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Why are My Tomatoes Splitting? – How to Prevent Tomatoes Cracking

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?”

Cracked tomatoes can show up at any stage of the plants growth, either when green or ripe and red. No matter what time it happens for you, it will be very disappointing.

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.

Tomatoes on a wooden board with cracks in the skins.

Why are my tomatoes splitting?

Tomatoes crack because of inconsistencies in the amount of water they receive. 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. 

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.

Radial and concentric cracking on tomatoes with words Why do tomatoes crack?

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.

Hand holding a cracked tomato in a field.

Although unsightly, split tomatoes can be used in all sorts of recipes from home made marinara sauce to Caprese salad. Just cut off the cracked part and use the rest of the fruit.

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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.

Watering tomatoes on the foliage with large red no overlay graphic.

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:

Bag of seeds with a tomato on it and words crack resistant.

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. 

Tomato plant with straw mulch to conserve moisture.

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.

Tomato plant with fertilizer around it and words "Use a fertilizer high in phosphorus - larger middle number."

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.

tomato plants growing in a raised garden bed.

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.

Almost ripe tomatoes with an arrow and words these are fine to pick, too.

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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Cracked tomato on the vine and words why do my tomatoes split and what can I do about it?

Yield: 1 printable

How to Prevent Tomatoes Cracking - Printable

Tomatoes on the vine with skin cracked from excess water.

Ripe, lush tomatoes are a highlight of summer but sometimes tomatoes split, causing unsightly cracks. Why does this happen?

This printable shows what you can do about this common problem.

Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Difficulty easy

Materials

  • Computer paper or heavy cardstock

Tools

  • Computer printer

Instructions

  1. Load your heavy card stock or glossy photo paper into your Deskjet printer.
  2. Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
  3. Print out and add to your gardening journal.

Notes

Tomato cracking printable with solutions to the problem.

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