There’s no better sight than seeing juicy red plump tomatoes in your garden, but it’s also frustrating when you see them splitting and cracking. Don’t worry because this is a common problem for tomato growers.
Tomatoes usually split due to water fluctuations, overwatering, calcium deficiency and poorly drained soil. They also develop cracks when over-ripened, overly exposed to the sun or because the tomato variety is prone to splitting.
In this article, we’ll help you understand each cause, how to fix them and how to prevent tomatoes from splitting in the future. Let’s get started!
Why are my tomatoes splitting?
Tomatoes split because of water fluctuations, overwatering, calcium deficiency, poorly-drained soil or split-prone tomato variety. They also split when overripened or exposed to the sun for a long time.
Read on to learn more about these causes and how to fix them.
1. Water fluctuations.
How To Fix: Keep the soil moist.
Water fluctuation is the most common cause of tomato splitting. This happens when the soil is overwatered, followed by underwatering.
Tomato crevices usually develop when a dry spell follows heavy rains. These heavy rains cause the tomato’s flesh to grow faster than its skin and split open.
On the other hand, dry spells cause tomato skins to dry out and eventually develop chaps and cracks.
Solution: Keep the soil moist.
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Keeping the soil moist will help the tomatoes cope with the changing temperature and water levels. This will make sure that the roots won’t get drenched in water or the soil will dry out, causing the tomatoes to split open.
You should regularly check the soil moisture by sticking your finger at the top inch of the soil. If it’s dry to touch, it’s a sign that you should water it.
Adding organic matter and mulch is also affecting maintaining consistent soil moisture. They reduce evaporation and slowly release water back into the soil, ensuring it gets hydrated over a long period.
How To Fix: Practice consistent watering.
When tomatoes get too much water through heavy rains or overwatering, their fruit membranes swell and split. As a result, you’ll get less flavorful tomatoes, waterlogged soil and a plant prone to rotting and diseases.
Solution: Practice consistent watering.
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A rule of (green) thumb: Always check the soil before watering, and water only if it’s dry to the touch.
When tomatoes get a consistent supply of water, they produce healthy fruits. It’s also a best practice to reduce watering before harvesting and on the day of harvest, as this helps concentrate the sugars in tomatoes, giving them more flavor.
3. Calcium Deficiency
How To Fix: Maintain a neutral soil pH.
Tomatoes need calcium to help strengthen the cell walls of their fruit and prevent them from splitting.
Conversely, when tomatoes do not get enough calcium intake, their cell walls become weak and split open.
When the soil and tomatoes get low calcium, they are also prone to contracting blossom end rot – a common tomato disease that causes rotten lesions and cracks on the lower part of the fruit.
Solution: Maintain a neutral soil pH.
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Oyster shells or eggshells
Tomato plants will get more calcium when the soil has a neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too alkaline or acidic, tomatoes get less calcium from the soil.
To maintain this level, make sure to check the soil pH and adjust accordingly regularly. If you see cracks on your tomatoes, a quick fix would be using a foliar spray of calcium solution and applying it 2 to 3 times a week.
Calcium fertilizers like oyster shells and eggshells can also amend your soil. Apply them about 4 to 6 inches deep before planting your tomatoes, and they will slowly release organic calcium fertilizers into your soil.
4. Poorly Drained Soil
How To Fix: Add compost to the soil.
When poorly drained soil it becomes waterlogged, causing the roots to rot and suffocate. This leads to the weakening of the plant and tomato fruits splitting because they now have a hard time getting oxygen and nutrients from the soil.
Solution: Add compost to the soil.
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Compost is an effective way of improving soil drainage. It breaks down soil particles to create larger pores and allows air and water to flow more quickly in the soil.
To apply this in your garden, loosen the base of your tomato plant and amend the soil by adding compost, rotted manure, mulch or peat moss.
How To Fix: Harvest tomatoes while ripe or slightly underripe.
As tomatoes ripen, their sugars become more concentrated, which draws water out of their skin. This leads to the weakening of the tomato skins, making them more vulnerable to splitting and cracking.
For instance, if a ripe fruit is exposed to heavy rain, the insides of the tomato will get more swollen, resulting in the skin bursting. Once they split open, these holes can also be an entryway for pests, fungi and other pathogens to infect the fruit.
Solution: Harvest tomatoes while they are ripe or underripe.
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The best way to prevent tomatoes from splitting due to overripening is to harvest them while they’re slightly underripe or ripe, especially before heavy rains.
You can check this by gently pressing the tomato. They’re ready for picking if it’s firm and gives slightly.
To speed up the ripening of your tomatoes, you can place them in a paper bag together with bananas. Bananas release ethylene, which is a natural plant hormone that triggers the ripening process.
6. Split-Prone Tomato Variety
How To Fix: Choose split-resistant tomato varieties.
Genetics also plays a big role in causing tomatoes to split. Some types are more prone to breaking and cracking than others, usually because of their large sizes and thin skins.
For instance, heirloom varieties such as the Cherokee Purple, Big Boy, Roma, Sungold, and Beefsteak tomatoes are prone to cracking because of their large fruits.
Solution: Choose split-resistant tomato varieties.
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|Split-resistant tomato variety
A surefire way to solve this problem is to plant split-resistant tomato varieties. Here’s a list of tomato cultivars that are resistant or less prone to cracking:
- Pruden’s Purple
- Black Cherry
- Gold Nugget
- Arkansas Traveler
- Big Beef
- Black Krim
- Early Girl
- Green Zebra
- Jet Star
- Heirloom Brandywine
- Mountain Magic
- Mountain Pride
- San Marzano
7. Prolonged Sun Exposure
How To Fix: Plant tomatoes in a shady area.
Tomatoes are sun-loving plants, but too much sun will cause them to crack and split. This usually happens when too many leaves that shade tomatoes are removed, exposing the fruits to direct sunlight and making them susceptible to sunscald.
When tomatoes have sunscald, prolonged exposure to the harsh sun rays leads to discoloration, uneven ripening, and, ultimately, cracking.
Solution: Plant tomatoes in a shady area.
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To prevent sunscald on tomatoes, place your tomato plants under a canopy or cover them with shade cloth, especially in the afternoon, to protect their developing fruits from the harsh sun rays.
Make sure that there are enough leaves to protect the fruits from direct exposure to sunlight. If the plant loses too much foliage, it’s best to harvest them early and ripen them indoors to protect them from tomato pests and diseases.
Types of Tomato Cracks
There are two ways for tomatoes to split: vertical and concentric cracks.
Vertical cracks are those that cut along the length of the tomato. Water fluctuations, calcium deficiency and over ripening usually cause it.
On the other hand, concentric cracks develop on the top of the tomato and around its stem, usually because of blossom end rot. They look like rings at the top of the fruit and typically heal before pests, bacteria and pathogens get to them.
How to Prevent Tomatoes from Splitting
Here are some proven and tested tips on preventing tomatoes from splitting in the future.
1. Water tomato plants deeply.
When you water your tomato plants deeply and slowly, you allow the water to penetrate the soil and directly onto the roots where it’s most needed.
Watering deeply will prevent your tomatoes from splitting and solve other issues like root rot, low harvest, pest infestation and diseases.
In general, tomatoes need an inch of water every week, but always check the top inch of the soil before watering. If it’s dry to the touch, give the plant some watering, but let it be if it’s still moist.
So, when you water tomato plants, make sure to direct the water to the base of the soil. Avoid splashing water on the low-lying leaves because these areas can become a breeding ground for soil-borne diseases like septoria leaf spot or blight.
You should also consider the maturity of your tomato plants when watering. They need plenty of water to establish their root systems deep into the soil during its early stages.
They can manage less watering as they mature since their roots are already deep into the soil.
2. Maintain a well-drained soil.
Tomatoes thrive in well-drained soil. If the soil drains well, it will not hold more water than it can handle and prevent root rot, weakening the plant and, ultimately, splitting.
Planting your tomatoes in well-drained soil also means you won’t have to worry about heavy rains because water will not pool around your plant’s roots and suffocate them.
To improve soil drainage, you can plant your tomatoes in raised beds or containers with holes. This way, excess water can drain away and prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged and damaging the roots of your tomato plants.
Compost is also effective in keeping well-drained soil as it helps break down soil particles, create large pores and allows water to flow through the soil easily. So, regularly feed your tomato plants with compost to improve soil drainage.
3. Add mulch around tomato plants.
Mulching is a gardening technique to help retain water and maintain consistent moisture levels in the soil. So, adding mulch around the base of your tomato plants will help tomatoes cope with dry spells and prevent fruits from splitting.
Generally, a two-inch layer of mulch around tomato plants is enough to stop water from evaporating and keep the soil moist. Mulch also absorbs water and slowly returns it to the soil, making sure your plant stays hydrated for an extended period.
The good news is that mulch is inexpensive and easy to find. You can use shredded leaves, bark, pine needles, or straw as organic mulch for your tomato plants.
4. Pick tomatoes early.
Another surefire way of preventing tomatoes from splitting is to ripen them off the vine. It’s best to pick them up early before heavy rains or heat waves in your area.
The good news is that this practice will not affect the flavor of your tomatoes because once they’re past their green stage, the taste doesn’t change anymore. When removed early, the fruits will also have less chance of getting damaged by pests.
After picking them, you can quickly ripen tomatoes by leaving them on your kitchen counter or placing them in a bag with a banana to speed up the ripening process.
5. Plant split-resistant varieties.
Genetics plays a big role in making tomatoes split. Some tomatoes are naturally more prone to split than others, mainly because of their large size and thin skin.
So, if you want fewer worries about your tomatoes cracking, just plant split-resistant varieties and pair them with other prevention methods we’ve mentioned here.
The Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim, Celebrity, Early Girl, Green Zebra, Jet Star and Heirloom Brandywine tomatoes are examples of split-resistant tomato varieties.
What should you do with split tomatoes?
Once you see tomatoes split, harvest and consume them immediately, as long as there are no signs of rotting or pest infestation.
After picking the split tomatoes, inspect them for signs of pests or rotting. If they smell sour or the cracks ooze, dispose of them and do not add them to your compost pile or back to your garden.
FAQs on Tomatoes Splitting
You can still eat split tomatoes as long as the flesh is not exposed and there are no signs of rotting. Remove the split area and consume the tomatoes immediately.
Tomatoes rot at the bottom because of overwatering, poor soil drainage and calcium deficiency.
Sunscald causes tomatoes to develop dark spots on the skin, discoloration, uneven ripening and splitting.
Tomato plants have low calcium when their fruits develop dark lesions at the bottom, their skin splits and their leaves begin to yellow and wilt.
A balanced, slow-release fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium on tomato plants is best.
Tomatoes should be fertilized every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season.
Natural fertilizers used for tomatoes are matured compost, dry leaves or pellets, blood meal, pet or human hair, crushed egg shells and bone meal.