Tomatillos originated in Mexico and belong to the same plant family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These fruits look like green tomatoes, but they grow inside a thin, papery husk. The lively lemon-apple-herb taste of tomatillos adds flavor to classic Mexican and Southwestern cuisine once the husks are removed and the fruits chopped, grilled, roasted, or simmered.

How to Grow Tomatillos

 

Tomatillos grow on tall, bushy plants that can produce large yields of the tomato-like fruits. Be sure to plant at least two tomatillo plants to ensure good pollination. Growing tomatillos is similar to growing tomatoes, because they’re started indoors from seed and transplanted when weather warms in Spring. Most tomatillos produce green fruits, but there are also yellow and purple varieties.

Prepare

  • Start tomatillo seeds indoors at least 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting in the garden when the danger of frost has passed. As an alternative, plan on purchasing tomatillo transplants.
  • Locate a sunny spot in the garden or on the patio.
  • Prepare the soil like you would to grow tomatoes by amending with compost, well-aged manure, or another organic amendment.
  • Set up a drip irrigation system or soaker hose ahead of time to ensure consistent and deep watering through the season. Be sure to keep leaves dry by watering at soil level.

Plant

  • Wait for the soil to warm to at least 65 degrees and for nighttime temperatures to be a consistently above 55 degrees.
  • Tomatillo transplants will need time to harden off outdoors for a few days before planting. Start by placing them in a shady, protected spot and gradually move them into the sun.
  • Place transplants 36” apart; in rows that are at least 36” apart.
  • Use an organic mulch, like straw or dry, shredded tree leaves to mulch around the plants. Be sure to keep the mulch away from plant stems.
  • Because these plants have a tendency to sprawl, it’s a good idea to support them with tomato cages placed at planting time.

Maintain

  • Tomatillos like moist soil, so water deeply and consistently.
  • Mulch will help maintain soil moisture and reduce the need for weeding. However, be sure to pull any weeds that grow in the garden.
  • To improve production, give plants a boost of a liquid soluble fertilizer once a month while watering.

Harvest

  • Watch for the small, green or purple tomato-like fruits to form, starting at 75 days.
  • Tomatillos are ready to harvest when the fruits are firm and the papery husks turn light brown. If you wait too long to harvest, the fruit will start to lose some of its flavor.
  • Tomatillos can be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
  • Before cooking, remove the husk and wash fruit to remove any sticky residue.

Companion Plants

Plant Tomatillos with these companions:

  • Basil
  • Carrots
  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Onions

Avoid planting with:

  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Fennel
  • Kohlrabi
  • Potatoes

Materials for Success

  • Soil thermometer
  • Soaker hose or drip irrigation system
  • High-quality compost or well-aged manure
  • Water-soluble fertilizer
  • Organic mulch
  • Tomato cages

To learn more about growing tomatillos or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center. 

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