first ‘ripe’ tomatoes: uh-oh, green shoulders!

tomatoes with green shoulders
AND THE WINNER IS…GREEN SHOULDERS. I feel as if every year the first tomatoes to ripen here put me to a little test. As if I hadn’t waited long enough, they almost make it to the finish line, but then don’t, exactly. Last year my first fruits had blossom end rot, which like the green shoulders of this year’s issue (above), is not a disease but a physiological problem usually attributed to stress from weather, particularly in susceptible varieties.

The fruits above (which are ‘San Marzano 2’) got exposed to too much heat and sun while ripening, which caused the chlorophyll up toward the stem end to fail to break down and give way to other pigments. Again, apparently some varieties are more inclined to have this issue surface under such stress than others that are more resistant; I have read that heirlooms are more inclined to green shoulders than hybrids, but who knows if that is so? Sometimes the color shifts to yellow (called yellow shoulders, of course)–but even then, not to red.

The good news is that assuming subsequent fruits don’t get roasted and toasted on the vine, they’ll be fine. These two were on the lower part of the plant where some foliage had dried and dropped off, leaving them out in the altogether during the recent heatwave. If the plants had lost foliage where other fruit are forming, leaving them vulnerable, too, I’d provide some shade with a knitted fabric, forming a loose tent to block maybe 30 percent of the light or so.

Having your own tomato troubles? Misery loves company, so jump right in and let us know. (Or consult my Tomato Troubles FAQ’s if you want to do some homework right away on what’s up and how to handle it.)

  1. MaryGreta says:

    We haven’t had green shoulders, however, we have had brown bottoms…
    Never before…what’s going on? The tomato is a Roma..

    1. Margaret says:

      Probably blossom end rot, MaryGreta. The info on that is here at this link. The good news is that assuming the next fruits to ripen don’t experience the same stress, they can be fine. Sometimes I get it on a few tomatoes and then get past the problem (like green shoulders, it’s not a disease, per se). Anyhow, go have a look at that other story and see if that’s it.

  2. Dwight says:

    Even though I’ve been gardening in arid to semi-arid locations for 40 years, I still am learning. With our record-setting drought and heat, my tomatoes have just given up the ghost in spite of plenty of water. It has been so hot for so long that the osmosis just couldn’t keep up. What have I learned? I have learned that I had better provide some sort of shade for the heat of the day. I will probably try growing giant sunflowers on the west side of the tomatoes next time. If that doesn’t work, I will probably try some shade cloth of some sort. Never say “die!”

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Dwight. I agree re: the shade. It’s sort of counterintuitive — shade the tomatoes? — but definitely a good idea when the fruits are otherwise scalded/otherwise damaged. Even here, I need it about now.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Julia. The “black” or purple tomatoes have a higher inclination genetically to green shoulders generally speaking, I think. Fascinating, isn’t it? For some tomatoes it’s “normal,” I guess.

      As for the leaf mold, except for lowering the humidity I don’t think there’s a way to prevent/limit that. It has been very humid here and I noticed the yellow spotting, too, recently. If you lose a lot of leaves be sure to shade the remaining fruits a bit with some lightweight fabric (horticultural shade cloth, e.g.) so they don’t get damaged by too much sun.

  3. Judith says:

    Glad to finally hear the reason for the green/yellow shoulders. In my northern garden this is the first summer in a long time we have had a hot July. thought that would be a good thing for the tomatoes. My garden is in a former pine plantation so still have lots of shade and acidic soil. Next year will check the soil pH and ammend and add some K+ and Ca probably. Have to wait and see what happens, but now will pick and place them in a dark place.

  4. Note to self: I will not plant 6 tomato plants next year – that’s too many for us. I will construct sturdy wooden cages which attach to my raised beds next year for the tomatoes. I have had some “catface” issues which doesn’t present much of a problem. Other than that, no real problems with the tomatoes. I have had tremendous results and I am kind of weary of canning, sauceing, freezing, drying and figuring out other ways to use the bounty. Lame complaint right? Hurray for our freezer!!!

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