Why Are My Tomatoes Splitting?
by Susan Grey on August 25, 2019
Why are my tomatoes splitting? Tomato splitting is caused by continued interior growth while the skin, which has already matured, can't keep up. This split, which often occurs on the sun facing side of the tomato fruit, can lead to considerable fruit loss.
The rapid interior growth can be caused by environmental factors such as sudden heavy rainfall followed by a dry stretch. In such conditions, the fruit experiences sudden and rapid growth while the skin which is already mature and can no longer grow gets split by the increased pressure.
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Ways To Prevent Tomatoes From Splitting
To avoid the sudden and sporadic growth when watered irregularly, it is recommended to maintain a regular watering schedule. This keeps the soil moisture levels constant, allowing the plant to absorb as much as it needs.
Watering deeply will ensure that the soil remains wet enough to reduce the effects of sudden rainfall. While watering, you should do so at ground level to avoid splashing the leaves, which usually results in the spread of tomato blight and Septoria.
Mulch reduces the volume of water that is lost from the soil via evaporation. A 2-3 inch thick layer of mulch, especially organic mulch such as shredded bark, pine needles, sawdust or straw, is best for tomato plants.
The reduced evaporation rate ensures that the fruits get a constant and regular supply of water from the roots. This encourages even growth to maturity and ripening stages. Mulch reduces the number of weeds you have to deal with as well as exposure of the roots, which might cause damage.
Good Soil Drainage
Well-drained soil promotes proper growth and absorption of all essential minerals. Calcium is especially easily leached in oversaturated soil. If your tomato garden is not well-drained, you can plant them in raised gardens.
Loam and sandy loam soils have the best-fitted drainage rates for tomato plants. The improved drainage prevents splitting as the plant doesn't absorb an excessive amount of water only to be exposed to dry conditions after the fruits have matured.
Calcium plays an essential role in regulating the water a tomato plant can intake. If the plant experiences a calcium deficiency, then it will absorb excessive amounts of water after a rainfall leading to sudden fruit growth. This leads to cracking.
One of the natural ways to increase the amount of calcium in the soil is by crushing seashells and adding them in your planting containers. This increased calcium supply goes a long way in strengthening the tomatoes and preventing sudden water absorption. Alternatively, you can add garden lime (calcium carbonate). This will also prevent other calcium deficiency related diseases such as blossom end rot.
Pick Tomatoes Early
Tomato splitting occurs on already mature tomato fruits which are ripening or just about to. One way to avoid such losses is by picking your tomatoes early as they will ripen indoors just as they would have ripened on the tomato plant vine.
Picking tomatoes early also triggers the plant into reducing the amount of water absorbed as it starts to shut down. This is for determinate tomatoes, and indeterminate varieties will continue to fruit until the end of the season.
Choose Resistant Varieties
Heirlooms are more likely to experience splitting, but over the years, modern hybrids that have thicker skin have cropped up. These are also adapted to grow in extreme conditions such as the summer heat.
5 Varieties That Split Less
Splitting tomatoes is a physiological condition that's tied to specific genes. As a result, certain types of tomato crack less.
1. Arkansas Traveler
The Arkansas Traveler heirloom is an indeterminate tomato whose vines can grow up to 8 feet in length. The medium-sized tomatoes have a somewhat thick skin and a pinkish color.
The heirloom continues to produce fruits the entire season until temperatures become too cold. The fruits are prized due to the mild taste. The plant prefers full sun for up to 9 hours per day, and the fruits have a short maturity period of only 75 days after planting.
2. Marglobe Tomato
Marglobe variety was developed in 1917 before its introduction by the USDA in 1925. This was the first determinate variety that was disease and split resistant. The fruits weighing about 10 ounces, is deep red, has a juicy interior, and shiny skin.
Marglobes usually mature after 77 days, and the plant's entire production will ripen almost at the same time before the plant dies. The fruits are bit meaty and not the easiest to slice. This makes them perfect for canning, making sauces, and juicing.
3. Black Cherry
The black cherry tomato variety was bred in Florida by Vince Sapp. It is an indeterminate type with small fruits measuring 1.5 inches in size. These dark fruits are perfectly round with a rich and sweet flavor. The fruits are resistant to splitting, and the vines will grow vigorously.
Black cherries have an early maturity taking only 64 days to start harvesting. The plant requires full sun to keep up with the vigorous vine and fruit growth. The unique taste and texture make black cherries perfect for shish kebabs and salads.
4. Mountain Spring
Mountain spring is a determinate tomato variety with a bushy vine. The hybrid cultivar was developed in North Carolina in the 80s. The plant can grow in a wide range of climates and has an early maturity taking 65 to 70 days for the fruit to mature.
Mountain spring tomatoes are resistant to splitting and have a deep red color both internally and externally. The tomato weighs around 9 ounces and is slightly meaty and firm but softens gradually after ripening.
5. Golden Sweet
The golden sweet hybrid has small yellow and plum-shaped tomatoes. The fruits are firm and juicy but with a tender skin that's also resistant to splitting. As the name suggests, this hybrid has a distinctive sweet taste making it great for delicious pasta with sun gold tomatoes.
Just like other indeterminate varieties, the golden sweet hybrid continues to fruit throughout the summer and usually ripens from July through August in North America.
4 Varieties Prone To Splitting
1. Sweet Cherries
Sweet cherries are susceptible to cracking after they have matured due to their relatively weak skin. Excessive intake of water leads to increased pressure from the interior; this causes the skin to fatigue and weakens further, eventually leading to the formation of cracks on the surface.
Sweet cherries can even crack while in storage after harvesting if the plant experienced drastic changes in temperature and moisture just before the fruits are harvested. This is because the fruit will already have absorbed the extra water, but the skin which is no longer growing and cannot stretch to accommodate. It is, therefore, recommended to harvest sweet cherries as soon as they start turning pink, which indicates full maturity.
2. Beefsteak Tomatoes
Heirlooms, like the beefsteak tomatoes, are more likely to develop cracks around the tops due to changes in temperature. These cracks usually appear during the late stages and are more pronounced on tomatoes that have been left to ripen on the vines.
Beefsteak tomatoes are a late-maturing variety and can take up to 90 days before they fully ripen. This increased exposure to the elements leads to increased cracking. It's advisable to harvest beefsteaks as soon as they start changing the skin color an indication that the interior is already ripe.
3. Black Krim Heirloom
Black Krim is a heat-tolerant variety that's mainly grown for its rich tangy flavor that's almost sweet. Black Krim is indeterminate and typically takes around 75 to 90 days to reach maturity. The fruits have a unique dark violet coloration which gains more redness as the fruit matures.
Black Krim tend to crack once they have matured, especially when there's not enough rain. Irregular watering schedule that leads to varying conditions of wet and dry soil moisture conditions increases the number of cracks developing on the fruits.
4. Purple Cherokee
This heirloom is a late-maturing variety originating from Tennessee. It takes about 80 to 90 days for the tomatoes to mature and develop the vibrant dark color with a hint of dusky pink. This tomato has a tangy-sweet flavor making them perfect for sandwiches and salads.
The fruit, however, has a somewhat thin skin which makes it susceptible to cracking, especially on the top part. These cracks usually emerge as the fruit ripens on the vine and can, therefore, be avoided by picking the tomatoes as soon as they start developing a rich-red interior.
What To Do If Your Tomatoes Crack
If you notice a split tomato or one that's beginning to develop cracks it's advisable to pick it. Most of these tomatoes are still edible, providing they have not been infected, just cut around the split part and use the rest of the fruit.
If you notice an increase in the number of cracked tomatoes, you should investigate the cause and fix it. This is achieved by changing plant care such as water, sunlight, and nutrients such as calcium.
Try Different Varieties
Heirlooms are more likely to split or crack compared to hybrid tomatoes which have undergone intentional cross-pollination to remove such undesirable characteristics. One of the best ways to avoid splitting is by simply planting a resistant hybrid the next season; these are also adapted to be disease resistant, thus increasing your overall harvest.
Implement Crop Rotation
Planting the same crop in a garden for more than two seasons usually leads to over absorption of certain micronutrients from the soil such as calcium. Implementing crop rotation with legumes such as alfalfa and beans are recommended as they contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria which increases the soil fertility.
Seek The Help Of An Agricultural Specialist
If you have tried every prevention method covered above and your tomatoes are still splitting, then it's time to seek the professional opinion of a farming specialist. This may require sending samples of your garden soil for analysis to determine what might be the cause of the persistent splitting.
Are split tomatoes safe to eat?
Yes, depending on the size of the split and whether it is deep enough to attract insects and fungus, you can cut away the split part and enjoy the healthy-looking pieces. If the tomato has been exposed to dirt while split you should dispose of it.
Why do my tomatoes split after picking them?
Tomatoes that have taken in too much water just before harvesting tend to continue to grow internally. This exerts pressure to the already soft skin making it split.
Why are the skins on my tomatoes tough?
Tough skins are as a result of early splitting while the tomatoes are still green and growing. Exposure to high heat leads to sunscald on tomatoes. These parts of the skin may eventually heal to become tough spots. Such inedible parts should just be cut off from the rest of the tomato.
Why do green tomatoes split?
Green tomatoes are also likely to split if exposed to hot, humid weather and irregular watering patterns. Most green tomatoes that split often end up rotting before they ripen.
Do crushed eggshells help prevent the splitting?
Yes, adding crushed eggshells into the raised garden before planting the tomatoes ensures that the plants get enough calcium while growing. This allows the plant to control its water intake, cutting down on the cases of split tomatoes in each harvest.
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