When your tomatoes split, it can make them less visually appealing and lead to decay and damage. Understanding why this occurs and how to prevent it is essential for a successful tomato crop.
Fortunately, by implementing some essential gardening practices and being vigilant about caring for your tomato plants, you can help prevent tomato splitting and ensure a healthier, more attractive harvest.
Causes of Tomato Splitting
Uneven Water Supply
One of the main causes of tomato splitting is an uneven water supply. Fluctuations in the amount of water tomatoes receive can lead to their skin cracking. Drought conditions or irregular watering can result in a sudden water intake, causing the fruit to expand faster than the skin can accommodate, leading to cracks and splits.
This can often be a common problem when growing tomatoes in grow bags. The bags dry out quickly, and if you are not watering daily, you can end up with this issue.
Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution – collars. These pot collars fit around your plant and have a slow-release water reservoir in them. Meaning your bag-grown tomatoes can get all the water they need, even if you can’t be there for a few days.
- Specially designed pot for growing in growbags
- Set of 6, measuring 26 centimetres across, so three fit neatly on a growbag
- The inner and outer watering troughs make feeding and watering easy
Rapid growth is another factor that can cause tomatoes to crack. When fruits grow quickly, the tomato skin may not be able to keep up with the expansion of the fruit, leading to cracks in the skin. This can occur due to favourable growing conditions or the use of high-nitrogen fertilisers that promote rapid growth.
This is one of the reasons I strongly advise ditching the high nitrogen fertilisers as soon as fruit starts to form. At this point, you want to swap to a high potash feed which will help healthy fruit development.
High temperatures can also contribute to tomato splitting. During periods of extreme heat, the fruit may grow at a faster pace and the skin may become less flexible. This combination can make it difficult for the skin to stretch and accommodate the rapidly expanding fruit, causing it to split.
This can happen in the height of summer, particularly if you are growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse. Try opening windows to allow good air circulation if possible.
Some tomato varieties are more prone to splitting than others. Types with thinner skin have a higher likelihood of splitting under pressure, as the skin may not be as resilient to rapid expansion. To reduce the risk of splitting, you can choose to grow varieties with thicker skin, which are better equipped to handle sudden changes in growth.
One tomato that is really prone to this is, unfortunately, one of the nicest varieties out there, Sungold. Even with these issues, I still grow plenty each year, but just accept that some will split!
Preventing Split Tomatoes
This section will discuss various methods to prevent tomatoes from splitting, ensuring a healthier and more attractive harvest.
Proper Watering Techniques
One of the primary causes of splitting tomatoes is inconsistent watering. Maintaining a consistent and proper water supply helps keep your tomatoes in good condition and prevents them from splitting. Water your tomato plants regularly, providing about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of water per week, depending on the weather and soil type.
Thorough, infrequent watering is better than frequent, shallow watering, as it encourages deeper root development. Using a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose can ensure adequate and consistent watering.
Mulching and Soil Management
Mulching is an excellent way to help retain soil moisture and prevent tomato splitting. Organic mulches, such as straw or grass clippings, can be applied around the base of tomato plants, ensuring a layer of 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) in thickness.
This helps to maintain consistent soil moisture levels and moderates soil temperature. In addition to mulching, well-drained soil with adequate organic matter is crucial for proper water absorption and preventing waterlogging, which can cause tomato splitting.
Supporting and Pruning
Supporting tomato plants with cages, stakes, or trellises helps keep the fruit off the ground and promotes healthy air circulation around the plant. This reduces the risk of diseases and makes it easier to monitor the development of fruits.
Regularly pruning tomato plants removes excess foliage, allowing more of the water the plant takes up to go to the fruit. Removing any cracked or split tomatoes promptly prevents them from becoming a breeding ground for pests and diseases.
Choosing the Right Tomato Varieties
Selecting tomato varieties that are more resistant to cracking and splitting can help prevent this issue. Look for cultivars labelled as “crack-resistant” or “split-resistant” in seed catalogues or at your local garden centre. These varieties often have more flexible skin, which can better expand with the fruit during fluctuations in water availability.
By employing proper watering techniques, mulching and soil management, supporting and pruning your tomato plants, and selecting the right tomato varieties, you can prevent tomatoes from developing splits and enjoy a bountiful and visually appealing harvest.
Dealing with Split Tomatoes
When faced with split tomatoes, knowing how to salvage them and prevent any potential disease or pest issues is essential. This section will explore different ways to deal with split tomatoes, including using them for cooking and preventing problems associated with their splitting.
Salvaging Split Tomatoes
Split tomatoes can still be saved and used if they are not overly damaged or rotten. Cut away the cracked area and any damaged parts with a clean knife to salvage a split tomato. Then, use the remaining healthy tomato in your recipes or consume it immediately.
It’s important to handle split tomatoes with care, as the exposed flesh can attract bacteria and pests. Ensure you wash your hands and clean the knife between cuts to prevent cross-contamination.
Using Split Tomatoes in Cooking
There are several ways to incorporate split tomatoes in your cooking. Some popular options include:
- Soups and stews: Chop the salvaged tomato pieces and add them to a soup or stew for a burst of fresh tomato flavour.
- Salsa: Mix split tomatoes in homemade salsa with onions, peppers, herbs, and spices.
- Pasta sauce: Cook split tomatoes down in a saucepan with garlic, onions, and seasoning to create a simple pasta sauce.
These are just a few ideas, but split tomatoes can be used in many other dishes if you’ve removed any damaged parts.