When Tomatoes Split & Crack it’s time to Change Your Culture

Q: I have a problem with my heirloom tomatoes cracking after heavy rain (a rarity here in central Texas, but it does occur).

—Brooks in Austin

Although, I don’t have any big problems growing tomatoes, they do tend to split. What am I doing wrong and how do I fix it?

— Kim in Norwich, CT

After reading your tomato growing book last year I am happily harvesting organic Brandywines and Romas. However, most of the Brandywines developed deep crevices up near the stem. Other than that, they are beautiful. I looked in your ‘A to Z archives’ but didn’t find any answers. Do you know why tomatoes would crack?

— Ed in Milmont Park, PA

A. ‘Cracking’ and ‘splitting’ are such common problems that I was kind of shocked we hadn’t addressed them yet—especially since the answers are all relatively good news: Cracking and splitting aren’t caused by some dread disease or awful insect; they’re more of a cultural problem—like opera and my radio show.

Anyway, tomatoes split open when the skins of the ripe fruit can’t keep pace with the growth of the insides—especially when that growth is sudden and rapid, like right after a rain that falls heavily in a short period of time; and especially if the rain was preceded by a long dry stretch. Once a tomato is ripe, the outside is pretty much done growing, but the inside is still going to take in some of that water—and sometimes the skin gives way.

This isn’t typically a problem with green tomatoes; their parts are still growing at a relatively equal rate. And the fact that only ripe tomatoes are affected means you shouldn’t lose any fruits. If a heavy rain is predicted—especially after a dry spell—go out and pick all your ripe-to-mostly-ripe tomatoes (they’re only going to lose flavor from all that excess water if you don’t). Otherwise, pick fruits that start to split promptly and use them to make sauce or salsa. Heck, if the splits are small and you act fast, they’ll still make good slicing tomatoes. Don’t leave split tomatoes on the vine—the openings will attract opportunistic insects like ants.

Although, it may seem similar, ‘cracking’ around the tops of heirloom tomatoes is a different issue—more of a ‘price you pay for a great tasting big old-fashioned tomato’ kind of thing. Almost, all of the old original big ‘beefsteak’ sized tomatoes are prone to at least a little bit of cracking around the tops, and most of the time it isn’t a problem. Just pick them, slice off that top 5% and enjoy the rest. And besides—some of the really huge heirlooms never seem to want to ripen all the way to the top, so it makes sense to pick them when they’re still a little green-shouldered anyway; otherwise you risk them getting overripe on the vine and losing flavor.

But again, this is at least partially a ‘cultural’ problem, and so there are some things you can do up front to lessen the possibility of splitting and cracking. Growing in raised beds, for instance. Tomatoes grown in raised beds are always going to have the problem less, because heavy rains will drain away faster in the light, loose, un-stepped-on soil of a properly raised bed. Flat-earth gardeners with compacted soil will always have more cracking and splitting.

A one to two inch mulch of compost, shredded fall leaves or straw will also help by keeping the soil moisture more constant. Again, you get the worst splitting when a lot of rain follows a very dry spell, and mulch can help keep the moisture levels higher during dry times, which helps the skins stay more flexible.

And then there’s the importance of calcium. Having access to adequate soil calcium allows tomatoes to better regulate their water uptake, which is why we always advocate adding calcium at planting time to prevent the heartache of blossom end rot—when ripe tomatoes turn black and rot out on the bottom (“the blossom end”).

A dozen finely crushed eggshells in the planting hole pretty much totally prevents blossom end rot, and should help prevent splitting. In fact, blossom end rot is a kind of ‘worst case splitting’, as both are caused by too much moisture building up inside ripening fruits. And this is a great time to start saving dried eggshells for next season.

Don’t eat eggs? Natural plant foods labeled for use on tomatoes will contain a lot of added calcium, specifically to prevent these kinds of problems. If it’s a granulated fertilizer, add some directly to the hole at planting time, and then add the recommended amount to the surface of your soil (or mulch of compost), then cover the fertilizer with a little more soil or compost. (Granulated plant foods always work best when they’re incorporated into your soil as opposed to just sitting on top of it.)

And finally, you can plant varieties that are known to resist the problem. Look for tomatoes whose catalog descriptions say things like ‘crack-free’; these varieties are bred to have skins that continue to expand when the fruits are ripe.

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Tomatoes splitting open is one of the most common problems when growing tomatoes. But don’t worry as frustrating as it seems there are easy ways to stop them from cracking open!

It can be so frustrating when you head out to your garden to pick a vine ripe tomato only to find that it has split open.

Splitting and cracking in tomatoes is one of the most common problems when growing tomatoes in your garden.

But don’t worry, if you know what causes it, this problem becomes pretty easy to control and prevent in your garden.

Contents

Why Do My Tomatoes Split?

Yellow cherry tomato split open.

Tomatoes splitting open is caused when the inside of the tomato grows to fast for the skin. This is normally from when tomatoes have received more water than normal.

It is very important to give tomato plants even watering throughout the growing season and it becomes even more important once they start to form fruit.

If tomato plants are allowed to go through a dry spell and then received a large amount of water quickly it causes the inside of the tomato to grow quickly. This puts a lot of pressure on the tomato skin and often make it split open.

Is It Safe To Eat Split Tomatoes?

When tomatoes split or crack open they can look pretty strange and you might be wondering are tomatoes still good if they split?

Split tomatoes can quickly become infected with molds, or insect damage. If your tomatoes have just split open they are often just fine to use but you’ll want to pick them right away and uses them up fast because they won’t last as long as normal.

If the tomatoes have small growth cracks that are healed over this is just fine. These types of cracks are very common in large heirloom tomatoes around the tops of the fruit.

Prevent Tomatoes From Splitting

Small tomato split open.

1. Water Consistently

The best thing you can do to prevent your tomatoes from splitting is to water the plants consistently. If you aren’t getting enough rainfall then water your tomato plants giving them 1 to 2 inches of water each week.

2. Provide Good Drainage

Whether you are growing tomatoes in containers or in the ground make sure to provide them with good drainage. Tomatoes do need a lot of water but you don’t want to leave the plants in standing water.

If growing tomatoes in pots make sure they have good drainage holes, add some rocks in the bottom of the container and use a good quality potting mix.

If you are growing tomatoes in the ground and have a heavy clay soil then addendums your garden with good quality compost to improve the drainage or use raised beds.

3. Fertilize Properly

Use a well-balanced fertilizer for your tomatoes this is especially important as they start to produce fruit. Avoid fertilizers that are too high in nitrogen as they can cause the tomato plant to grow too quickly.

My favorite fertilizers for tomatoes are compost, compost tea, and fish emulsion. Top your garden with compost in the fall or early spring, and then fertilize as needed through the growing season.

4. Mulch Well

Since the main cause of tomatoes splitting open is watering problems, mulching your soil can really help.

Using a good organic mulch in your garden helps to keep the moisture level in the soil more even between watering. Use a thick layer of straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves around the tomatoes. As a side benefit, this will help to keep the weeds down too!

5. Pick Tomatoes Often

Vine ripe tomatoes are so good, but the longer you leave a ripe tomato on the vine the higher the chance of it splitting open.

Make sure to harvest your tomatoes often! If you are expecting a lot of rain then it’s a good idea to harvest all of the ripened tomatoes as well as the ones that are almost ripe.

A sudden heavy rain will often cause them to crack open.

6. Grow Crack Resistant Varieties

If you are always having problems with your tomatoes splitting then it could simply be the variety you are growing.

Some tomatoes are more prone to splitting and cracking than others because they have softer, thinner skin. This can be a problem with beefsteak and many cherry tomatoes.

Generally, plum-shaped tomatoes and smaller slicers are less likely to split open when they are ripe.

Try growing tomato varieties that are more split resistant like:

Preventing tomatoes from splitting on the vine is pretty easy once you know what to watch out for. Just make sure that you are watering consistently and harvest ripe tomatoes often.

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Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.

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by Matt Gibson

Are you having problems with your cherry tomatoes splitting? Sometimes cherry tomatoes split on the vine before they can be harvested. Splitting cherry tomatoes is a common occurrence for many vegetable gardeners, and is usually due to a change in moisture levels in the soil around the tomato plant. Here’s a guide to preventing cherry tomatoes (a type of tomato that is particularly susceptible to splitting issues) from splitting, cracking, and catfacing on and off the vine.

If there was an extended dry period, and then a large rain, or sudden extreme overwatering, your cherry tomato harvest may become too full of water and expand too quickly for the tomato skin to adjust, causing the outer skin to split from the pressure. The inside of the tomato grows faster than the skin and the tomato cracks under pressure. All kinds of tomatoes are susceptible to splitting, but cherry tomatoes, due to their size, are the most likely tomatoes to split.

For a gardener who is planning to eat their own produce, seeing tomatoes going to waste is a disaster. Luckily, there are lots of ways in which you can keep your precious tomatoes from going to waste.

How to Water Cherry Tomatoes: Evenly, Deeply, and Often

The most important thing you can do to keep your tomatoes from splitting is to provide a consistent, evenly distributed, and ample source of water to your plants. The summer time is the prime time for splitting, so the summer months are the most crucial time to keep a strict watering schedule. During the entire season, water your tomato plants deeply every two to three days.

Water the plants down low to the ground, as spraying will get the leaves wet, which can lead to hard-to-kill diseases such as leaf blight and septoria. Water deeply, but make sure that the soil is draining properly. If there is any standing water, rot and fungal infections can become an issue. Deep watering will keep rainstorms from being the reason for splitting, as the plants will be used to a healthy dose of moisture, and will be less likely to expand the fruit too drastically.

Watering often will also keep your tomato plants from having to endure drastic changes in moisture levels. Without having to suffer sudden shifts from dry soil conditions to wet soil conditions, splitting will cease to be an issue.

Watering deeply, making sure that you provide an evenly distributed layer of one to two inches of water to the entire garden bed that you are using for tomato cultivation at least once per week, will eliminate the possibility of cracked tomatoes. If you are growing your tomatoes in containers, watering should occur once per day, as containers tend to drain and lose moisture at a faster rate than planting directly into the ground.

When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes

If your tomatoes are near ripe, go ahead and pick them a little bit early. If you leave them on the vine and a rainstorm comes a roaring, your tomatoes could be exposed to an overwhelming dose of extra H2O. Since tomatoes continue to ripen off the vine, go ahead and snatch them up before the next storm comes barreling down.

Growing Cherry Tomatoes in Raised Beds

The more compact, drier soil of a flat-earth garden is more prone to issues with cracking and splitting. Growing your tomatoes in a raised bed may solve the issue entirely. Raised beds allow heavy rains to drain away more sharply and quickly through their less compacted and stepped on soil.

Mulching Your Beds

One of the issues that can cause tomatoes to split is fluctuations in the temperature. This is especially true for newly transplanted tomato plants and temperature fluctuations during the springtime. The best way to prevent splitting that is caused by temperature changes is to mulch your tomato plants, adding a two-inch layer to the top of your garden beds. Red plastic mulch is the best choice for tomatoes, but any organic mulch,such as wood chips or plastic, will help prevent cracking, conserve moisture in the soil, and prevent the spreading of disease.

Provide Ample Drainage for Cherry Tomatoes

Proper drainage is key to providing a consistent and sufficient supply of water to your tomato plants and it can also help you avoid cracking and splitting. If you are planting directly into the ground, make raised beds for the location or locations in which you are growing tomatoes. If you are using containers, try adding crushed seashells to the bottom of the container before adding in the potting mix. Not only will the seashells improve the drainage, but the extra calcium that they provide, will strenghten the skin and stems of the tomatoes, making them less prone to splitting and cracking.

Correct Tomato Harvesting Technique

Oftentimes, tomatoes crack just from being haphazardly removed from the vine. Instead of plucking your tomatoes by hand, harvest your tomatoes by cutting them off the vine just above the calyx with a pair of pruning shears or a sharp pair of scissors.

Grow Resistant Cherry Tomato Varieties

One simple solution is to grow a different variety of tomato that is less likely to split, crack, or catface. If you are growing cherry tomatoes, a similar size and type of tomato that is less likely to split on or off the vine, is the grape tomato. If you live in an area with lots of fluctuation in rainfall and you don’t like to water your garden manually, you might consider growing grape tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes.

Many tomato varieties have a thick skin, and the thicker the skin, the less likely to split and crack. Most modern hybrids have been developed to resist cracking and splitting as well, so there are plenty of split resistant alternatives if you do a little research before deciding which varieties to grow.

Should Cracked Tomatoes Be Thrown Out?

Cracking, especially on larger heirloom tomatoes near the stems, is perfectly natural and should not keep you from harvesting them or leaving them on the stem. Even split tomatoes are still perfectly edible, though they are much more at risk for developing rot or inviting pests that you do not want to consume. While the tips and tricks discussed in this article will help prevent splitting and cracking, you will still probably run into split tomatoes occasionally. Fortunately, they are still perfectly edible, so feel free to harvest and eat them after checking for bugs or discoloration.

Sometimes, tomatoes will even split once they are off of the vine, when you are just sitting down to enjoy them atop a fresh bed of lettuce and croutons. The cracking always occurs right after you rinse them off. This is because washing them off allows water to pass through the membranes of the skin, causing the fruit to swell and possibly split or burst. As long as a lot of time doesn’t go by after the tomatoes split before you consume them, you are most likely perfectly safe to do so.

Videos About How To Keep Your Tomatoes From Splitting?

Check out this step by step guide from Project Diaries about keeping your tomato harvest safe from cracking and splitting:

This video teaches you how to prevent splitting, catfacing, and cracking and explains the three main reasons why splitting naturally occurs, highlighting an extremely useful way to regulate the watering of your tomato plants, a drip irrigation system:

Watch this tutorial video to learn when is the best time to pick your tomatoes to avoid having them split open before you can get them on a dinner table:

Want to Learn More About How To Keep Your Tomatoes From Splitting?

Gardening Know How covers Information On What Causes Tomatoes To Split And How To Prevent Tomato Cracking
Gardens Alive covers When Tomatoes Split & Crack it’s time to Change Your Culture
SFGate Homeguides covers Why Are My Grape Tomatoes Splitting Open While on the Vine?
The Spruce covers Keep Your Tomatoes from Splitting

  • Water Regularly and Deeply. You should water your tomato plants every two to three days during the summer. When you water, water at ground level because spraying the leaves can result in the spread of diseases like blight and septoria) and water deeply. Regular, deep watering will reduce the effect of a sudden rainstorm because your plants won’t be going from dry conditions to sudden wet conditions, which causes splitting.
  • Mulch. Provide your plants with a good two to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as straw, pine needles, or shredded bark. This will maintain more regular soil moisture levels, and you’ll deal with less splitting.
  • Look for Resistant Varieties. In general, the thicker the skin, the less prone a tomato is to splitting. Most modern hybrids seem to resist splitting.
  • Pick Tomatoes Early. Your tomatoes are almost ripe, and you’re expecting a major rainstorm. Now is the perfect time to pick your tomatoes before they’re overwhelmed by extra moisture. Tomatoes will ripen on or off the vine, so go ahead and harvest those that look nearly reading for picking.
  • Provide Good Drainage. By planting your tomatoes in raised gardens or placing crushed seashells at the bottom of containers or planting holes you can lessen the possibility that your tomatoes will be oversaturated by water. In addition, the extra calcium provided by seashells may strengthen the tomatoes, making them less prone to cracking.

Cracking and splitting are one of the most common problems when growing tomatoes. The good news: those unsightly cracks aren’t caused by pests or disease!

Tomatoes split open when the fruit outpaces the growth of the skin — usually after a heavy rain. The bad news: split tomatoes can introduce bacteria into the fruit and cause them to rot.

But wait, there is good news: this is an easy problem to remedy and you can start now.

How to Reduce Tomato Splitting:

1. Water: Water tomato plants once a week with about 1-2” of water. Keeping them regularly watered reduces the chance they will be shocked by a hard rain.

2. Mulch: Mulch does wonders for all plants, but especially for preventing cracking tomatoes. Add a layer of mulch 2-3” thick around plants to hold moisture.

3. Feed: Fertilize tomatoes with organic Tomato-toneevery other week during the growing season. Fertilizer keeps the soil healthy so plants produce as many tomatoes as possible.

4. Location: Growing tomatoes in raised beds or containers with drainage holes will lessen the problem because heavy rain will drain away faster in the loose soil.

5. Pick: As a last minute fix, you can always go out after a heavy rain and pick any almost ripe or ripe tomatoes.

While it may be too late now, you can plant varieties that are less likely to crack. Look for things like ‘crack-free’ in the description.

Looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to grow, hybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Have you ever gone out to the garden, and found a ripening tomato that gets your mouth watering, only to find that it is cracked or split open? The first reaction could be disappointment, followed by anger. Your mind flashes through possible scenarios that involve animal pests, insect pests, or maybe some agitating neighborhood kid that has sabotaged your great looking tomato. Actually, none of these are the culprit of your tomato vandalism.

Then What Causes My Tomatoes To Crack Or Split?

Splitting or cracking can be quite common and is brought about by fluctuations in watering. This can be due to heavy watering after a long period of no water. It can also be caused by having a period of dry weather, then getting a heavy rain that suddenly over-waters the tomatoes. Splitting and cracking is most prevalent in the later stages of growth when it is beginning to ripen.

When it begins to ripen during a spell without water, the outer skin will thicken and toughen up. A sudden influx of water will cause the tomato to swell (or continue growing) on the inside. This inner swelling will then cause the thickened outer skin to rupture resulting in a split or crack. Although some minor cracking at the top of the tomato is generally harmless, large splits that expose the tomato flesh can invite disease and insect pests.

If you look at the above picture you will notice the four tomatoes. The top two tomatoes have split due to inconsistent watering. The bottom two are not fully ripened but should be picked at this time. You can sit these tomatoes in a window sill that is in a sunny location to further ripen. This will keep them from cracking like the top two did.

Cracks and splits can be more common when dry farming tomatoes. The sudden surge in water from a heavy storm after reduced watering can lead to more cracks and splits. This is why it is best to pick the tomatoes when they begin ripening and then allowed to finish ripening in the home.

How Do I Prevent My Tomatoes From Cracking or Splitting?

The best way to prevent tomatoes from splitting or cracking is to keep your watering methods regular and consistent. It is better to water the tomatoes deeply at regular intervals over sporadic shallow waterings. Make sure that you have a consistent plan for watering, adjusting it to the amount of rain received.

It can be a good idea to stop watering tomatoes when they begin showing signs of ripening. This can greatly reduce the chances of cracking and splitting tomatoes, although allowing them to ripen indoors is the best option

Overfeeding tomatoes when they begin ripening can also affect cracking and splitting, but inconsistent watering is the biggest factor.

Is A Cracked Or Split Tomato Okay To Eat?

In most cases, a cracked or split tomato is just fine for consumption. If you find a tomato that has started cracking, pick it immediately. If the crack is severe and the tomato has been left on the vine for a substantial time, you might want to play it safe and dispose of the tomato. It may have been exposed to a disease, or it may not have, but it isn’t worth it to me to risk it. Most of the time you can cut out the cracked or split section and use the rest of the tomato as you wish. It would not hurt to blanch the tomato first, just to be safe.

Easily Water Your Tomatoes For Great Results!

Q:  My tomatoes are cracking in circles around the top.  What causes this to happen?

A: There are two different kinds of cracking commonly found on tomatoes. One of the cracks starts at the stem and flows downward toward the blossom end. This type of downward crack is called a radial crack. The other crack, which is the one you have, makes circles around the top of the fruit. It is possible to have both types on the same fruit. Cracks are caused when the fruit internally grows more quickly than the outside. This fast internal growth spurt causes the external skin layer to split open forming a crack. There are varieties which have a resistance to cracking but that does not mean they cannot crack only that cracks will probably occur later in the maturing process. Environmental conditions such as huge temperature differences and/or inconsistent irrigation contribute to the formation of the cracks. Not much can be done about the temperature variations especially when fruit is maturing during the spring however irrigation can be controlled by the home grower. Just be sure to water your tomatoes consistently but remember too much is not a good practice either. The vegetable is still safe to eat so there is no need to throw it away.

by kathywarner

Posted: July 15, 2017

Category: Fruits & Vegetables, Home Landscapes

Tags: tomato cracks

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