What’s Wrong With My $#@*%! Tomatoes?

July 28, 2013 | By | Comments (24)
Tomato problems

These tomatoes crack me up. Of course, they’re not mine.  Photo: anneheathen

This is the time of year I”m glad I belong to the oppressed minority of people out there who don’t like eating fresh, homegrown tomatoes. Because awful things happen to tomato plants in summer. Here are five of the most common problems and what you can do about them.

Awful Thing #1 — Cracked or Split Tomatoes (above)
Sign of trouble — Cracks form in concentric circles around the stem end of the fruit or the skin splits down the side.

The culprit — Too much rain. When the plant absorbs water to quickly, it pumps it into the fruit faster than the tomato’s skin can grow. So the skin cracks or splits. Fortunately, if you pick these tomatoes before they rot, they’re still edible (albeit ugly).

What to do — Move to parts of South America’s Atacama Desert where rainfall has never been recorded. As an alternative, try  mulching around the bases of your plants to get excess water to drain away. Or grow in raised beds or containers where drainage is better.

Tomato problems

Was your plant stripped of its leaves last night? Here’s the culprit. Photo: justguessing

Awful Thing #2 — Tomato Hornworms (above)
Sign of trouble — One day, your tomato plant looks fine. The next, it’s missing most of its leaves and there are all these dark green pellets around.

The culprit — Huge, green, 5-inch long caterpillars hanging upside down on munched stems. Ordinarily, you’d spot these monsters right away, but they’re the same color as tomato foliage. They’re the larvae of sphinx moths that buzz around flowers like hummingbirds. The pellets are poop.

What to do — Don’t spray. When caterpillars get this big, spraying does no good and who wants to eat pesticide anyway? Instead, pick off the caterpillars (don’t worry, they don’t bite or sting), put them in a jar, and go fishing.

Tomato problems

I know, I know — you want to pop this baby into your mouth right now! Photo: eggrole

Awful Thing #3 — Blossom-End Rot (above)
Sign of trouble — A black, sunken spot appears on the end of the tomato and keeps getting larger and larger.

The culprit — A lack of calcium causes cell walls to break down. Either your soil lacks sufficient calcium because it’s too acid (a pH around 6.5 is ideal) or poorly drained, wet soil is preventing the plant from absorbing calcium that’s already there.

What to do — Right now, pick off and chuck the rotting tomatoes. Then mulch around your plants to try to promote more better drainage. In the fall, add lime to the soil to raise the pH. This takes time to work, so doing it now won’t help this year.

Tomato problems

Can you spot the problem? Early blight. Photo: deardorfandwadsworth

Awful Thing #4 — Early Blight (above)
Sign of trouble — Brown spots appear on the lowest leaves and then move up the plant. The spots get bigger and develop concentric gray and brown rings. Leaves turn yellow and drop. Eventually, the plant croaks.

The culprit — Early blight, the most common fungal disease of tomatoes. It likes warm, wet weather and crowded plants. It spreads when water splashes spores from leaf to leaf.

What to do: Pick off any spotted leaves and throw them out with the trash. Don’t wet the foliage when watering plants. Give each plant plenty of space for air to circulate freely. Spray plants according to label directions with a safe, nature-based fungicide, such as Bonide Copper Fungicide, Safer Garden Fungicide, and Espoma Earth-Tone Garden Fungicide.

Tomato problems

Your FIRST tomato has just ripened this morning! Guess who noticed? Photo: btrentler

Awful Thing #5 — Mockingbirds (above)
Sign of trouble — Every single time a tomato reaches its peak of ripeness, you discover a hole in it and it rots.

The culprit — A bird, probably an eagle-eyed mockingbird who wants to torture you.

What to do — Hang strips of aluminum foil on your plants. The flashing from the strips will scare the birds. That’s the theory, anyway.


  1. Steve Bender


    I know it’s looks bizarre, but tomato seeds sprouting from inside a tomato is actually quite common. It usually results from the tomato being chilled and then being left in a warmer room.

    August 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm
  2. lisa williams

    why does my tomato have baby plants inside of it all of the seeds inside of the tomato sprouted

    August 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm
  3. lisa williams

    why does my tomato have baby plants inside of it

    August 18, 2014 at 9:24 pm
  4. Floyd Knipe

    My neighbor found that squirrel and deer were better eating than his garden produce……
    problem solved. Now if I could develop a taste for groundhog. I have ki…..extracted about 25 over the last 3 years. By the way peeing around the garden perimeter does help ……
    sometimes a lot. You can pour it around if you live in town etc. And pouring it in a groundhog den will make them move to another place…..hopefully the neighbor’s and he
    will develop a taste for whistle pigs..they do give out a loud whistle when scared off or irritated at you when you’ve caught them in the act of eating okra plants, squash, tomatoes. Also for early blight spray on……in a gallon of water….1 Tp bake soda…1 Ts vegie oil…2-3 drops dishwash, Dawn etc….Shake well….spray all over plants ….works well.

    August 4, 2013 at 8:50 am
  5. Lara

    Hilarious! Atacama desert, here I come!

    July 30, 2013 at 8:15 am
  6. Elysa

    Alesia, those hard white places may possibly be caused by the leaf-footed stinkbugs. They insert their mouthpiece through the skin and suck the juices out. This causes the white spots inside. If you catch it early enough, you can just cut those spots out and eat the rest.

    July 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm
  7. Janice Beckemeyer

    SQUIRRELS!!!!! I use to tolerate them digging up every potted plant, husband now puts chicken wire around every potted plant, 20+. Now the furry little varmits have eaten every single green tomato, 8 tomato plants worth, I could wring their fuzzy little necks. We give up! No tomatoes this year.

    July 29, 2013 at 8:41 pm
  8. Julia

    Blossom-end rot – put crushed eggshells in the hole when planting (calcium)

    July 29, 2013 at 7:53 pm
  9. Carole Hendrix

    Blossom-end Rot on tomatoes is caused by an imbalance of calcium and magnesium in the soil. Scatter a handful of epsom salts around the plant at planting time and water in, you can put some in the planting hole too.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:16 pm
  10. Bigbird

    3 words: Motion Activated Sprinkler

    July 29, 2013 at 10:51 am
  11. Karen

    A very territorial large dog will keep squirrels and deer out! So will chicken wire cages.

    July 29, 2013 at 12:13 am
  12. Debby Bazar Lankford

    hair clippings are supposed to keep deer away

    July 28, 2013 at 10:09 pm
  13. Gayle Bowlin Terry

    Grumpy, your southern is showing: “Then mulch around your plants to try to promote more better drainage.” Heh, heh, “more better”.

    July 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm
  14. Zoe

    Sara Dick,
    Have your husband pee in the yard. It’s his territory, he has to mark it to keep the deer out!

    July 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm
  15. Barry

    Yep Scott, start eating squirrel!

    July 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm
  16. Scott

    Any ideas to keep squirrels out? I kept catching squirrels running off with my green (un-ripened) tomatoes. Then I found when I came home from a weekend away that the whole plant had been devoured, from the root up! Any tricks to keep these pests out?

    July 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm
  17. Alesia

    What causes the hard white places all inside the tomato that looks to be a beautiful and tasty tomato from the outside?

    July 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm
  18. Sara Dick

    Does anyone know how to keep deer from eating your plants? They have eaten all our sunflower, roses and almost everything in our garden?

    July 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm
  19. Amber

    My dearest Grumpy, you have, yet again, proven a sympathetic sage. I cannot wait to behold the Christmas trees that our tomato plants will surely become as my fiance decorates away those evil birds. And we had no idea that water could do anything other than benefit our foliage. Thanks for the advice – with your help we may yet have picture-perfect tomatoes!

    July 28, 2013 at 1:48 pm
  20. Donna Fletcher

    It’s a shame the caterpillar of this beautiful moth causes so much damage. I really hate to kill them. I always wonder if I relocate them will they find my tomatoes again? Are they considered a “bad bug?”

    July 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm
  21. Candy

    Squirrels are stealing green and red tomatoes !! out of 6 plants, we have only retrieved 2 tomatoes

    July 28, 2013 at 11:59 am
  22. Jonathan

    We have a wire fence around our plot, so I strung several rows of green monofilament across the top of the wire from side to side, with a snap swivel on one end so I can move them when I tend the garden.

    July 28, 2013 at 11:49 am
  23. Margaret Davenport

    nooo, can’t be mockingbirds! (from harper lee, “to kill a mockingbird”).

    July 28, 2013 at 11:43 am
  24. Martina Creger

    How bout them stealin’ varnints – squirrels?

    July 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

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