The Q&A Archives: Mushy tomatoes

Question: I grow Heatwave and Super Tasty tomatoes in containers. They're well watered, fertilized and grow fine, but the texture is always mushy, not firm like tomatoes I used to grow in the North. What's wrong? Frank Woodley Naples, FL

Answer: It's more likely a problem of too much nitrogen and not enough potassium, rather than Florida conditions, says Jay Scott, tomato breeder at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Agricultural Research and Education Center in Bradenton. Be careful notto overfeed container-grown tomatoes. With excessive nitrogen, tomato fruits expand faster than their cell walls can build the structure necessary to support the growth. The result is mushy flesh, explains Scott. Potassium is a key nutrient in buildingcell walls, so low levels of potassium can contribute to mushy texture as well. The varieties you're growing are good for Florida, but I'd suggest applying a 1:2 nitrogen-to-potassium fertilizer, says Scott. Two liquid fertilizers that fit this description are Peters Blossom Booster (10-30-20) and Alaska Mor-bloom (0-10-10). Unfortunately, most popular timed-release and liquid fertilizers, including fish emulsion, are higher in nitrogen. If you must use them on tomatoes in containers, dilute them to half or even a quarter of recommended strength in your weekly feeding. Also, keep the plants well watered, and plant at the right time for Naples: August for a fall crop and January for a winter crop.

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