Why Do My Tomatoes Have Tough, Thick Skins(7 Causes&Solution)

Why Do My Tomatoes Have Tough, Thick Skins(7  Causes&Solution)

As a tomato gardener, I know how exciting it is to nurture those baby plants into full-grown, fruit-bearing beauties. After months of diligent care, nothing beats the pride and satisfaction of harvesting ripe, juicy tomatoes straight from your own garden.

However, that excitement can quickly turn into disappointment when you slice into a homegrown tomato only to find its skin unappetizingly tough and leathery.

What causes this frustrating phenomenon? And more importantly, how can you prevent it from happening in the first place? In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the common culprits behind tough tomato skins and provide actionable tips to help you grow tomatoes with tender, delicious skins every season.

So, what causes Tomato skin tough and thick?

The main causes of tough tomato skin are genetics/variety, environmental factors like heat and drought, overripening, and diseases. To prevent tough skin, choose thin-skinned varieties and harvest at peak ripeness, providing consistent watering and afternoon shade produces tomatoes with tender, thin skin.

An Introduction to Tomato Skin Structure

Before diving into what causes tough skins, it’s helpful to understand the anatomy of a tomato. The skin, known botanically as the “cuticle,” is a protective outer layer composed of cutin and waxes. It plays several key roles:

  • Regulating moisture loss and gas exchange
  • Protecting against pests, diseases, and physical damage
  • Controlling fruit elongation and preventing cracking

In commercially grown tomatoes bred for transport, the cuticle is often very thick to prevent bruising. However, most home gardeners prefer thin-skinned varieties with a delicate texture.

When tomato skins thicken and become leathery, it’s usually the plant’s natural response to environmental stressors. The extra “armor” helps retain moisture and protects the fruit. But it comes at the cost of flavor and enjoyment for us tomato lovers.

Let’s look at seven common causes behind tough tomato skins so you can take preventative action.

Cause #1: Tomato Variety

The first factor to consider is tomato variety. Some types are genetically predisposed to developing thicker skins:

  • Roma/paste tomatoes have robust skins ideal for cooking and processing. Other paste tomatoes like San Marzano and Amish Paste share these traits.
  • Most hybrid tomatoes have thicker cuticles than heirlooms to withstand shipping.
  • Crack-resistant hybrids like Celebrity, Defiant, and Mountain Merit intentionally thicken their skins to avoid splitting.

While exceptions exist, heirlooms generally have thinner, more tender skins. Varieties like Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, and Black Krim produce those melt-in-your-mouth slices we love.

If you’ve battled leathery skins, try a new tomato variety next season. Choosing heirlooms over hybrids and avoiding crack-resistant and paste types will increase your chance of success.

Cause #2: High Temperatures and Intense Sunlight

Tomatoes thrive in warm conditions, but excessive heat causes physiological changes that thicken their skins. Sustained high temperatures above 90°F combined with intense sunlight trigger survival mechanisms.

To reduce moisture loss, the tomato cuticle thickens and its waxy cutin layers become less permeable. While this protects the fruit, it comes at the cost of flavor and texture.

Prolonged heat and sunlight can also inhibit ripening. Green patches and “green shoulders” may emerge, creating firm areas even when the rest of the tomato feels ripe. The fruits don’t have time to properly develop seed cavities and juicy flesh when rushed, so they remain dense and dry inside.

Solutions for Excessive Heat and Sun

Providing some mid-day shade is the best remedy against the summer sun’s blistering rays:

  • Strategic planting spots like east-facing walls or under light-shade trees
  • Companion plants like onions and basil that offer cooling relief
  • Simple shade cloth structures to block excess afternoon sun
  • Afternoon irrigation to mist plants or hydrate roots

Adequate soil moisture also prevents heat stress. Apply mulch to conserve water and keep roots cooler. With a little shade and hydration, your tomatoes can thrive without needing tough skin protection.

Cause #3: Improper Pruning

Pruning tomato plants promotes healthy growth and yields by removing unproductive suckers and leaves. However excessive pruning stresses the plant, causing its fruits to develop thicker skin.

Follow these pruning guidelines to avoid unnecessary thickness:

  • Leave healthy bottom leaves to power photosynthesis. Only remove those touching dirt.
  • Keep 1-2 suckers on indeterminate varieties for plant stability.
  • Time pruning to avoid peak heat. Morning is ideal.
  • Disinfect pruners between plants to prevent disease spread.
  • Prune incrementally vs. all at once to minimize stress.

By pruning judiciously, you can guide plant energy toward tender, delicious fruits.

Cause #4: Under-Watering

Tomatoes demand substantial water, especially when fruits are growing and ripening. Erratic irrigation that allows the soil to completely dry out stresses the plant severely.

To conserve moisture, the tomato responds by developing a thicker, more protective cuticle. Under-watering can also cause existing fruits to crack or split when they finally do get water.

Follow these tips for consistent tomato hydration:

  • Check soil moisture daily, particularly in hot/dry weather
  • Water at the soil level to keep foliage dry and prevent disease
  • Provide deep soakings 1-2 times per week until moisture reaches 6 inches deep
  • Mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and keep roots cooler

Investing in drip irrigation makes tomato garden watering much simpler. Just be sure to hydrrate thoroughly and deeply rather than frequent light sprinkles. Proper watering encourages healthy plants that produce tomatoes with tender, juicy skins.

Cause #5: Soil Nutrient Imbalances

While tomatoes need a complete spectrum of essential nutrients, deficiencies, and excesses can trigger tough skin development.

Potential nutrient issues include:

  • Nitrogen excess – Causes explosive vegetative growth at the expense of fruits.
  • Phosphorus deficiency – This leads to weak plants and poor fruit quality.
  • Potassium deficiency – Reduces disease resistance and skin thickness.
  • Calcium deficiency – Promotes blossom end rot and compromised skin.

Use a balanced tomato fertilizer as needed to maintain optimal nutrition. Have your soil tested every few years to check for imbalances. Proper soil nutrition contributes to smooth, delicious tomato skins.

Cause #6: Diseases Like Anthracnose and Curly Top Virus

Unfortunately, tomatoes are also vulnerable to fungal diseases and viruses that impact skin texture:

Anthracnose

This fungal disease creates dark, sunken lesions on ripening tomato skins. Affected fruits turn leathery and unusable.

To avoid anthracnose:

  • Provide good air circulation between plants
  • Avoid overhead watering and prolonged leaf wetness
  • Stake/trellis plants to prevent soil contact
  • Remove and discard infected fruits ASAP

Curly Top Virus

The curly top virus is transmitted by the beet leafhopper insect. It causes stunted growth, curling leaves, and inedible fruits with thick, tough skin.

To prevent curly top virus:

  • Use row covers early in the season to exclude leafhoppers
  • Control weeds that harbor insects
  • Immediately remove and discard any infected plants

By accurately diagnosing and managing diseases, you can harvest beautiful tomatoes with tender, delicious skins.

Cause #7: Environmental Pollution

Although less common, environmental pollutants can also impact tomato skin. Issues like acid rain, ground-level ozone, and soil contamination introduce chemical stresses.

To sidestep pollution problems:

  • Check local air/soil quality reports before planting
  • Wash fruits and foliage to remove residual pollutants
  • Grow tomatoes upwind or upstream from pollution sources
  • Use raised beds with clean soil if needed

With awareness and preventative care, tomato lovers can still succeed even in less-than-ideal environments.

What to Do With Tough Tomato Skins

If you end up with tomatoes that have thick, tough skins this season, don’t let them go to waste! Here are some ways to use up those frustrating tomatoes:

  • Roast or stew tomatoes to soften and sweeten the flesh. The skins will become more palatable.
  • Use tough-skinned tomatoes for sauces, salsas, soups, or canning. Processing helps break down the skin.
  • Juice or blend tomatoes into smoothies, mixing the flesh while removing the skin.
  • Pickle tough tomatoes for a flavorful garnish or snack. The brine helps soften the skin.
  • Fry green tomatoes or make green tomato chutney to transform unripe tomatoes with tough skin.
  • Remove skins by blanching in boiling water for 30 seconds before boiling in ice water.
  • Compost the skins rather than throwing them out if you won’t eat them!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are my tomato skins tough and leathery?

A: The most common causes of tough tomato skins are variety selection, over-ripening, environmental stressors, improper watering, lack of calcium, disease damage, and sun-scald. Certain varieties are prone to developing thicker skin.

Q: How can I prevent tough skins on my tomatoes?

A: Choose thin-skinned varieties, harvest at peak ripeness, provide consistent watering, use mulch, give afternoon shade, test and amend soil pH, rotate crops, stake plants, and apply fungicides if disease pressure is high.

Q: What should I do with tomatoes that have thick, tough skins?

A: You can roast, stew, or sauce tough tomatoes to soften them. Juice or blend to remove skins. Pickle tough tomatoes. Use unripe green tomatoes for frying or chutney. Remove skins by blanching before using. Compost the skins if you won’t eat them.

Conclusion

A bounty of delicious tomatoes with thin, tender skins awaits when you understand what causes toughness and take preventative action.

Here’s a quick summary of tips for triumph over thick tomato skins:

  • Select thin-skinned heirloom and hybrid varieties
  • Moderate heat/sun exposure through shade and irrigation
  • Prune judiciously to minimize plant stress
  • Provide consistent, deep soil moisture
  • Maintain optimal soil nutrition and fertility
  • Proactively manage pests and diseases
  • Guard against environmental pollution sources

I hope these insights help you enjoy an abundance of tender, juicy tomatoes from your summer garden. Let me know if you have any other tomato-growing questions!


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Mohsin
By Mohsin

Hi, I’m Mohsin, creator of Tomato about website. I have over a two decade of gardening experience and I love helping others growing healthy tomatoes!


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