What Causes a Tomato To Crack or Split?

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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?

Tomato with SplitsSplitting 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.

Two Tomatoes with Cracks or Splits

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.

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Comments

  1. This is great information. Many gardeners, and especially first timers, have no idea why their tomatoes crack. It is definately a controllable problem with watering frequency. However, for those locations that get periodic downpours of a few inches in a short period of time, even the best watering strategy can result in cracking/splitting.

    Thanks again,

    Tommy Smith

  2. Great information! My wife and I live in the Las Vegas valley,and believe me it’s definitely a hot and dry climate! This is our 2nd year of trying to grow tomatoes. Last year we planted too late, whith no success. But this year I put in a “drip irrigation “tied in to my sprinkler system. But I’m. Still not sure if I need to increase watering time or decrease it. I have it set for 5minutes , 4 times at night,every other day, if anyone has a solution we would appreciate it emensely!…Thanks again, -Jeff

    • Hi Jeff – Although I’m not very familiar with your conditions in Nevada, I believe you should let the drip irrigation run for longer periods. I would let it run for 2-3 hours in the morning (like 5 – 8am) twice a week. It is much better for the plants to have a good soaking rather than short quick “bursts”.

      You want the water to thoroughly soak the soil all the way to the bottom roots of the plants.

      Here’s a great way to check to see how much you need to water – let your drip irrigation run for the 2 -3 days one morning. The following morning go out to your plants and stick your index finger down into the soil as far as you can about 6-8 inches from one of the plants.

      Does the soil feel moist?

      If yes, then do not water that day. Re-check the soil again the same way the next day. Keep checking each day until the soil begins to feel dry.

      This will determine how many days you need to water. For instance, if after 3 days of checking the soil starts feeling dry then you need to let the drip irrigation run for 2-3 hours every 3 days.

      Does the soil feel dry (the day after the initial watering)?

      If so, you need to water again for 2-3 hours and re-check the next day. If it feels dry again then you may need to run the drip irrigation longer – say for 4 hours.

      Now, when I say run it for so many hours you also have to consider the flow rate at which your drip irrigation releases water. If your system flows at a high rate then you may need to decrease the length of time to an hour or two for each watering.

      On average most plants need about an inch of water per week. There is really no definitive formula for watering, and it’s going to take a bit of testing and fine tuning to get it just right. Using the finger check can give you a great idea of when you need to water and when not to.

      I hope this helps!

  3. Hi Tee! Thanks so much for this article. I am new to gardening and just harvested my first ever organically grown tomatoes :) Unfortunately, a few cracked because of Hurricane Irene sweeping through the Hudson Valley. I am going to follow your advice and pick some now before they ripen so they don’t continue cracking, and let them sit in a sunny windowsill.

    Happy gardening!
    Bea

  4. Great article! Just what I was looking for. Thanks!

  5. Great information. This is my fist attempt at growing tomatoes and I am working with a blacke heirloom variety. They look great except for the craks. I will get to pulling them sooner and dialing in the H2o.

  6. Tropical Guy says:

    Thanks for the posts.

    I’m testing many varieties in winter tropical weather (the tropical growing season) where night temps might get down to 75F and day temps up to 86F. Occasionally the temps will be hotter or lower. All my plants have vigorous growth – they don’t mind the heat or the hot sun. During warmer periods, fruitset stops or buds stall. Once started, fruit grows well.

    I’m getting cracking on the variety that I planted first, Better Boy Hybrid, just before or during ripening.

    Advice about reduced watering… twice per week, is so very impossible for me. All my tomatoes are in 5 or 7 gallon pots. Once established in the large pots, the plants must be watered twice daily – early morning and late afternoon. If I don’t, the plants flop over. I will develop a soil mix that retains moisture better next year perhaps. The heavy watering also requires more feeding as well as calcium supplementation to stave of Blossom End Rot which my Granadero and Monicas (Plum varieties) are experiencing. I will try a drip system next winter.

    In the mean time, as my 12 other plants are growing fruit now, I’m trying to think of strategies to limit cracking.

    Note, I’ve been using low nitrogen fertilizer with extra Phosphorus and Potassium. I was feeding once per week but am now doing it twice per week because of leaching in the soil from the exuberant watering. My Better Boys are 7 feet tall and I expect they will hit the top of the 10 foot trellis easy. I’m maintaining 2-4 leaders on indeterminants which does expose the fruit to more sunlight on the top third of the plant – especially compared to unpruned bushy determinants.

    Ideas? Increase shade? Different approach to watering? Change in approach to fertilization (different ratio – more or less feeding?). Pick them all early and ripen indoors?

    Thanks

    • I feel your pain, Tropical Guy; I have been trying to grow tomatoes in Central Florida for the past few years and it’s rough going! I am currently using homemade Earth Pails (5 gallon buckets, self-watering system), but I still have to add water every other day at this point in the season. My tomatoes currently have two (!) beach umbrellas to protect them, as I have no shade. I am still waiting for fruit on my purple heirloom bush… I haven’t seen a flower yet. I would welcome tips from anyone who has been successful in Central or South Florida.
      (PS: The heat-resistant varieties that I have tried were awful!)

  7. Connie French says:

    This page was very helpful.I had a beautiful Paul Robson heirloom almost totally purple when I noticed it splitting. I picked it immediately and cut off all the exposed area. The rest of it was awesome. After your advice I picked two more today not quite ripe. We had high 90s heat for days so watered each evening. Then the storms came. Torrential rains and still going for 6 days now. So I am watching closely. Thanks for the good info.

  8. Thanks for the help. Mine have just started splitting.

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