Need a solution for why my tomatoes crack and split?

by Rees Cowden on June 19, 2008 · 27 comments

in advice,All Posts,Problems and Solutions,Veggies & Fruits

How to keep your tomatoes from cracking and splitting

Excerpt from my eBook GROWING JUICY DELICIOUS TOMATOES available at Rainforth Home and Garden.

IF YOU HAVE LARGE ROTTEN SPOTS ON YOUR TOMATOES SEE THIS POST HERE

Welcome! Thanks for stopping my little website.  Hopefully you’ll find some useful advice here. Hopefully greensideupblog.com will be your number one go-to for all your gardening questions! Here is an example of the solutions you can find. Have fun and thanks for your visit.

Here is an excerpt from my new book How to Grow Juicy Delicious Tomatoes that will help you with your tomato problems.

If you have little black spots on your tomatoes here is a post on that problem HERE

Salmonella contamination of tomatoes has been in the news a lot lately, but that’s an unusual problem we rarely see, and probably not one you need to worry about in your own home garden.  There are more common problems the home gardener will face with tomatoes. It’s that time of year when people’s homegrown tomatoes are ripening and invariably I get the question, “Why are my tomatoes cracking?” or, “Why are my tomatoes splitting?”

I’ve heard all sorts of reasons offered, but the problem is pretty easy to explain.

The simple truth is that on the inside of the tomato, the fruit grows faster than the skin can develop and stretch to contain that fruit. Think “stretch marks”. Okay, so that’s the issue, but what can you do to prevent these so called “stretch marks”?

The trick is to regulate the growth of the fruit as much as possible.

Fluctuations in the temperature, fertilizer levels, or amount of water can cause the tomatoes to grow in spurts rather than at a gradual pace. A plant goes through a “hardening off” period after it has a spurt of growth, which would not occur if all of the growing elements (fertilizer, water, heat, etc.) remained somewhat constant. This “hardening off” happens to the fruit and the skin.  Once the skin has hardened off, if the fruit has another growth spurt, the skin will not be able to stretch to contain the fruit inside it, hence the cracking or splitting.  Your goal should be to keep your tomatoes growing at a steady, consistent pace, avoiding the hardening off period until they are ready to pick.

Here are some tips to help regulate the fruit development and avoid the cracking:

Water regularly and deeply. If you get a period of heavy rain, then you should reduce supplemental water. If you go on vacation, don’t soak them before you leave and let them go dry until you return, and soak them again. Use a sprinkler (drip preferably) on a timer, or hire the neighbor kid and give him a five minute training course on how to water consistently.

Be careful with the fertilizer. Buy a good vegetable fertilizer and follow the instructions, or better yet, use composted humus from your compost bin on a regular basis and avoid commercial fertilizers. Compost will both regulate the soil moisture and provide a steady level of nutrients. In either case, don’t load up with fertilizer in the beginning of their growth and then fertilize them again as the fruit sets. Use lighter doses on a more frequent schedule and never more than the manufacture says to use.

Watch the sun exposure. Like I said earlier, fluctuations in temperature are harmful. Mother Nature has control of the macro climate, but you can control to some degree the micro climate temperature. As some tomatoes mature, they tend to drop some of their leaves, and in some cases, it is even beneficial to remove some leaves. If lost leaves is the case with your vegetable garden, just make sure that fruit that was previously shaded is not exposed to direct sunlight when the temperature heats up. A simple shade structure should suffice.

Commercial growers take other steps like fertilizer adjustments based on rain water, but for the home gardener the above suggestions should suffice.
To reiterate, the enemy to growing nice, beautiful tomatoes is uneven growth rates.

Remember: your tomato plants need regular, even watering, compost or evenly spaced fertilizer applications, and limited direct sun exposure. Following these three suggestions should solve the splitting tomato problem. Oh, and one last comment, the split tomatoes may not look as pretty, but they taste just fine. Cut ‘em up and drop ‘em in a salad, or use ‘em for sauces!

If you want to learn more about growing great tomatoes here is a link to a book I just finished writing on this very subject. Most tomato books I have researched teach you how to grow big plants. Mine teaches you how to grow big fat juicy flavorful TOMATOES!!!

Remember if you have large rotten spots on your tomatoes see this post HERE

I had so many people reading this post and sending me questions about their tomatoes that I decided to put together a book on how to grow great tomatoes. If you want know more of my secrets …..

CLICK HERE TO CHECKOUT MY NEW BOOK GROWING JUICY DELICIOUS TOMATOES for Rainforth Home and Garden
Rees Cowden

{ 1 trackback }

What are the black spots on my tomatoes?
May 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

maggie June 19, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I enjoyed the article about tomato splits…good info! But what I’m really writing about it to request a photo of Mr. Potatohead. I’ve seen it in your lanai and it’s pretty impressive. Success after all!!

deb June 20, 2008 at 3:56 am

eat them anyway, that’s what I say.

Wicked Gardener July 11, 2008 at 3:27 am

I gave up on tomatoes for this reason. Good info!

Tommy August 6, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Great article. Every year I hear the same questions as well. I agree with your cure.

Terry Ledet June 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

This is great information for a novice such as myself. So far this season I am having great results. But this recent heat wave has given me some problems. Moving my buckets to a cooler place in my yard to avoid over heating.

Thanks.

Grant July 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Maybe if you pick the tomatoes before this happens, and let them continue to ripen in a window seal, the temp shouldnt be a problem

Chickie July 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Thanks, that was very helpful

NJB August 4, 2009 at 12:12 am

I wish I read this before I threw all my split tomatoes in the trash : /

Kandy August 5, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Thanks for the info! We’ve had 3 weeks of rain almost everyday. Maybe they’ll dry out a little and I’ll get some good tomatoes again.

sandra407 September 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Deidre September 25, 2009 at 12:59 am

Well, ambient temperature, humidity or light variation may be culprits but my Earthbox grown tomatoes just split and, because of the “system”, they have had absolutely even water and fertilizer all season. The splitting occurred immediately after 2 days of rain which followed a long dry spell. But, the moisture level IN the Earthbox remains constant, again because of the “system” design, regardless of rain unless one forgets to add water to the “fill pipe” which must occur rain or shine. Rain does not fall directly on the soil because of a plastic covering placed at planting.

Ron Stark September 27, 2009 at 5:03 pm

What a great, clearly written article. Unfortunately, when I followed the link to the book “organic tomato magic,” it read like a ginsu knife commercial and undermined my confidence in the article.

Rees Cowden September 28, 2009 at 2:25 am

Thanks for the feedback Ron,
I got so much interest in this article I thought people may want more info and that book was the best I could find at the time. I agree it is a bit too salesie. It had some holes in the information too so I decided to take the time to write one of my own. In fact I may be writing a few on common gardening problems. Mine is titled “How to Grow Juicy Delicious Tomatoes” and is almost ready so look for it the first of next month.
Thanks for reading and posting the comment.
Rees

Rees Cowden September 28, 2009 at 2:38 am

Hi Diedre,
That is some good information, I always enjoy trying to figure out what Mother Nature is up to. My guess is that the plants became acclimated to the long string of dry days (consistent growth)with a constant amount of plentiful water. When the clouds came and abruptly blocked the sun and the humidity shot the water moving up the xylem continued at the consistent rate it had been moving atfor a short time. The clouds and humidity caused the evapotranspiration (water leaving the leaves)to shut down faster than the water moving up the plant could stop thus a quick build-up of fluids in the fruit causing them to burst.
I’m not sure what you could have done to prevent it in this case, better eat them quickly of boil them up for a sauce.
Rees

Barb October 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

I live in the hot southern desert area, west of Las Vegas. I’ve learned that they need to be watered everyday otherwise they wilt and shade made all the difference. However, if my leaves are turning brown and dry, does that mean I’m over-watering? Should I water deep, less often, or shallow, daily?

Rees Cowden October 22, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Barb,
Thanks for the note. When leaves turn brown and dry it is usually a sign of not enough water. When they turn yellow and are soft but still hang on the plant it usually means too much water. There are some diseases that cause tomato leaves to turn brown and shrivel up but if they are crispy it is most likely that they got too dry at some point. I suggest just keeping up with the regular watering like you are doing now. If the dryness looks like it is affecting more and more leaves it could be a disease. One other possibility is fertilizer burn. If you pumped them up with too much nitrogen it could cause them to burn.
Sorry to be so wishy washy but there are several possible causes. Yellow spots and wilting are blights or fungus. Brown and crispy is water or over fertilization
Good luck,
Rees

Cedric Trigg July 6, 2010 at 2:19 am

We grow goliath tomatoes in the greenhouse. We are having a splitting problem. We have the water time set on a timer. We are using chicken manure as fertilizer and sometimes a blue color fertilizer. We have a shade cloth over the green house so it blocks the sun. What could be the cause?

We grow better boys tomatoes in the outside. We are having a splitting problem. We have the water time set on a timer. We are using chicken manure as fertilizer and sometimes a blue color fertilizer. We have a shade cloth over the green house so it blocks the sun. What could be the cause?

Will July 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Ahhhh. I figured the inside of my tomatoes was growing faster than the outside and that they may have been getting to much direct sun after I pruned the dead leaves. Thanks, this is a great article!

Will Moore

Joe August 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Nice article, and does make sense. It is my understanding that tomato plants like full sun, as is written on the tags that are on the flats I purchase at my local nursery. So I planted a dozen plants in the part of my property that gets full sun all day. My plants are huge, most over 6′ and have a large yield. But many are cracked, just a few like the pictures you show, but mostly cracks radiating out from stem end of tomato. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter because they always taste a million times better than anything at the store.

Rees August 17, 2010 at 7:54 pm

You are exactly right Joe, all that really matters is that you end up with great tasting tomatoes :)
Send in a few pics if you can.

Rees

donald j brady August 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Just had beautiful bowl of soup made from cracked tomatoes.Thank you for your imformation will use same next year with the of God.

ari September 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm

My first year growing tomatoes in Mt. Shasta has been an interesting one, especially with 18″ of snow on Easter Sunday. I thought the splits were due to the extreme temps, but it may have also been my watering…thanks for the information. I thought split tomatoes were okay to eat, I fed them to my puppy.

Steven September 7, 2010 at 1:02 am

thanks,for helpful info

lORREN February 18, 2012 at 7:06 am

Thanks, I’ll eat my split toms & try your advice for what are left. I grew a “little red” from a bought tom – grew in a pot on a balcony , it reached 6ft along my balcony.
Lorren

Carol June 26, 2012 at 3:48 am

I have planted four huge tomatoe plants; they are in planters which have five different holes on the bottom so the water can drain out. I noticed the leaves on the tomatoe plants are starting to look lifeless and it looks like maybe bugs are eating the leaves also they are turning dry and brown, not too healthy looking; I have cut off some of the brown dry leaves to make the plant look a little pleasant to look at. Today I was so excited to pick my first red tomatoe off one of the plants and as I was washing it I looked at the bottom of this nice big blump tomatoe and it had a wide huge crack/split on the bottom, I sure hope it doesn’t happen to all of my tomatoes that I look forward to eating this season. Does any one have any advice.

Polish Mama on the Prairie July 27, 2012 at 1:46 am

That makes sense now! My Polish and Siberian heirlooms all cracked the past two days after a dry summer and finally having rain here and there the past week. Thankyou for the help.

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