I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.
Ugly, deformed, or diseased tomatoes are usually a temporary problem. Most problems will solve themselves. So, the answer to most of your problems is: relax. However, it's still important to know the causes and treatments for the most common problems.
5 Common Tomato Problems and Solutions
Here are the main five tomato problems I'll be addressing in this article:
- Catfacing: ugly or misshapen fruits
- Sun-scald: blisters or big white spots
- Tomatoes not turning red: normal occurrence in record-high temperatures
- Splitting or cracking: fruits out-growing their skin
- Too many tomatoes: plan for next year
If you have seen a tomato with catfacing, you understand the name. Catfacing happens early in the season when temperatures are low (50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower). Fewer pollinators and low pollination create fewer blooms.
Poor pollination and lower temperatures cause the blooms to stick to certain developing parts of the fruit. This causes indentations and scarring on parts of the fruits, while the unaffected parts of the tomatoes continue to grow and expand.
This problem is quite often caused by the pesticide 2,4-D. Even if you don't use this pesticide, however, drift can travel from at least a mile away. If you are spraying your tomatoes, do not use a container that has ever been used with 2,4-D.
Catfaced tomatoes may not be sellable, but the condition does not affect the taste of the fruits. They can be still be eaten like regular tomatoes.
Some catfacing can also be caused by thrips: tiny, slender insects with wings. In this case, use proper pest control methods to rid yourself of those pesky insects.
Tomatoes, especially green ones, are susceptible to scalding due to direct exposure to the sun. It's like a sunburn for plants.
Although tomatoes are sun-loving plants, their fruits are usually afforded some protection by the leaves and vines. Normally, tomatoes would be covered with enough foliage to be protected from this problem.
Why is this happening?
- Over-pruning can often leave fruits over-exposed to the sun's radiation.
- You might have broken a branch, exposing a fruit.
- Tying up or staking plants might expose some fruit to direct sunshine.
Any green tomatoes that have begun to show signs of sun-scald can be picked and brought inside to slowly ripen.
3. Tomatoes Not Turning Red
You have big, orange tomatoes. They seem ready to harvest, but they just won't turn that beautiful red color as usual. They feel ripe, but they aren't red. When temperatures reach 86˚F or hotter for several days, carotene and lycopene shut down production. In a heat wave, tomato plants will not set fruit, and fruit will not turn red.
If tomatoes have started to ripen, you can pick them and let them finish ripening in the kitchen.
4. Splitting or Cracking
There are two kinds of cracking: radial and concentric. Radial cracks radiate out from the stem end like the spokes of a wheel. These cracks can be the most harmful, allowing insects or disease into the tomato.
Concentric cracks are those that circle the tomato. These cracks develop scar tissue and seal out damaging diseases or molds. Although the cracks are unattractive, they will not affect the taste.
Cracks are caused by rapidly changing water levels, such as days of drought followed by heavy rains. The tomato fruit will grow faster than the epidermis cells can expand. When ripe tomatoes are left on the vine too long, concentric cracks can occur.
5. Too Many Tomatoes
At the peek of tomato season, your gardening success may be a temporary problem. What should you do with a kitchen table full of ripe tomatoes? If you do not have time to preserve the harvest, try this temporary solution.
Wash all the tomatoes and place them on a cookie sheet. Do not let them touch. Place them in freezer. The goal is to freeze tomatoes separately. Once the tomatoes have frozen, store individual fruits in a freezer bag.
This temporary storage method will give you time to process the tomatoes after the heat of summer.
Bonus Tip: Do Not Over-Feed Tomatoes
If you add too much fertilizer, you may get fewer tomatoes. Some gardeners may think that if a little is good, a lot of fertilizer is better. It turns out that's not true.
Adding too much nitrogen—often a key ingredient in fertilizer—will create a big, beautiful, lush tomato plant with very little fruit. Avoid this common mistake by resisting the urge to over-feed your tomatoes.
Recap of Solutions
Summer temperatures will increase pollinators and improve pollination.
Do not over-prune the plant. (Make sure some of the foliage provides a partial cover for the fruits.)
Tomatoes Won't Turn Red
Pray for a break in the heat wave.
Splitting or Cracking
Mulch, and keep water levels consistent.
Too Many Tomatoes
Plant fewer plants, or have a canning party for next year.
© 2014 Patsy Bell Hobson
Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 14, 2015:
Well, you know by reading my tomato Hub, I am a failure at growing tomatoes! Thanks for your advice, BTW.
I just envy people like you who can grow tomatoes, but I give up!
I have a neighbor who can grow beauties like yours, so he keeps me supplied.
Interesting and informative Hub. Voted UP and shared.
Cheryl Gladney on June 23, 2014:
Need more nourishment and water. When a tomato gets to hot it boils from with and splits because its out grown its skin.
JR Krishna from India on June 23, 2014:
I assume you have a wonderful garden. You are very knowledgeable about how to take care of tomatoes and have given some wonderful tips here
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 23, 2014:
Patsybell, my mother used to grow tomatoes, and I've had neighbors who did. I've eaten some cat-facing tomatoes in my time--just didn't now they had a nickname. Your articles are always an education for me. Thank you.
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 22, 2014:
Jackie Lynnley, You never know how good a year it will be in the tomato patch. I like your idea to save you harvest. Isn't it amazing how many tomatoes we use in one year? Thank you for reading my hubs.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 22, 2014:
One summer I had way too many tomatoes and I canned all I could and there still was more and more. Well; besides cooking up all I could in sauces for dishes I scalded and peeled and let the remainder come to a boil then cooled and froze. Those tomatoes I used all winter and they tasted so fresh and delicious; much better than canned. ^+
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 22, 2014:
Dolores, you are growing the same tomato has me. I have two heritage strains that both swear to be from the original strain, plus a yellow brandywine and a true black brandywine. I'd love to hear about your brandywine tomato successes.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 22, 2014:
This is such a helpful article! I am so looking forward to fresh, home grown tomatoes! My favorite is Brandywine, an heirloom tomato with a bit of old fashioned "twang."