Tomato troubles to be expected in the coastal South


Sudden changes in soil moisture can cause concentric cracks to form around the top of tomato fruits.

Paul Bachi/University of Kentucky Research and Education Center/
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 02:17 PM.

Growing tomatoes in the coastal South is always a gamble. Throughout the summer you play the odds against insects, diseases, heat, or drought ruining your crop. Until a few weeks ago, growing conditions this season had been nearly ideal, resulting in some of the healthiest tomato plants I have seen in years. Recent heavy rains are likely to change this trend, raising the stakes against a bumper crop this season.

Splitting and cracking

Side splitting and cracking up are terms you want to hear in reference to a joke you just made, not about your tomatoes. Heavy rain, especially when preceded by dry weather, is the leading cause of fruit cracking and splitting in tomatoes. This type of damage is most likely to occur as tomatoes begin to ripen and you are anxiously anticipating harvest, though green fruit can be affected as well.

Cracking and splitting occur when rapid changes in soil moisture levels cause fruits to expand quicker than the tomato skin can grow. There are two different patterns this damage may take. Vertical splits along the sides of fruits are known as radial cracking and are the most serious. This pattern of splitting commonly occurs during hot, humid weather. Cracking that occurs in a circular pattern at the top of tomato fruits, ringing the stem end, is known as concentric cracking. When cracking of either type occurs in green tomatoes, fruits are likely to rot before they fully ripen if left on the vine.      

With both radial and concentric cracking, your best option is to harvest fruits immediately, before they begin to rot. These fruits are edible and can be allowed to finish ripening indoors, though any fruit that develops a sour smell or begins to ooze should go straight to the compost pile. Fruits that ripen off the vine, as well as those that ripen on the vine during cloudy, rainy weather will be less flavorful than those that mature fully on the plant during sunny weather.

Blossom end rot

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