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Growing Tomatillos in the Vegetable Garden

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Tomatillo plants are attractive, easy to grow and prolific.

Purple Tomatillos are a Beautiful, Prolific Plant. Two Plants Should be Enough to Keep You in Tomatillos all Season

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Tomatillos (Tom-a-TEE-yo) are related to tomatoes, but their appearance and flavor are markedly different. Tomatillos are round fruits that are covered in a papery husk. They look like hanging lanterns, while growing. As they mature, they fill out the husk and slip it open.

Tomatillos are similar in appearance to cape gooseberries and ground cherries, but again, their flavors are not really comparable.

The conventional green tomatillo turns either apple-green or yellow, when fully ripe. The purple tomatillo, pictured here, starts off green and turns a dusky eggplant.

Description:

Leaves: Heavily serrated obovate leaves.

Flowers: Yellow with dark splotches at the base of each of the 5 petals.

Latin Name:

Physalis ixocarpa

Common Name:

Tomatillo, Husk Tomato

Size:

1 1/2 - 2 ft. (h) x 18 - 24 in. (w)

Days to Harvest:

Fruits should start maturing in about 80 days, but plants will remain productive until frost.

The husks will split, as the fruits fill out. You can harvest before splitting happens, but the fruits get sweeter, as they mature.

The fruits have a sticky film on them, which washes off easily enough. If you plan to store your tomatillos, keep them in their husks and refrigerate them. They will only last a couple of weeks, so use them up fast.

Uses:

Tomatillos are a traditional ingredient of Mexican salsas, expecially green sauces like Salsa Verde. They are also excellent grilled or mixed into chili and stews.

Suggested Varieties:

  • 'Cisineros' - Very large, green fruits.
  • 'di Milpa' - Translates to "from the field". Small wild variety.

  • 'Pineapple' - Small and fruity tasting.
  • 'Purple' - Heirloom purple variety with large, sweet fruits.
  • 'Toma Verde' - A traditional green variety.

  • 'Verde Puebla' - Large, productive green variety.

Hardiness Zone:

USDA Zones 10--11

Tomatillos are generally grown as annuals. They will reseed, if left on the ground.

Exposure:

Full sun.

Pests & Problems:

Snails, slugs and beetles my munch on the foliage, but the fruits are rarely bothered by insects are disease.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Add plenty of organic matter to the soil, before planting. Tomatillos prefer a somewhat neutral soil pH, around 6.5--7.0, but for the most part, they will grow anywhere there is heat, sunshine and regular water.

Planting:Tomatillo seedlings are not widely available, but the plants are very easy to start from seed. You can start seed outdoors, after all danger of frost, or indoors, about 4 weeks before your transplant date. They germinate and grow quickly. Tomatillos are very sensitive to cold tempratures. Wait until the ground has warmed and all danger of frost has passed, before transplanting outdoors. Tomatillos are self-sterile, meaning the flowers of an individual plant cannot pollinate themselves. You will need at least 2 tomatillo plants, for pollination and fruit production. The plants are bushy and about 2--3 ft. tall. They can get heavy with fruit and staking or caging is highly recommended. You can plant them fairly closely, but they are easier to harvest with at least 6 in. between plants.

Maintenance:

Growing tomatillos is very much like growing tomatoes, but with less problems. Watering is about the only real maintenance, outside of harvesting. Any fruits left on the ground will sprout next season.

Sources, outside of my garden:

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