Gardening: Why do tomatoes seem to ripen from the bottom up?

Anybody who has ever grown tomatoes knows that they are prone to a never-ending slew of issues. That makes it all the more frustrating when you manage to grow a healthy tomato plant full of luscious tomato fruits that show all the signs of being ripe, except that the area near the stem refuses to change color.


Identifying Green and Yellow Shoulders

The term “green shoulders” refers to when the stem end of a tomato stays green or yellowish. This is distinct from tomatoes that have not yet completed ripening. With green shoulders, the green area is noticeably firmer or harder than the ripened part of the fruit. It’s easy to spot on tomatoes that change from green to another color, like red or yellow, but it can also occur on tomatoes that remain green, like Aunt Ruby’s.

It is usual for the stem end of certain tomatoes, such as Cherokee Purple, to stay somewhat green even when completely ripe. Green or yellow shoulders may be identified by examining to see whether the stem end is not just the incorrect color, but also hard to the touch. If you bite into one, you’ll find that it doesn’t taste as sweet.

Causes of Green Shoulders on Tomatoes

The chlorophyll in an unripe tomato normally begins to degrade at the blossom end and progresses around and up the fruit. Green shoulders occur when the chlorophyll either does not break down as the fruit ripens or if it breaks down too slowly. This may happen for a handful of reasons, both of which are weather-related. To begin, excessive direct sun exposure might develop green shoulders. It may also appear when temperatures stay high for an extended period of time.

Yellow Shoulders

The identical condition does not create yellow shoulders. If the stem end of your tomatoes stays yellow, this indicates that the fruit was unable to generate lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their amazing antioxidant effects as well as their red color. As the temperature rises over roughly 75 degrees Fahrenheit, lycopene synthesis slows. Thus, the cause is similar to green shoulders, but a different pigment is responsible.

Eating Tomatoes With Green or Yellow Shoulders

While green or yellow shoulders are hard and unpleasant tasting, the rest of the tomato should still be delicious. Just chop around the hard, unripened top and eat. It takes more than a little hassle to make a cultivated tomato unpalatable.

Preventing Green and Yellow Shoulders

When you discover green or yellow shoulders on your ripening tomatoes, it’s too late to fix them. As with blossom end rot and cracking, there is little that can be done until the ultimate symptom emerges. You may, however, take a few precautions to attempt to avoid these shoulder issues from occurring.

Minimize Pruning

Make sure your tomato plants have plenty of foliage to shield the tomato fruits. Although tomato plants love heat and need plenty of sunshine to ripen their fruits, the sun doesn’t have to shine directly on the fruits themselves. If it’s a really hot summer, the fruits will welcome some shade. Pruning your tomato plants should be done gently.

Choose Hybrids Rather Than Heirlooms

Choose tomato types that are less susceptible to the issue. Green shoulders seem to damage heritage varieties more than hybrids. Not all heirlooms are susceptible, so don’t lose up on them completely. You probably won’t find tomatoes labeled as resistant to green or yellow shoulders, but you may find descriptions that tell you when a variety is prone to it.

Pick Tomatoes Early

If you’re having a hot summer and all your tomatoes seem to be struggling with shoulder problems, you can try picking them when they are just starting to blush red and bring them out of the sun to finish ripening. Sadly, doing so may jeopardize some of the vine-ripened qualities, thus it should only be used in severe instances.

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