this cracking of tomatoes is usually caused by changes in the growth rate of the fruit.
Keep reading to learn more about tomatoes cracking and how to prevent this from happening in your garden.
Why are my tomatoes splitting?
Tomatoes crack because of the common vegetable gardening mistake of inconsistency in the amount of water they receive. Tomato plant leaf curling and black spots on leaves are also problems caused by inconsistent watering techniques.
In early spring, it is normal for a garden to get lots of rain. The heat of summer follows and they may then have few rainy days, followed by a downpour.
If you have tomatoes growing in dry conditions, without supplemental water, and then you get a heavy rain, the inside of the tomatoes will grow faster than the outer skin, resulting in a cracked tomato. This is the most common cause of split tomatoes.
Rapidly growing tomatoes are prone to cracking and wide fluctuations in temperature can promote this problem, too. Temperature fluctuations can also lead to disorders such as catfacing.
The main issue with splitting tomatoes is that the cracks allow pests to enter the fruit and this promotes rot.
Mild splitting is not something to be overly concerned with.
Watch to make sure that the crack does not expose the insides of the fruit. Pick the tomatoes and discard them if you notice this.
Two types of cracked tomatoes
Tomatoes are affected by two types of cracking shown in the photo above:
- radial cracks from the stem end towards the blossom end
- concentric cracking which forms circular cracks around the fruit, sometimes appearing on the top of the fruit
Large, beefsteak varieties are prone to concentric cracking, but there are some crack resistant tomato cultivars. Normally, smaller slicing varieties and plum shaped tomatoes are less likely to split when ripe.
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Are cracked tomatoes safe to eat?
When tomatoes crack open or form splits you may wonder if they are still okay to use alone or in recipes.
Fortunately, most cracked tomatoes are fine to eat. Be sure to inspect them well and discard any fruit on the compost pile that shows signs of rot or smells sour. Use them quickly since split tomatoes do not last as long as those that are not cracked.
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How to prevent tomatoes cracking
It is not always possible to prevent cracked tomatoes. Sometimes Mother Nature just decides that a lot of rain is on the schedule. However, there are a few things that you can do to make this less of a problem.
Watering tomatoes consistently is the key
Maintaining uniform soil moisture is essential. Under normal circumstances, tomatoes need 1 1/2 inch of water per square foot, each week.
It is important to water well, and to water deeply every two to three days during the growing season.
Avoid getting the water on the leaves of the plant. Instead, water directly near the roots.
This helps to prevent tomato problems such as yellow leaves and blight.
Water tomatoes as close to the root area as you can.
Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are good tools to ensure that tomatoes are watered correctly and less likely to be affected by an unusually heavy rainfall.
Plant crack resistant varieties
Check the description in your seed catalogue or plant label. Some varieties of tomatoes that are more crack-resistant are available. Some to look for are:
Mulch well to avoid splitting tomatoes
Mulch helps to conserve soil moisture and makes it less likely that the soil will dry out. This will mean much less of a problem with split tomatoes.
Add a layer of straw or some other form of mulch over the soil near tomato plants.
Red plastic mulch is also thought to be a great mulch to help prevent tomato cracking.
Fertilize tomatoes properly
Be sure to fertilize your tomato plants according to the label for your variety of fertilizer. Fertilizing is important in keeping the soil healthy so that your plant will produce as many tomatoes as possible.
The best fertilizer for tomatoes is high in phosphorus (indicated by a larger middle number.) To make things easier, choose a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes and make sure not to over-fertilize.
It is better to apply too little than too much.
Be sure the soil drains well
Well draining soil is a must. If the soil compacts easily, it is more likely to become soaked and waterlogged after an unexpected downpour.
Use good quality, loose soil and amend the soil each year so that it stays loose and friable.
I grow my tomato plants in raised beds since they offer very good drainage after a period of heavy rain.
Adding organic matter or compost at planting time helps to make sure that the soil drains well. Soil that releases water easily won’t be as likely to become waterlogged with a heavy rain.
If you grow tomatoes in containers, be sure that they have good drainage holes and use a good quality potting mix formulated for vegetables.
Harvest your crop early to keep tomatoes from splitting
Ever since I had a problem with squirrels in my garden, I have gotten into the habit of harvesting before the tomatoes are fully ripe.
Not only does this seem to keep the critters away from them, it helps to prevent cracking. Harvesting a little early is especially important if you are expecting a heavy rainstorm.
As long as the tomatoes have a hint of color, they will ripen off the vine.
With a bit of care when watering your tomato plants and other plant maintenance, you may find that, this year, you won’t have to say “why are my tomatoes splitting?”
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