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How to Grow Tomatillos

tomatillo on the vine
The tomatillo is a bushy, sprawling plant that grows to 4 feet tall and wide. The fruit is round and green and is surrounded by a papery husk.

The tomatillo is not a tomato but related to the tomato. Its fruit is used to make sauces and salads and is very popular in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

The tomatillo has a sweet-sharp flavor recognizable in the green sauce used on chicken enchiladas and fresh green salsa for tortilla chips and tacos.

The tomatillo is less juicy and more richly flavored than the tomato.

Tomatillos are easy to grow and bear fruit all summer long.

Description: The tomatillo is a bushy, sprawling plant that grows to 4 feet (122 cm) tall and wide. The fruit is round and green and is surrounded by a papery husk.

Yield: One plant will yield about 1 pound (.45 kg) of fruit over the season. Most recipes call for ½ pound of fruit to make a sauce. Plant at least 2 to 3 plants.

Tomatillo planted in garden
Tomatillo bloom time

Planting Tomatillos

Site: Choose a sunny location. Soil should be rich in compost—water-retentive and well-drained.

Planting time: Sow seed indoors 4 to 5 weeks before transplanting into the garden. Sow directly in the garden 4 to 6 weeks after the last frost after the soil has warmed—usually 1 to 2 weeks after tomatoes. Seeds will germinate in 5 days if sown in moist, warm soil.

Planting and Spacing: You will need two or more tomatillo plants for blooms to be pollinated and fruit to be produced. Thin tomatillo seedlings to at least 10 inches (25 cm) apart but more commonly 2 to 3 feet apart (61-91 cm) apart. Set transplants in the garden just like you would tomatoes—up to ⅔ of the seedlings can be buried much like a tomato. Bees and other pollinators will be attracted to the plant’s yellow blossoms.

More at Tomatillo Seed Starting Tips.

Companion plants: Plant with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Container growing: Grow tomatillos in a container as you would a tomato; you will need at least a 5 gallon (19 liter) container.

Tomatillo fruit and flower
Tomatillos can be trained but are usually allowed to grow bush like and sprawl.

Caring for Tomatillos

Watering and Feeding: Keep the soil just moist as plants develop. Cut back on the water once fruiting begins, but don’t let the soil totally dry out. Compost rich soil should be sufficient, but plants can be fed with an organic fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium, 5-10-10.

Care: Train tomatillos to a trellis, stake, or cage, but more commonly the plants are allowed to sprawl. Keeping plants off the ground by covering beds with black plastic will discourage fungus problems common in regions of high humidity.

Pests: Flea beetles may chew holes in the leaves, but will likely not damage the plants or affect yield. Birds will be attracted to the fruit near harvest.

Diseases: Tomatillos are susceptible to fungal diseases; allow for plenty of air circulation to prevent disease.

Tomatillo harvested
Tomatillos are ripe when their papery skin falls away easily.

Harvesting and Storing Tomatillos

Harvest: Tomatillos mature in 65 to 70 days. Harvest fruit when walnut-size—about 2 inches (5 cm) wide– or smaller if fully developed and deep green. When fruits begin to turn yellow or purple, they are past their prime and will lack the fresh, tart flavor of green tomatillos. Don’t remove the papery husk until you are ready to use the fruit.

Storing and Preserving: Use tomatillos fresh in sauces and salads. Fruits will store 2 to 4 weeks at 45°F (7°C) in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Tomatillos can be frozen by peeling the husk, rinsing, and drying the fruit and placing them in a freezer bag—double bag to prevent freezer burn.

Tomatillo Varieties to Grow

Varieties: ‘Amarylla’ (60 days) suited for cool weather regions; ‘Tomatillo Purple’, sweet-flavored; ‘Tomatillo Verde’, class variety, rich flavor; ‘Rio Grande Verde’, large fruits; ‘Tiny From Coban’, very small fruits; ‘Purple de Mila’, is a mottled purple green.

Common name: Tomatillo, Husk Tomato, Miltomate

Botanical name: Physalis ixocarpa

Origin: Mexico

More tomatillo tips: How to Harvest and Store Tomatillos.

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    • The fruit will fill the paper husk in time. Be sure to keep the soil moist; this will allow the fruit to take up nutrients and grow. Feed the plants a dilute solution of fish emulsion or kelp meal.

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