What is Catfacing in Tomatoes? Plus, How to Prevent It

Use these simple tips to avoid a disappointing crop of misshapen fruit.

Catfacing is an odd, yet descriptive name, of a common tomato disorder. Tomatoes affected by catfacing are misshapen and often have deep crevices and scar tissue on the blossom end of the fruit. At first glance, the undulating bottom side of a catfaced tomato might resemble the somewhat angular face of your favorite feline. Little scientific research has been done to definitively determine the cause of catfacing, but there are various management techniques that have proven useful in avoiding the harmless, but strange-looking, disorder. Banish catfacing from your tomato crop with these easy growing tips.

What Causes Catfacing?

Cold temperatures are pegged as the most likely cause of catfacing. Scientists theorize that exposing flowering tomato plants to temperatures below 50°F damages the flowers. Damaged flowers then developed into misshapen, irregular fruit. The cause of damaged flowers isn’t limited to cold temperatures though. Rough handling of flowering tomato plants can impact the flowers which in time may impact the fruit. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer and chemical drift are other potential causes of catfacing, along with overexuberant pruning of your tomato plants.

While catfacing is not the prettiest thing appearance-wise, it isn’t harmful to the plant and as soon as conditions change, it is likely to disappear. Catfacing is not a disorder that can be transferred from one plant to another. Fruit that is misshapen and deeply creviced is safe to eat if the flesh is firm, appropriately colored, and fresh—simply cut away the scarred tissue. While tomatoes impacted by catfacing aren’t great for sandwich toppers, they can be chopped for sauce.

green tomato catfacing tomato

Getty Images / Larry Reynolds

4 Ways to Prevent Catfacing

Growing a crop of smooth, round, catface-free tomatoes is rooted in good garden practices. Unlike some diseases and insect pests that are unavoidable, catfacing is easily minimized with these straightforward tomato growing tips.

1. Wait for Warmth

Wait until volatile spring temperatures even out before transplanting tomato seedlings into the garden. In the rush to harvest the first tomato, it’s common to get tomato plants into the garden as soon as the last frost date passes. While the last frost date indicates a limited chance of frost going forward, it doesn’t indicate consistent temperatures. Cold temperatures can damage tomato plants and lead to catfacing.

Aim to plant tomato seedlings in the garden when night temperatures are generally above 50°F. Consistently moderate air temperature will raise the soil temperature—an essential element for strong tomato plant growth. In most regions, daytime and nighttime temperatures moderate about two weeks after the last average frost date. Waiting 14 days beyond the last average frost date to transplant will have minimal impact on when you harvest the first tomato and a positive impact on overall health of the tomato plant.

2. Avoid Chemical Drift

Exposure to broadleaf herbicides, such as 2, 4-D or similar products, is a possible cause of catfacing in tomatoes. If you must use a broadleaf weed killer on your lawn, choose a day and time with no wind to avoid the chemicals drifting near tomato plants. A small amount of herbicide drift might not kill a tomato plant, but it can easily injure developing buds and flowers and lead to deformed fruit.

3. Plant Resistant Varieties

Some tomato types and varieties are more likely to develop catfacing than others. For example, cherry and grape tomatoes rarely produce misshapen fruit. The same is true for most paste-type tomatoes. Large heirlooms, such as 'Cherokee Purple' and 'Black Krim', are more prone to catfacing on the first fruits of the season. Many newer tomato varieties, such as ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ and ‘Galahad,’ are generally resistant to catfacing.

Don’t let heirlooms' tendency toward catfacing stop you from growing them. Often if the first fruits of the season are misshapen, the subsequent fruit are well-formed. Catfacing is usually a temporary challenge.

4. Keep Tomato Plants Healthy

Healthy tomato plants are far less likely to be impacted by catfacing or any pest or disease. Vigorously growing tomato plants shrug off threats with relative ease as they go about developing fruit. Watering, mulching, and staking your tomatoes pave the way for healthier plants.

For best growth, make sure your plants get about 1 inch of water a week. If rainfall doesn’t deliver the needed water, supplement by watering plants with a drip hose or by hand. Direct water to the base of the plant; keep the foliage dry to prevent disease.

Preserve valuable soil moisture with a 2-inch layer of mulch over the plant’s root zone. Shredded wood mulch, weed-free lawn clippings, and well-decomposed compost all work well to slow down soil moisture evaporation. Finally, support tomato plants with a sturdy stake or cage. Training plants to grow up prevents many common fungal diseases and fruit spots and rots.

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