Conditions now right for cracking, splitting tomatoes

Due to dry conditions and then heavy rains, splitting tomatoes are part of the end of harvest season.

Too much irrigation or heavy rainfall after a dry period results in rapid uptake of water in plants. This causes ripening fruit to split vertically or crack concentrically, said MU Extension horticulturist Michele Warmund.

“This is a common problem when there are widely varying soil moisture conditions, especially during the hot, dry days of late summer,” said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein, in a press release.

Tomatoes exposed to direct sun tend to absorb more heat during the day than shaded fruit and are more prone to splitting. Also, tomatoes left on vines too long often crack at the stem end of the fruit.

There are several ways to reduce tomato cracking, Warmund said.

• Provide plants a consistent supply of moisture by hand watering or irrigating with soaker hoses. Drip irrigation tape can also help.

• Conserve soil moisture by mulching the area with straw, compost or other material.

• Maintain optimum plant fertility by applying calcium nitrate and other nutrients, especially during flowering and fruiting. Too much nitrogen or not enough calcium and/or potassium predisposes the tomatoes to cracking.

• If rain is expected after a drought, harvest any nearly ripe tomatoes. Fruit may not be quite as flavorful as a fully, vine-ripened tomato, but they will still be usable. After the rainfall, harvest any cracked or split fruit immediately and use it quickly before rot develops. Discard any sour-smelling, diseased or rotted portions of the fruit.

Breeders have developed several cultivars that resist cracks, Trinklein said. However, all tomato cultivars, including cherry, plum and conventional types, are prone to this problem when dry soil conditions are followed by abundant moisture.

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