Tomatoes are a must-have in every vegetable garden. Store-bought tomatoes cannot beat the flavor of fresh, vine-ripened, homegrown tomatoes. Tomatoes are used to make sauces, ketchup, soup, juice, or tomato paste. They are so versatile since they can be eaten fresh, frozen, or canned. However, seeing your perfect, ripe tomatoes go from perfection to ruined overnight can be frustrating. Tomato splitting is one of the common problems for tomato growers.
Splitting makes the tomatoes look unattractive and exposes them to a wide range of problems. When tomatoes split, their skin below is exposed, which dehydrates the fruit and also invites hungry pests to invade. Thankfully, there are ways to help prevent your tomatoes from splitting and get an abundance of delicious, perfect tomatoes.
Learn why tomatoes split or crack and what you can do to prevent them from splitting.
Why Do Tomatoes Split or Crack?
If you're wondering what causes your tomatoes to split, the short answer is "Water." An inconsistent water supply is the main cause of split tomatoes. However, poor soil nutrition or improper drainage can also contribute to this problem. You can identify splitting by the open slit that extends from the top of the fruit to the bottom. It looks like someone pierced the skin and took a slice of it with a sharp knife. Cherry tomatoes are one of the most common varieties that split down the side. In addition, some cracks run along the tomato's top.
Let's look at the causes of tomato splitting or cracking.
Fluctuations in Water Supply
Tomatoes split or crack due to fluctuations in the amount of water they receive. They need consistent water to grow juicy, healthy, and big. Although splitting is common in ripe tomatoes, it also affects green tomatoes. Heavy rain is usually the main reason behind the cracking, particularly for tomatoes that grow in dry conditions.
Tomatoes split when there are dry spells followed by heavy rainfall because the inside of the fruit absorbs water faster than the skin can hold it. As a result, the skin bursts, which causes horizontal or vertical cracks. If dry weather with sudden downpours happens all summer, you should prepare for a season of split tomatoes. In addition to inconsistent watering, cracks also result from forgetting to water tomatoes and then abruptly drenching them and flooding them with water they don't need.
Improper Soil Nutrition
Though you provide tomatoes with the right amount of consistent water, they can split if the soil conditions are inappropriate.
Tomatoes need well-drained and high-quality loamy soil to thrive. When the soil is dense, heavy, calcium deficient, and poorly drained, it can quickly get wet and cause splitting problems because the tomato root zone prefers aeration.
Two Types of Splitting
Tomatoes split in two different manners, including the following.
Radial splits are vertical splits that start from the top of the fruit and reach down to the bottom. This is a common type of cracking that is found after heavy rainfall in ripe tomatoes. This type of splitting is most damaging because it exposes more tomato flesh to pests and diseases, and the tomato will rot if left on the vine for a long period.
Concentric cracks are less severe and shallower than radial cracks. They usually appear on the top of fruit as rings and form cracks around the stem. Concentric cracks are less likely to reveal the fruit inside, so they heal quickly.
How to Prevent Your Tomatoes from Splitting
Here is what you can do to grow healthy, delicious tomatoes and prevent them from splitting.
Tomatoes like consistent and deep watering. So, you need to give them a steady amount of water, around one inch per week. The drip irrigation system is the most efficient method to irrigate tomato plants because this system delivers consistent water to plants' root zones, eliminating the risk of overwatering. So, use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses instead of a sprinkler.
When the weather forecast shows summer showers, you may water your tomatoes less because rain will contribute to it. Water the plants every 2-3 days during dry weather. Watering the fruit regularly will help it grow steadily and produce large, healthier tomatoes.
Harvest Tomatoes Early
You should pick tomatoes when they turn slightly pink, which shows they have reached the breaker stage. At this stage, tomatoes will mature and have grown to their full size. Harvest them early and keep them at room temperature (around 70 degrees). When they develop their red color, they're ready to eat. You can wait for tomatoes to ripen on the vine, but picking them at the right time can protect them from sudden rainstorms, which might lead to splitting.
Another helpful tip to prevent your tomatoes from splitting is to mulch the plants. Mulching helps regulate the soil temperature and retain moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation. Whether the mulch consists of bark, wood chips, pine needles, or straw, it will help your tomato plants absorb the right amount of water. Another benefit of mulching your tomato plants is that it suppresses the weed growth that will compete with plants for water and nutrients.
Use Right Fertilizer
Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so they need excessive nutrients in fertilizer. Choosing the best fertilizer for your tomato plant depends on your soil composition, whether the soil lacks nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorus. If you need help determining which nutrients are present in your soil, get your soil tested at a local garden shop or use an at-home lab test kit. Use a fertilizer labeled for tomatoes and apply it according to guidelines.
Grow Split-Resistant Varieties
Lastly, another way to avoid splitting is to grow crack-resistant tomatoes. There are many delicious tomato varieties that are resistant to splitting and cracking. It is best to plant one or more of these varieties, especially if the climate conditions in your area are not ideal and can disrupt your watering routine.
If you love large, juicy tomatoes, grow Arkansas Traveler, which is a crack-resistant heirloom tomato variety. Other large and medium-sized split-resistant varieties are Plum Regal, Celebrity, and Pink Girl F1.
Moreover, small tomato cultivars that resist splitting and tomato diseases include Early Girl F1, Black Cherry, and Juliet.
Can You Eat Split or Cracked Tomatoes?
Wondering what to do with split or cracked tomatoes in your garden? Don't worry!
You can eat split tomatoes if they don't show signs of pests or smell sour. Before eating a cracked tomato, inspect it carefully and consider the depth and size of the crack. If the crack is small and the tomato smells sweet, it is safe to eat. Cut the damaged part and enjoy the rest of the fruit. A deep crack increases the risk of pests, fungi, or bacteria to enter the fruit. So, avoid mushy or soft tomatoes as they might be near to rot. Just harvest your fruits quickly when you see the splits, even if they are still green, and let them ripen indoors.
Now you know why your beautiful tomatoes split and how you can prevent them from splitting. So, consistently water your tomato plants using a water-efficient method like drip irrigation, harvest them at the right time, and enjoy the delicious, juicy homegrown tomatoes!