Tomato Catfacing: Identification + How to Treat

Walking through the tomato garden for routine management and you notice funny-looking and abnormal cavities pitted with scar tissues at the blossom end of tomatoes?  Your tomatoes may be affected by a catfacing deformity. Let’s look at identification, causes, and how to treat tomato catfacing. 

Temperatures of below 60 °F (16 °C) for several consecutive days prior to bloom may result in tomato catfacing. Other factors like physical trauma, herbicides containing phenoxy, excess nitrogen in the soil, and aggressive pruning may also result in this defect.

Tomato catfacing

Tomato catfacing Identification

Tomato catfacing is not a disease, it is a physiological defect that results in abnormal cavity development that is pitted with scar tissues and swelling at the blossom end of tomato fruits. The deformity looks somehow like a cat’s face in the initial stages and hence the name catfacing.

According to UMass Extensions, little research has been done to find out the exact cause of tomato catfacing. However, factors like low temperatures during blossom, high nitrogen levels in the soil, disturbance to the flowers, inappropriate pruning, and herbicides containing phenoxy have been found to increase occurrences of catfacing.

Catfacing only affects the fruits and not any other part of the plant like vines or leaves. This feature distinguishes it from other tomato diseases and infections. It is also different from tomato cracking or splitting.

This deformity is not contagious, it cannot spread from one tomato to the other. The affected fruits are safe to eat. Unfortunately, they are not marketable. Maybe they can be used to make sauce and other uses that do not dwell much on the appearance.

The first tomatoes on a plant are commonly affected by catfacing. It also affects large varieties more compared to small ones.

What causes catfacing in tomatoes?

The exact cause of tomato catfacing is unknown. However, it is associated with various weather and cultural conditions that include:

1. Extreme temperatures

Tomatoes grown in areas with unfavorable conditions like low temperatures of below 60 degrees Fahrenheit [16 degree Celsius] are likely to be characterized by catfacing. It happens when an immature plant that is almost blossoming gets subjected to low temperatures for a consecutive number of days.

 It results in incomplete pollination that creates a deformity on the developing fruit. The deformity normally appears at the blossom end or on the side of the tomato. This defect is common in areas that experience extreme temperatures when the spring days are warm with chilly nights.

2. Physical trauma

Disturbances or physical damage to the blossoms prior to pollination can result in catfacing. Common injuries to the flowers result from thrips. These are tiny and slender insects that attack tomatoes and other vegetables. A high number of these insects can cause damage with their feeding. They can deform the flowers and cause tomato catfacing. They may also distort plant growth.

Interplanting tomatoes with other crops like onions, garlic, and cereals increases the chances of thrips attack. Other than causing catfacing in tomatoes, these insects can also vector-spotted wilt virus. They can be controlled through foliar insecticide sprays early in the season or when the need arises.

3. Herbicides containing phenoxy

Exposing tomato plants to herbicides containing phenoxy can result in this defect. Phenoxy mimics plant hormones and can alter the development of the plant together with its fruits. Fortunately, many home gardeners do not use this kind of herbicide. They consider using other organic methods of controlling weeds in the garden.

4. Excess nitrogen in the soil

Increased nitrogen levels in the soil can affect your tomatoes negatively. Other than promoting foliage growth at the expense of fruits, it can also result in tomato catfacing.

When the plants are approaching flowering, use fertilizers containing potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium that promote blossoming and fruit development. Conducting a simple soil test can help to determine the exact nutrient that is inadequate in the soil.

5. Aggressive pruning

Pruning has numerous benefits to indeterminate tomato varieties. It helps to improve air circulation around the plant, improves the amount of light, prevents pests and diseases, and eases harvest. However, it should be done appropriately.

 Going overboard can cause defects like catfacing on the fruits. Excessive pruning can result in drastic reduction of auxins. This plant hormone helps in promoting cell elongation.

How do you stop tomatoes from catfacing?

Although you cannot entirely stop this abnormality, there are various things to do that can minimize its occurrences. They include the following:

1. Growing tomato-resistant varieties

Grow resistant or tolerant tomato varieties that are not prone to catfacing. Heirloom cultivars or open-pollinated varieties are less susceptible to catfacing as compared to hybrid tomatoes. Some of the varieties that are less likely to be affected by this defect are ‘Duke’, ‘Floradade’, ‘Countil’, ‘Monte Carlo’, and ‘Walter’.

2. Monitoring the temperature

Plant your tomatoes in a greenhouse if you live in an area where the temperature at night drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit [16 degrees Celsius]. Ensure the temperature is controlled properly in the greenhouse. The optimum temperature should be maintained especially when blossoming.

If you are planting your tomatoes outdoors directly in the field, be patient until when the day and night temperatures are constantly above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the soil to warm up completely before planting your crop.

3. Avoiding excess nitrogen

Tomato plants are heavy feeders, they require sufficient nutrients to grow healthy and produce high yields. Nitrogen promotes foliage growth. However, you should go slowly on it as the plant approaches flowering.

Increasing the amount of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium ensures the blossoms and fruits develop normally. Using a balanced organic fertilizer prior to flowering proves to be the best for a tomato plant.

4. Pruning properly

Pruning aggressively can be detrimental to your tomato plants especially when blooming. Excessive pruning causes this defect as well as exposing the fruits to sunscalds. Only prune yellow leaves at the base of the plant and the unwanted suckers. The plant uses the leaves to produce energy through the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, the plant should have enough leave.

5. Maintaining adequate soil moisture content

Both overwatering and under-watering affect tomatoes negatively. Tomato plant requires adequate and deep watering. The soil should also have good drainage.

It should have proper water retention properties. If the weather is dry, you can employ other management measures like mulching to conserve soil moisture content.

Can you eat catfacing tomatoes?

Yes, there is nothing wrong with eating catfacing tomatoes. As long as the damage is not severe, it does not make the fruit useless. Cut off the affected part and enjoy the rest of the tomato. It is unfortunate if the affected tomatoes are for commercial purposes, they are not marketable due to their appearance.

Catfacing does not affect the taste or aroma of tomatoes. They will still be tasty, delicious, and safe to eat. This defect is not destructive like other diseases that may cause the fruits to become bitter or rot easily.

Cat faced tomatoes won’t be able to ripen uniformly on the vine, pick them and place them in a kitchen cabinet to ripen fully before using them. Wrap them in a paper bag together with other fruits like a banana that produces ethylene to aid in the ripening process.

Final Thoughts

Before planting your tomatoes, ensure the temperature during the day and at night is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant two weeks after the fall of the last frost, the soil should be warm. You can easily control other catfacing causes like pruning, nitrogen levels, and physical trauma.

If your tomatoes will still be catfacing after all the efforts, just go ahead and eat them. They will still be tasty and aromatic.

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