Catfacing Problems in Tomatoes

Dr. Gerald Brust

There have been some reports from growers and educators of several sets of tomato fruit with catfacing or that are deformed (Fig. 1). Catfacing results in fruit with deep indentations in the blossom end or fruit with significant distortions.  It is thought to be caused by a problem during the formation of the flower that results in the fruit not developing normally. However, there is little information as to its exact cause.  At times the first set of tomatoes in fields looked good, but the second, third and in some cases 4th sets are having problems in some fields. The problem is most probably due to the cool night temperatures we had 20-30 days ago in some areas.  Tomato flowers do not develop or pollinate properly if temperatures fall below 52-54oF. This is just the nighttime temperatures; the day time temperatures could be in the 80s, but night temperatures at or below 54oF will cause the fruit to develop abnormally. At several places on the eastern shore, where the damage seems to be worse, low temperatures were at or below 54o F from 1 May through the 25 May. This extended period of cool night temperatures is just the scenario that is needed for catfacing to occur over several tomato fruit sets. These temperatures are from official reporting sites and can be lower or higher depending on your location. Some varieties will be more sensitive to these lower temperatures than others. It seems the ‘rounder and larger’ the fruit the greater the chance of catfacing. So in the same field that has several cultivars of round tomatoes that have catfacing the plum tomatoes would have less and the cherries and grapes much less if any.

Other causes of catfacing could be exposure to 2, 4-D and you should see a pattern in the field if this is the case with one edge of the field with more damage and as you move away from that edge there is less damage. Heavy pruning in indeterminate varieties may increase catfacing because of reductions in auxins in the plant. Jointless tomato varieties seem to be more prone to catfacing than jointed varieties. Zippering fruit have lines along the side of the fruit usually from the stem end to the blossom end (Fig. 1) due to abnormalities in early flower development. At times a “hole” forms on the side of the fruit along the zipper (Fig. 1). Although sometimes attributed to high humidity or an anther that is attached to the newly forming fruit the cause of the zipper scar is still not well understood.

Unfortunately there is little that can be done to control either of these maladies, except selecting varieties that are not prone to the problem.  Older cultivars appear to be more susceptible. If possible removal of the catfaced fruit would be beneficial as these fruit are unmarketable, but will continue to drain nutrients from the plant.

Figure 1. First photo is zippering with hole, remainder of photos are examples of catface. Photos by G. Brust.


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