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Help! My Tomatoes Have Acne!

Stink bug damage can look a lot like a bad case of the zits.

Stink bug damage can look a lot like a bad case of the zits.

Your garden began with such promise. Its first fruits and vegetables were wonderful, almost miraculous. But as the growing season waned, your tomatoes did too.

They began to develop the oddest skin conditions-- dry patches, scars, yellow spots, black spots and unsightly cracks.

What happened?

Dry, Unsightly Patches

Sometimes, especially at the height of summer when it's particularly hot and dry, tomatoes can get a nasty sunburn which often becomes infected. The burn manifests itself as dry, leathery patches called sunscald.

So long as sunscalded tomatoes haven't succumbed to rot, they can still be eaten. Just cut out the rough patch and enjoy!

How to Prevent Sunscald

To protect tomato fruit from sunscald, avoid pinching back leaves in midseason and use screens or row covers to provide shade.

Deformed tomatoes with deep scars and holes on the bottoms are catfaced.

Deformed tomatoes with deep scars and holes on the bottoms are catfaced.

5-Star Tomato Fertilizers

Deep, Deforming Scars

If your tomatoes have deep, deforming scars and holes on the bottom (the blossom end) they're catfaced. Although catfacing isn't particularly pretty, it doesn't adversely affect the nutritional value or taste of the fruit, and catfaced tomatoes are perfectly safe to eat. Catfacing is caused by things that happened in the environment (abiotic factors) when your plants were forming blossoms. It is not caused by disease or other biotic factors.

Possible causes include temperatures at under 58 degrees F, high levels of nitrogen in the soil and exposure to growth-regulating herbicides. Extreme heat and drought as well as unusually cool, wet periods during blossom time can also cause catfacing.

How to Prevent Catfacing

  • Set your tomato plants out after dangerously low temperatures are no longer a threat. Although you may be itching to start your garden early, transplanting your tomato seedlings before it's time could expose them to the low nightly temperatures that cause catfacing.
  • Buy fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes, or opt for rich, organic matter such as dessicated horse manure. All fertilizers are not alike. The high nitrogen fertilizers that you apply to your lawn or your orchid plants are inappropriate for tomatoes. (The first number on the fertilizer bag indicates its nitrogen content.)
  • If possible, plant your tomatoes away from areas where they might be exposed to a 2,4-D herbicide. These weed killers are often sprayed along roadways. Like Agent Orange, they destroy plants by disrupting their growth cycle, and they'll interfere with your tomato plant's ability to set normal fruit.
  • Select tomato varieties that are resistant to the catfacing, such as Floradade. Large varieties, such as beef steak, tend to be more susceptible.
Tomatoes & tomato plants with TSWV should be thrown away.

Tomatoes & tomato plants with TSWV should be thrown away.

Yellow Spots & Rings

The tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) used to be a problem that primarily affected commercial tomato growers, but now home gardeners are frequently plagued by TSWV.

TSWV is carried by an insect, the western flower thrip. It first manifests itself as black spots on the tomato plant's stems and leaves. These eventually turn into cankers. Sometimes dark streaks also develop on stems. The plant's growth is stunted, and its fruit develops yellow spots and rings.

How to Prevent TSWV

  • Discard infected plants immediately to control the spread of the virus to your other tomato plants.
  • Keep your tomato patch weed-free. Weeds attract insects, including thrips.
  • Buy tomato plant varieties that are TSWV resistant: Crista, Amelia VR (HMX 0800), Southern Star (BHN 444) and BHN 640.
  • Thrips are famously difficult to control; however, you may be able to reduce the thrip population in your garden by applying insecticidal soaps, oils and/or powders as directed by the manufacturer.
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This poor little tom, although edible, suffers from concentric and radial cracking.

This poor little tom, although edible, suffers from concentric and radial cracking.

Irrigation for the Home Garden

Unsightly Cracks

If your tomatoes are split by cracks that circle the stem (concentric cracks) or that spike outward from the stem (radial cracks), it's probably due to the weather. Growth cracks occur during rapid growth, usually when the fruit is close to maturity. Several factors --some within your control--may cause them:

  • a period of dry weather followed by wet weather,
  • excessive de-leafing of tomato plants coupled with fluctuations in temperature,
  • soil high in nitrogen and low in potassium,
  • irregular watering and
  • excessive watering.

Once you notice that a tomato is cracked, pick it. If you leave it on the vine, it's likely to fall prey to disease.

How to Prevent Cracking

Want fewer cracked tomatoes? Try these three things:

  • Apply tomato-appropriate fertilizer (see above), following the manufacturer's directions.
  • Don't pinch off too many leaves! Doing so will expose your fruit to excessive heat and cold.
  • Water at regular intervals, and consider using a drip-irrigation system. Once in place, they're easy to use, highly efficient and water-saving. And they're now available for container gardens, raised beds and traditional vegetable patches.
When stink bugs feed on tomatoes, they damage the fruit, but it's still edible.

When stink bugs feed on tomatoes, they damage the fruit, but it's still edible.

Blackheads & Whiteheads

When stink bugs feed on your tomatoes, they cause damage. Usually, it's minor. On green tomatoes, stink bug damage looks like tiny black spots. As the fruit ripens, the spots sometimes turn yellow. The tissue underneath the spots is spongy and white. If the damage is severe, it may even have holes in it.

Stink bug damage shouldn't prevent you from eating your tomatoes, however. Just cut out and discard the spongy bits.

How to Prevent Stink Bug Damage

  • Keep your garden weed-free to reduce the stink bug population. Stink bugs overwinter in weedy areas.
  • Remove stink bugs from your tomato plants. You probably won't want to do this by hand (they give off a nasty odor when handled). But you could use a bug vacuum.

Although stink bugs can be pests, some are extremely beneficial to your garden, eating canker-worms, gypsy moth caterpillars and other caterpillars—pests that really cause damage.

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Tomato Troubles

More Advice


Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 23, 2014:

Thanks, Patsybell! Appreciate it.Our vines are absolutely loaded with tomatoes this year. (Hope I'm not jinxing us by writing that!) All the best, (: --Jill

Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on June 23, 2014:

Hello fellow gardener. Nice hub with lots of good info. Voted up UAI tweet.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on July 30, 2012:

@ Pavlo Badovskyy -- Glad you found it useful! The tomatoes in one area of our yard are suffering a bit from stink bug feeding, but ... it's not too bad. Overall, it's been a great year for tomatoes here. Hope your garden's doing well! (:

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on July 30, 2012:

Great info! Worth reading! Thank you!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on September 15, 2011:

At least you got some tomatoes, Marsha! Hope you have better luck next year. Thanks for reading! --DF

Marsha H from My Retro Kitchen in NY on September 15, 2011:

We developed tomato blight two years ago, and I've been afraid to plant them in the same garden space again. So this year we grew one potted tomato plant, and wouldn't you know, all the tomatoes were catfaced... except that I didn't know that's what it was called until I read your hub. Thanks for the great info! +up vote. :)

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 23, 2011:

Thanks, Kitty! Good luck with your crop! Hope you don't have lots of deer. That seems to be the biggest problem where we live. They'll eat the blossoms, the green tomatoes, and just leave a nubby little sorry plant!

Kitty Fields from Summerland on August 23, 2011:

I was planning on planting some tomatoes next year, I didn't realize there's so much that can go wrong with tomatoes! The catfaced tomatoes look funny and even though it doesn't affect the taste or nutritional value, I might be wary of eating a tomato with a butt. :) Thanks, voted up and useful!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 22, 2011:

Hey Sam! That sounds like damping off, I think it's called. Thanks for reading! --Jill

sam3m from New York on August 21, 2011:


very nicely done. over the past several years i've gone to growing tomatoes in pots since i use a wheelchair. i ran into a problem with big black spots on the fruit. i think someone id'd it as tomato mold, not sure, but the cure was as simple as separating the pots so air could circulate more freely between them.

thanks again.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 21, 2011:

Thanks so much, Movie Master! Appreciate it.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on August 21, 2011:

Brilliant hub, well researched and written, very informative and lots of advice, photos are great.

Yes - I loved it and voting up!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 21, 2011:

@davenmidtown--OMG, your poor cats! Mine's impervious, but the dog ... he runs into the hall to hide when I have computer trouble.

&leahlefler--Great! Thanks for reading.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on August 20, 2011:

I have a few catfaced tomatoes (I had no idea the condition was named "catfaced" until I read this hub). It makes sense now, since we had a very long, dry season this year at bloom time! Thanks for the informative hub!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on August 20, 2011:

Jill: sometimes our best work gets eaten up by technology glitches... I have a string of curse words that I use when that happens... the computer is however, unaffected but the cats... vacate the room. I loved this hub. Thank you for putting in the effort it really shows when writers take the time.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 20, 2011:

@ davenmidtown--Thanks so much! I really appreciate the encouragment. It took me forever to research & write. I even lost half of it once when my computer froze! Happy gardening, Jill

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on August 20, 2011:

Great Hub! I love how it is presented. The pictures are great, the information is spot on, the detail is a pleasure to read. This is a great hub for veterans and newbies alike! well done my friend!!!!

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