Tomatillo is an interesting fruit. How could it not? It looks like tomatoes but tastes like grapefruit. Also, not only it is tasty, but it is also versatile enough to be used in many dishes. Interested in growing tomatillos in your home? If the answer is yes, then we have something for you here.
In this article, we will tell you how to grow tomatillo from seed. Don’t have enough room for the tomatillo? No problem. We will also tell you how to grow in containers as well. After finished reading, you should be able to grow your tomatillo with little difficulty. Are you ready? Let’s start.
Tomatillo (botanical name: Physalis ixocarpa) is a member of the nightshade family, just like eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. It is not surprising if the tomatillo fruits look like tomatoes. They are, after all, related. Don’t be mistaken, however. The similarity is skin-deep only. Tomatillo may mean “little tomato” in Spanish but tomatillo tastes nothing like a tomato.
Tomatillo grows best when they get full exposure to sunlight. The plants can grow to approximately 1.5 to 3 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. If you plant tomatillo and left them on the ground and allow them to rot, they will reseed. You might see new tomatillo plants emerging in your garden the next year.
Tomatillo is grown annually. Tomatillo can be planted on the ground and containers. Although related to tomatoes, compared to tomatoes tomatillo is not demanding. If anything, growing tomatillos is not difficult, as we will show you in the next sections. With proper care and good conditions, you will be able to enjoy the tasty fruit in no time!
In terms of flavor, tomatillo fruit is typically described as tangy, sour, tart, and citrusy. Some even say tomatillo taste like a green grape. Underneath the papery and inedible husk, there is a tasty fruit that looks like a green tomato but tastes nothing like it. Tomatillo can be eaten raw as well as used in various dishes, including salsa.
Growing Tomatillos: Which Variety Should You Choose?
Before growing tomatillos, you need to know some varieties first. Each variety has unique characteristics that you may or may not like. For example, some varieties have a green color, some produce small fruits while some others produce large fruits. Below are six common varieties that are great to plant on your own.
1. Toma Verde
Toma Verde is the traditional green variety. If you want to grow the regular tomatillo, this variety is for you.
2. Verda Puebla
This variety produces large, green fruits. Better yet, it is one of the most productive tomatillo varieties.
Perhaps you want more than small, green fruits? In that case, you may want to consider Cisineros variety. This variety produces very large green fruits.
If you are looking forward to growing tomatillos with purple fruits, look no further than Purple variety. As the name suggests, this heirloom variety produces large, purple fruits that have a sweet flavor.
5. Di Milpa
If you like growing tomatillos that are small in size and exist in the wild, di Milpa is a good variety to choose from.
Lastly, Pineapple. This variety is small and produces fruits with fruity flavor.
Growing Tomatillos from Seed
When growing tomatillos based on placement, you have two options, either growing on the ground or containers. Which one should you choose? Well, both are viable options. Decide whichever planting method that fits you the most. Don’t worry. We will tell you how to do both. First, we will start with growing the plants on the ground.
Here are the highlights of growing tomatillo from seed on the ground:
- The first thing to do for growing tomatillos from seed is to start planting them indoors. Check your calendar for the last frost and plant them between six and eight weeks before the last frost. Since the tomatillo plant is not self-pollinating, you need to plant it at least in a group of two so the plants produce fruits.
- Plant tomatillo seeds 1/4 inch deep in the soil. Create rows 3 to 4 feet apart. In each row, plant the seeds with 18 to 24 inches space in-between the seeds.
- For best growth, choose a designated spot for growing tomatillos where there is full sun.
- It takes about 7 to 14 days for Tomatillo seed to germinate. When the seedling reaches about 2 inches tall, clip the weaker ones away.
- When planting indoors, keep the temperature above 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Before moving the plants outdoor, make sure that the night time temperature is above 55 degrees Fahrenheit consistently.
- Since tomatillo grows best in well-drained soil, you may want to aerate the soil. Aerating the soil will improve its drainage. In case you are growing tomatillos in heavy clay dirt, consider creating raised beds.
- Once the plants have reached 4 to 6 inches, you can start transplanting them to the ground.
- When placing the transplants to the ground, be sure that each plant is about three feet apart from each other to give them enough room. Tomatillo plants tend to sprawl so consider using a cage, stake, or trellis to support the plants.
- Earlier we said that tomatillo is less demanding than tomato. That’s true. However, they still need nutrients to grow optimally. To ensure the best growth, incorporate around two inches of compost into the soil. Keep the soil pH to 7.0.
- For watering, tomatillo plants need about an inch of water per week. So, avoid overwatering the plants.
- Adding a layer of organic mulch, 2 to 3 inches thick can help to suppress weeds and conserve the soil moisture level.
- How many tomatillo plants should you plant? That depends on your purpose for growing them. If the purpose of growing tomatillos is to produce salsa verde ingredients, two to four plants are enough, for example.
Growing Tomatillos in Containers
Next is growing tomatillos in containers. Tomatillo is one of those plants that are well-suited for growing in containers. There are not many differences between planting tomatillo on the ground and containers. Most of the procedures are the same: well-drained soil, full sun exposure, enough space in-between the plants, and so on.
Here are the highlights:
- First, prepare a container. For growing tomatillos in containers, you need a container with 5 gallon capacity for each plant.
- Like growing tomatillos from seed on the ground, start growing them indoors. After they grow to 4 to 6 inches, you can move them to a larger container that you have prepared.
- Since you are planting in a container and not the ground, you need to make it well-drained. Also, you need to keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil. The dirt in containers dries quicker than dirt on the ground. Adding a layer of organic mulch, 2 to 3 inches thick can help to conserve the soil moisture level.
- Tomatillo needs sunlight. Pick a spot where the plants can get six hours of sunlight each day.
- For easy watering, place the containers near a water source. If it isn’t possible, use a hose. Otherwise, you will need to carry water, which is tiring. You don’t want that.
- Even when planted in containers, tomatillo will sprawl. If you don’t want them to sprawl, either corral or stake the plants. If you have been planting tomatoes before, you can use the same takes that you used.
- Fertilizing can also help in growing tomatillos. You can fertilize before and during planting tomatillos. Before planting, amend the soil with a 10-10-10 fertilizer or compost. Work the fertilizer a few inches deep into the soil.
- Fertilize the plants again when they start to flower. This time, use a 5-10-10 fertilizer. This type of fertilizer will help the plants to not only grow more flowers but also increase fruit production. Tomatillo plants have high yields naturally, so when you add fertilizer, it will make them produce even more yields.
- Although fertilizing helps tomatillo plants to produce more flowers and fruits, you need to do it properly. If you over-fertilize them, you will get plants with many leaves but little fruits. So be sure to follow the instructions on the fertilizer.
When to Harvest Tomatillo
- After growing tomatillos from seed, be it on the ground or in containers, you need to wait approximately 80 days for the plants to mature and produce fruits. Before producing flowers and fruits, tomatillo plants will produce many leaves and grow taller. After they produce fruits, the plants will be productive until frost.
- How do you know if tomatillo fruits are ready to harvest? The most important sign to keep an eye on is husk splitting. The husk splits when the fruit inside fills out. The fruit can be harvested even if the husk hasn’t split yet, albeit it may not be as sweet. Why? Because tomatillos get sweeter as they mature.
- Some varieties mature between 75 and 100 days, so just wait a bit longer if the fruits don’t seem to be ready to be harvested.
- If you pick a tomatillo and find the husk loose and the fruit inside is small and hard, that means it is not yet ready to be harvested.
- On a tomatillo fruit, you will find a sticky film layer. To remove, just wash it with water and it will come off.
- If you are planning to store the fruits, harvest the fruits with the husk still attached. Put them in the refrigerator so they can last longer. At room temperature, tomatillo fruit can last up to a week. If stored in the refrigerator, they can last up to three weeks. Make sure to use them up as the fruits don’t last long.
Common Pests and Diseases
When it comes to pests and diseases, the tomatillo plant is rarely affected by either. Indeed, watering is more or less the only maintenance you need for tomatillo plants. There is no pest unique to this plant. You may see pests like potato beetles, cucumber beetles, aphids, or any other leaf-eating pests.
Just remove any pests you find. You can also squirt them off with a hose. If the pests are bothering you, use a natural insecticide. It will be plenty to keep them away from your tomatillo plants. Other pests you may find are slugs and snails, which can be removed just as easy.
As for disease tomatillo plants can suffer from bacterial leaf spot, anthracnose, and root-knot nematodes, among others. Here’s how to deal with them.
- A tomatillo plant with bacterial leaf spot disease will develop translucent spots that have yellow edges around them. If untreated, these spots can become larger. To manage this disease, you must remove the infected plants. Also, avoid overhead watering and practice crop rotation.
- If a tomatillo plant has anthracnose, the fruit will have circular lesions that can expand further, covering the fruit entirely. To prevent anthracnose, plant disease-free seeds. Before planting, use hot water to treat the seeds. Practicing crop rotation can help to prevent this disease as well.
- Root-knot nematodes cause swelling (or gall, in some cases) on the roots. To manage, avoid planting tomatillo in infected soil.
Tips for Growing Tomatillos
- Tomatillo plants are sensitive to cold temperatures. As such, you need to wait until the frost has passed and the ground starts to warm before you transplant them in the ground. For best results, allow them to harden off before transplanting.
- Tomatillo plants are self-sterile. That means it cannot pollinate themselves. A tomatillo plant needs at least one other plant so it can produce fruits. So, plant at least a pair of plants if you want fruits.
- Planting tomatillo plants close to each other doesn’t cause any problem. That said, harvesting is a lot easier if you provide some space in-between plants, at least 6 inches.
- Since the plants can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and become bushy, caging or staking is recommended to help them support the weight of the fruits.
Growing tomatillos is not that difficult of a task. Like any other plant, it requires proper caring to get the best result. Tomatillo, however, is not that demanding. This is especially true if we compare it with tomatoes. If you plant tomatillo properly, you will be able to taste the delicious fruits in no time. Happy gardening!