When planting a garden, you likely want a variety of plants that are reasonably easy to maintain. Tomatoes are actually the most popular garden vegetable for people to grow. They are such a versatile and common food and are easy to grow in a home garden.
However, sometimes you will find that your tomatoes are splitting or cracking. Here is why that happens and what you can do about it.
What Causes Tomatoes to Split?
Tomato cracks are an issue that is associated with the growing conditions. For example, dry weather that then leads to excessive watering or a heavy period of rain can lead to tomatoes cracking.
Splitting tomatoes are caused by the lack of water in this instance. When the tomatoes are deprived of water, they are unable to retain moisture, causing their skin to crack. This is similar to when your skin cracks if it gets too dry and you do not moisturize.
If the tomatoes get a large amount of water after being dried out, they fill up quickly with water and the skin is unable to keep up with the growth. This causes the skin to burst at the cracks.
Essentially, when the skin of a ripe tomato can not keep up with the growth of the inside of the tomato, it will crack. Once a tomato becomes ripe, the outside is finished growing, however, the inside will still absorb water, which can sometimes cause the skin to give way. The cracking then alleviates the pressure on the skin.
Cracking can also occur due to harsh fluctuations in temperature. This is most likely to happen when the leaves have been removed from the tomato plants too early, leaving the fruit without any protection.
This exposed fruit is easily damaged by the sun, as it can then heat up dramatically. Then when night comes, it gets cool quickly, creating a difference in temperature for the tomatoes that is bigger than it would have been if they had the protection of the leaves.
When the skin and cells of the tomato expand and contract, it results in cracking.
When Does the Cracking Occur?
Tomatoes crack when they are nearing maturity. The cracking depends on the stretchability of the skin and its cells. While some tomato varieties have skin that stretches well, others have the opposite, which allows for little stretching and a lot of cracking.
Varieties of tomatoes that are more susceptible to cracking do so in the mature green stage, while more tolerant tomatoes crack at later stages. The sooner the cracking begins, the longer or deeper the crack becomes. Cracking is more of an issue for tomatoes growing on lower trusses.
What Does Cracking Look Like?
When a tomato cracks, the top layer of skin that is around the calyx begins to split. There are two ways in which this can happen, concentric cracking and radial cracking.
Concentric cracking is when the skin of the tomato splits in circular patterns surrounding the stem scar. Radial cracking, however, is when the skin of the tomato cracks in a line starting at the stem scar and moving vertically towards the blossom end.
Concentric cracking typically occurs on tomatoes that are ripe and have been on the vine for too long.
How to Prevent Your Tomatoes from Cracking
When a tomato cracks, bacteria and fungus are able to get into the fruit and either begin the process of rotting or provide access for damaging pests to get into the plant.
To prevent cracking, keep your tomato plants watered and the soil moist. You should add about 1-2 inches of water to the plants each week. To minimalize tomato cracking, also make sure that you water your tomato plants evenly and routinely.
Protect your plants from becoming dehydrated when you are not home by putting a watering system in place. This is also important why it is necessary to mulch your tomatoes, with either plastic or organic mulch such as wood chips.
The mulch helps to conserve moisture and keep diseases from spreading throughout the tomato plant. Red plastic mulch is the most effective for tomatoes and has proven itself to be the best mulch in preventing tomato splitting.
Also, make sure that you fertilize your tomato plants properly. This is important for the health of the soil, so the tomatoes are able to grow and prosper. This will also help your tomato plant to produce more tomatoes.
While cracking tomatoes are not aesthetically pleasing, they are also potentially dangerous to surrounding plants and to your health if you eat them.
It is important to keep your tomato plants in a stable environment so they do not have to try to adapt to a temperature or hydration shock, which could both lead to cracking. Keep your soil fertilized and moist to grow the healthiest tomatoes in your home or school garden.