Why Do Tomatoes Split on the Vine? Reasons and What to Do

It is common to experience some problems when growing any crop in your garden. Tomatoes are no different. Everything might seem to be okay then all of a sudden you realize your tomatoes are splitting on the vine as they are about to ripen. So, what causes tomatoes to split on the vine?

Tomatoes split or crack due to inconsistency in the amount of water they receive. For instance, when you grow tomatoes in dry conditions, they are likely to split after a heavy downpour. The plant will draw in more water causing the inside of the tomato fruit to bulge more than the outer skin.

Tomatoes cracking

Why do tomatoes split on the vine?

Tomato splitting or cracking on the vine results from fluctuations in the amount of water they receive. When growing tomatoes in dry conditions or with little supply of water, they are likely to split after a heavy rainfall that dumps several inches of water in the garden.

Other than heavy rainfall, watering inconsistently may also cause this problem. For instance, watering lightly and then after some days watering deeply may cause tomatoes to split. Overwatering tomatoes cause the inside tissues of tomato fruits to grow faster than the outside skin and hence, cause the split.

It is important to water your plants consistently throughout the growing season. It is even more important especially when your plants have started to develop fruits. It is recommended to use a drip irrigation system when applying water to your tomatoes. It promotes deep and even watering.

Cracks on tomato fruits can appear in two different manners. They may appear as vertical splits or concentric cracking. Vertical splits are where the crack appears vertically running from the top of the fruit towards the bottom. On the other hand, concentric cracking only appears at the top of the fruit.

Concentric cracking is common on large tomato varieties such as heirloom beefsteak. It is not severe as compared to vertical splitting. Severe splitting may cause blossom end rot, a condition that causes tomatoes to rot on the vine.

Sometimes when the cracks are not severe, you may allow the tomato fruit to continue ripening on the vine. However, it is a good idea to remove severely affected fruits from the vine. Juices from the cracks can attract different pests into your garden. Bacteria and fungi can also enter into the fruit to promote rotting.  

So, what do you do with split tomatoes, they are safe to eat but you have to examine them seriously before eating. If the cracks are shallow and do not expose the inner tissues, you can go ahead and eat the fruit. However, do not eat if the cracks are deeper or if the fruit is exhibiting symptoms such as a sour smell or oozing.

How to keep tomatoes from splitting or Cracking

Splits or cracks reduce the quality of tomatoes especially if you are producing them for commercial purposes. Other than the aesthetic problems, bacteria and fungus may enter into the fruit through the cracks and cause them to rot. Juices from the cracks can also attract damaging pests into your garden.

So, how do you prevent tomatoes from splitting? It is difficult to entirely prevent tomatoes from splitting especially after a heavy downpour. However, there are some remedies you can take to make your tomatoes less likely to split.

1. Water evenly and deeply

The health of your tomato plants and the quality of the fruits depends largely on how you water them. Tomato plants require at least an inch of water per week. Watering your plants excessively, especially when the fruits are almost ripe can cause them to split.

Watering tomatoes evenly and deeply once a week is better than frequent light watering. Water your plants only when the soil moisture is low. Deeping your index finger into the soil near the base of your plants may help to determine if you need to water or not. If the soil feels moist, there is no need to water. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water your plants.

Ensure the water is delivered at the base of the plant near the roots. Watering on the leaves or splashing water and soil on the leaves may encourage the growth of fungal infections or the spread of soil-borne diseases like blight and septoria leaf spots.

It is recommended to water tomato plants using a drip method. It ensures the plants are watered deeply and evenly. Also helps to minimize the impact of sudden heavy downpours. The plant will have adapted to excess water that may cause the fruits to split.

2. Choose the right tomato varieties

If you are having the problem of tomatoes splitting on the vine every time then the problem may be the variety you are growing. Some tomato varieties are prone to splitting as compared to others due to their soft and thin skin.

Smaller or plum-shaped tomatoes are less likely to suffer from splitting as compared to round and bigger tomato fruits. Some tomato varieties that are split-resistant include Sung Ella, Pink Bumble Bee, Gardener’s Delight, Rutgers, Beef Master, and Big Boy.

3. Improve drainage of the soil

Good drainage of garden soil plays a key role in preventing the splitting of tomatoes. Improve drainage by adding organic matter into the soil before planting. Planting on raised beds may also help to drain away excess water after a heavy downpour.

If you are planting tomatoes in containers, ensure they have drainage holes. It is also important to use loose soil that does not compact after some time. Nutrients may leech out of the containers as the water drains. Be sure to fertilize your plants with organic fertilizer after every two weeks.

4. Apply mulch

Mulching your tomatoes helps to maintain a consistent amount of soil moisture and hence prevents tomatoes from splitting. It also helps to improve drainage and fertility of the soil after decomposing.

Apply at least a 2 to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the plants. The best mulching material for tomatoes includes grass clippings, shredded bark or leaves, wheat or rice straws, pine needles, or wood shavings.

5. Harvest your tomatoes early

The other way of preventing tomatoes from splitting is by picking them early. Tomatoes are tastier and juicy when allowed to ripen on the vine. However, you may not want to risk them when expecting a heavy downpour.

Harvest tomatoes that are ready before or immediately after the rainstorm. Tomatoes that have begun to change color will be able to ripen fully off the vine.

6. Fertilize appropriately

Fertilize your tomatoes with a well-balanced fertilizer. The use of fertilizers rich in nitrogen during fruiting encourages the sprouting of water-sensitive growth. Fertilize your tomatoes with a fertilizer containing phosphorus and potassium when they are blossoming.

Final thoughts

Now that you know inconsistent water is the main cause for tomatoes splitting on the vine, ensure the plant and the soil are managed and maintained properly. Make sure to water deeply and evenly, choose a tomato variety that is resistant to splitting or cracking, pick tomato fruits early, improve soil drainage, apply mulch, and use appropriate fertilizer.


Tomato quality issues – University of Minnesota Extension

Tomatoes in the Garden – Utah State University

Growing Vegetables – University of New Hampshire

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