How to Grow Tomatillos



tomatillos
Pin It

Days to germination: 4 to 8 days
Days to harvest: 90 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Water frequently
Soil: Well-drained soil
Container: Very suitable

Introduction

The tomatillo is closely related to the more traditional garden tomato, but it is a different vegetable even though many people consider them to just be “green tomatoes”. One unique feature is that the growing fruits are surrounded by a leafy husk that dries and splits at maturity. The look like little paper lanterns while they are growing.

The husk gives the tomatillo some of its alternate names, such as the husk tomato or husk cherry. They are also sometimes called Mexican tomatoes because they are more popular in Mexican cuisine (particularly in salsas).

They can be eaten raw, but the flavor can be very tart. It’s more common to use them cooked. Most varieties are green when ripe, but you can find some that are red or purple.

Starting from Seed

Tomatillos like the heat and have a fairly long growing season, so it’s a good idea to start your seeds indoors if you can. Seeds should be planted about 8 weeks before you expect to have your last spring frost.

Since you’ll be growing your seedlings for basically 2 months, little seedling trays or cells will not be sufficient. Unless you want to transplant them while still indoors, it’s best to start your seeds in pots that are 3 to 4 inches across.

When you are planning out your tomatillos, you will need at least 2 plants in order to get any fruit. They are self-infertile and must have another plant closeby to pollinate. Three or four plants is better, but you definitely need at least 2.

Transplanting

You can put your seedlings out anytime after all threat of frost is gone, but it’s a good idea to “harden them off” first. Get them accustomed to the outdoor conditions by setting your plants outside during the day but bring them back inside at nights. Do this for 4 or 5 days before your plan on actually planting them.

Once they are ready to go in the ground, dig the soil well and add a fertilizer mix of your choice. Keep your seedlings 18 inches to two feet apart when you plant. Tomatillos will usually require some support, particularly once the fruit starts growing. Put your stakes, trellis or cages in place right when you plant your seedlings so you don’t harm your plants later on. You can always let the plants sprawl on the ground if you prefer, but having them up in the air keep them clean and less attractive to bugs.

Tomatillo flowers are great at attracting bees, so you may want to keep your plants away from outdoor areas where you spend your time but close to other plants that could use the pollination help.

Growing Instructions

Your plants will be killed by any frost, so if you are expecting a late frost after your seedlings have been planted, make sure to cover your plants. Newspapers, a large sheet, or individual containers turned upside-down will all work fine.

Like tomatoes, tomatillos can benefit from regular feedings with a high potassium and phosphorus fertilizer to help set their fruit. Keep your plants well watered, and a layer of mulch can help your soil stay moist between waterings.

Containers

Tomatillos grow very well in pots, usually around 5-gallons in size for each plant. The soil will dry out faster than your garden soil does, so pay close attention to your pots. Tomatillos don’t like dry soil and you may have to water them every other day or more often in dry weather.

Pests and Diseases

It’s the leaves of the tomatillo plant that are the most at risk from the insects in your garden. No one pest is particularly unique to the tomatillo, so just watch for the usual cucumber beetles, potato beetles and other leaf-loving bugs. Pick them off when you see them, and occasionally spray your plants with a pyrethrin-based natural insecticide to keep them away.

Aphids may also be a problem that can be harder to spot, but if you look closely around the stem and leaves, you can see clusters of them. A few won’t do any harm, though large populations of them will start to keep your plants from thriving. Insecticides work well, and they also wash off easily with a garden hose. Having a few more ladybugs in the garden is another good way to clear out the aphids. You can even buy packages of live ladybugs to release in the garden, if you are always struggling with aphids.

Harvest and Storage

Tomatillos are ready to be picked when their husks dry out completely and split away from the fruit inside. They don’t grow as large as regular tomatoes, are will usually mature when they are around the size of a golf ball. The husks are not part of the fruit and need to be removed before you use the tomatillos.

You can pick them when they are a bit smaller, but it’s a lot easier to tell when they are ready by waiting for the husk to dry out. If you want to pick them early, there will be a bit of trial and error to determine when they are actually edible.

These are usually very productive plants, and you can expect 10 or more pounds of fruit from each plant when the growing conditions are good.

But you should leave those husks on while the tomatillos are in storage. They’ll keep better. Store them in the fridge for up to a month without any special conditions. Either keep them loose on the shelf or in a paper bag. If you store them in plastic, moisture accumulation will cause them to rot faster.

You can also freeze them, for a longer storage time of six months. They will much softer when thawed, so plan to use frozen tomatillos for cooked uses rather than raw.

52 Responses to “How to Grow Tomatillos”

  1. anita  Says:

    I didn’t know what was wrong with my plants lots of blooms no fruit. 1st yr I have ever grew em. Hope it isn’t to late to have any fruit this yr.

  2. debbie  Says:

    mine are yellow, the husks are falling off,some are split .I was gone for a week the plant was very green when I left and yellow upon returning , I don’t think it got enough water ?

  3. Greg  Says:

    Anita,

    In response to your question on July 31st… did you plant more than one plant? If not, you won’t get any fruit, because you need at least two plants, in order for cross germination to occur.

    Greg

  4. Laura  Says:

    Started plants from seed this year – put 2 in one large pot along side the south side of the house. I hung a twine netting (4 ft wide, 5″ sqaures) from 6 ft high and in front of the plant. Too a while for fruit to start to start, they the plants are huge and supported by the twine netting. Just not sure when to pick – so you’re post here helps. I plan to can salsa verde. I’ll be adding these to my garden regularly. Kept them with the tomatos, but instead of staking, used the net. We’ve been really dry here and they like that. So a good fit.

  5. Cindy Franklin  Says:

    It’s too far into the season for all of the many (many!) flowers on my Tomatillos to produce fruit. If I remove these flowers, will the remaining fruit grow bigger?

  6. Cynthia Hurtenbach  Says:

    I have 2 tomatillo plants with lots of fruit, however the fruit is not growing to fill the husks. The husks are normal size maybe 1 1/2″ diam, and the fruit maybe 1/2″.
    Anyone know why?
    Cynthia

  7. Candygirl  Says:

    I have the same problem as Cynthia above – lots of fruit on 2 plants, but on the bigger one, the leaves have all turned light yellow, and the fruit stops growing after getting to ‘marble-size’. Any ideas?

  8. Dennis Acton  Says:

    It sounds like some of the problems posted here are because of a lack of the proper nutrients. Make sure to hit them with a balanced 10-10-10 like miracle grow as they develop then move to a reduced nitrogen mix for flowering and fruiting. Keep them nicely watered as well. I planted 6 this year in a 16′ x 4′ raised bed and I have harvested hundreds of them. They are 7 feet tall and have grown together like a giant thicket. Too bad the frost is already hitting here in NH but I have built a 7 foot high frame and have draped plastic sheeting over it to extend the growing season. I love tomatillos!

  9. jim  Says:

    I also have 2 plants, but fruit is small, with many dropping off before filling out. I also would like to know what to do to get bigger fruit.

  10. Farmer Oli  Says:

    I don’t know where everybody lives, but I am in Southern Florida and seeded my Tomatillos really late (June). Tons of good 5′ high plants with lots of husks, but also here everything is turning yellow since last week, and my tomatillos are barely a marble large, some of the husks are 4x the size of the tomatillo. Could it be because temperature has dropped a lot lately and it stopped raining?

  11. THE GARDEN GUY  Says:

    Farmer Oli you waited to long… you should of had them out in early march… Just wanted to let you know. :)

  12. THE GARDEN WIZZ  Says:

    I know my name is the Garden Wizz, but I wanted to know if tomatillos could be planted in Pensacola, Florida… i make green salsa all the time with tomatillos instead of green tomatoes. Can I grow them here 0_o? HELP ME!!! :)

  13. Jonesy  Says:

    Tomatillos can be grown anywhere and if you’re really worried, as long as you have more than 1 plant, you can keep them indoors. I plan to do both indoor and outdoor plants this year- I am in SE PA and started my seeds over a month ago. I know it will be at least another 5 weeks before I will be able to move anything outside safely… I have turned my dining room into a mini greenhouse- the house thermostat is at 73, but the grow lights keep that room at least 9 degrees warmer. I am growing other plants that really like the warmth (ancho chilies, habaneroes etc) so most of my garden will be indoors til mid june…

  14. Charlotte  Says:

    I am an American living in south Africa, craving Mexican food. I have a pack of seeds, am wondering when to plant them. Our last frost is normally first week of September (to be safe) and our first is mid may, so we have a long growing season. That said, September is still cold as anything, just no frost. Should I be safe to start them mid July? How cold tender are they?
    I’m going to need to really dig in some good compost, my soil is terrible, it dries out within an hour of watering.

  15. HappyFoodie  Says:

    My experience has been that when tomatillo fruits stop filling out husks, they respond well to the addition of fertilizer! I grew them in large pots and they are very heavy feeders! This year they are growing in the ground; also I’ll attempt to control the pH, after reading other sites….
    My best plant last year was a volunteer which self-seeded in a pot from a previous year.

  16. June Mills  Says:

    I got my tomatillos out late last year, so frost got them early while tomatillos were still on the plant. Plant fell to the ground. When garden was tilled this Spring, Several tomatillos volunteered and they are looking great. Have staked them and have lots of fruit coming.

  17. Kirk  Says:

    Do I need 2 of the same variety in order for them to cross-pollinate? I just found out about the ’2 plants needed’ by reading this page. It seems none of the green houses near me know about this, and I asked them about this specifically. (I am a bit upset about this)

    My problem is that I bought 1 yellow, and the greenhouse I got it from has none left. Will it cross-pollinate with a green if I buy one, or should I just buy 2 green and write off the yellow this year.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to put the yellow and green together.

    Also,,, how close can they be? I had planned my garden for just 1 tomatillo plant with 4 feet spacing, and I have to put the 2nd tomatillo right next to it.

  18. dond37  Says:

    This si the first tiem I have add to my garden. I did not know I needed more then one plant. I have lots of Flowers but I am nto seeing any fruits. The one I have is about 4 feet tall. Is it too late to add another plant? Hwo many plants minimum?

  19. Dave  Says:

    I only bought one plant and it’s too late to buy another one. can I cross polinate them with tomatos? I can do it with a paint brush if needed.

  20. Dave  Says:

    I bought a second plant.
    But, now I’m not sure how deep to plant them.
    Do I plant them at the same level that they are in the pots. Or do I plant them like tomatos, deeper than they are now

  21. Ann D.  Says:

    Dang it! I have the same problem. I bought only one plant (nobody told me I needed two and and the plant info card didn’t mention it). It had a few fruits on it when I bought it. Now it’s about 3 ft. tall and has a ton of blooms, no fruit. Is it too late to plant another to do any good?

  22. Lisa C  Says:

    This is also my first time with Tomatillo’s in my garden. The plants get so tall, and I have been using Miracle Grow for tomatoes, every 2-3 weeks. So far, i see little tiny blooms that fall off when i barely touch them. I have 4 plants in the garden and it’s been 2 months since I planted them. I know it takes about 90 days, but I am getting anxious and hoping to get some actual fruit out of them!

  23. Karen S  Says:

    I have more than one plant, lots of flowers but no fruit. Any suggestions? Also, I have them in a greenhouse. The leaves have a lot of tiny spots on them. Does anyone know what this is and how to get rid of it?

  24. shane cleary  Says:

    I have three Tomatillos, but the are around 3 to five feet apart. I have several tomatoes in between them. After reading this I fear that they may not pollinate. Are my fears correct, or will the bees save the day?

  25. Dave  Says:

    I have my two plants in pots in full sun. One is growing strong and the other one is not. I was told that the one is stressed. I’m not sure if I am watering them too much or too little. So far lots of blossoms, but no fruit.

  26. Bambster7  Says:

    I am having a fantastic first year with my tomatillos. I do have a few late questions… should I have staked them up before they grew fairly large? and the husks have shrunk back not dried and peeled away. Why? and I guess I should have done a little more research before planting 8 plants. Hoping to have lots of salsa verde this year!!!

  27. Lindsay  Says:

    I have two tomatillo plants and both of them are having trouble producing flowers. They turn yellow and die before they even bloom. Last year I got small fruit that after about 3 to 4 days would turn yellow and die. Any suggestions?

  28. rick schwartz  Says:

    Tomatillos spread like a jungle vine. Four plants can easily dominate a good size, and keeping them staked is almost impossible with their sprawl. We build a “net” of rope between stakes and let the vines rest on that instead of staking them upright.

    We set the first plants out ten years ago and have never bought more since then. There are always dozens of feral plants coming up in early spring. We just pick the best, move them if we must, and let them grow.

    I understand from my Mexican friends that they are almost considered a weed down there. I can see why. Some years all the sacks fill up completely, and in other years there are a lot of empty sacks. Luck of the draw, perhaps, or just lazy bees.

    They do require a long growing season so get them out as early as you can.

  29. Shelley Strout  Says:

    I only have one plant and have tons of fruit, I bought a seedling maybe it cross pollinated before I got it? Anyway happy with my plant, next year I will get two.

  30. ann  Says:

    Wonderful site. This is my first year planting tomatillos and they are looking good. All my questions have already been answered by our fellow gardeners above. Great site.

  31. zeddediah  Says:

    Shelly, pollination occurs during flowering stage of the plant. That being said, someone else in your neighborhood is also growing tomatillos.

  32. Karen Hartman  Says:

    From Oregon: My first year for tomatillos. Planted seeds in 4″ pots indoors March 1 under grow lights. Put out in my greenhouse in April. Planted four in a huge (Costco type) planter the middle of May (we have late frosts) with a large tomato cage and they are loaded with blooms, bees, lanterns, and FRUIT! Salsa verde coming up!

    Might add that when they were in the greenhouse, the top leaves had a strange shriveled look (looked like some sort of fungus). Consulted a local garden store and they said they had never seen this on tomatillo leaves. I cut off the affected leaves and went ahead and planted them away from the rest of my veg. garden and they did fine. Strange disease?

  33. gary  Says:

    I grew Tomatillo’s for the first time this year. I live in northern Michigan (tip of your middle finger). I planted 6 tomatillo seedlings Memorial day weekend. It’s now August 14th, 1 plant did not survive, but the other 5 have produced a very large amount. I have noticed, it seems the husk grows first and then the tomatillo gradually grows into the husk. I visited this site today to find out when to harvest. We’re getting close and can’t wait to make some salsa!

  34. Dub Hearon  Says:

    This is my first year to grow tomatillos. My wife plans to use them in salsa. I have two healthy plants about 12 feet apart with lots of flowers but little fruit. How long does it take for the fruit to mature? Should the plants be closer than my 14′ to get production?

  35. kay  Says:

    I planted one plant last year and it produced fruit, but I must have planted it too late, as the fruit didn’t get very big before the frost hit. They volunteered this year and still don’t seem very big. I also wonder if they all get ripe at one time or if they produce more like tomoatoes at various times? If they ripen at various times, I’m definitely doing something wrong.

  36. Ellen Commack  Says:

    First time gardener. Have one tomatillo plant that has many blossoms & now lots of empty small “paper lanterns”. Will they start filling up with fruit? Plant is huge & was planted in early June. I live in TN.

  37. Kim  Says:

    Someone gave me a few tomatillos, can I just plant those in the ground whole, or break them apart?

  38. patchwork gardener  Says:

    I started my tomatillos from seed, transplanted 4 to my hydroponic system. They grew down, then up and are still growing. They have many flowers and lots of fruit has set, some golf ball size. They have started dropping fruit, small ones, that have a marble size fruit inside. Could this be the fertilizer?

  39. Paul  Says:

    Hi Ellen & all, Paul here in Dallas, TX. Tina & I tried tomatillos for the first time this year. Put one plant in a raised bed with 2 tomato plants, a squash, a Japanese eggplant & a little watermelon. For months nothing but flowers. Plant was huge and tomatoes used it as a support while they produced. Then late in Sept. (2012) it started producing and is now Oct. covered with fruit. We were amazed as we learned (too late) that more than one plant was needed to set fruit. Very pleased. Next year we’ll start sooner and add a 2nd plant to cross pollinate.

  40. Sharon Blackwell  Says:

    Ok so I did plant two plants but they were not close enough so I will change that this year but the biggest tomatillo I got was the size of a quarter. The husk was large but all I got was marble size. What did I do wrong?

  41. val p  Says:

    I am also from South Africa and first time I am growing tomatillos out of curiosity really. Had never heard of them until I came across some seeds in a home store. I planted seeds into seeds beds middle of November and about a month later into garden beds with lots of compost and vermipost. They seem to be doing fantastically so far and starting to bear some nice fruit. We live in a high summer rainfall, semi-sub-tropical area although winter can be cold. Cape gooseberries grow like weeds here, so being of the same family I am hoping tomattilos will also do likewise.

  42. Ebsira  Says:

    I just got some fresh tomatillos from a store and I want to plant some seeds, how many should I plant to get a plant?

  43. Debbie McSweeney  Says:

    Does anyone know if they can be planted deeply like tomatoes or do they need to be transplanted at their soil level?

  44. Graeme Erskine  Says:

    I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland and had the same problem as many as I only grew one plant and got lots of flowers but no fruit.
    Thanks to your advice I’ll plant two this year.
    I started my plant from seed in Feb, grew it on in the house until end of April and planted in a pot in a greenhouse.
    This worked well last year.
    Luckily I’ve grown two this year.
    Hopefully I’ll get fruit this year.

  45. Amaranthim Talon  Says:

    This is my first year planting tomatillos, in fact, I had forgotten I had planted them! I had two gorgeous plants grewing up a storm- but I thought they were peppers! I kept waiting for my sweet peppers and nothing- then one day, Hey! What do you know?? It is a tomatillo! Then suddenly the plant was full of flowers and now full of gorgeous little jade green lanterns- some already filled and now just waiting for them to be ready for picking. I have seen the pretty little bees buzzing about on the job and can’t wait to start my salsa! There are chili peppers and tomatoes also producing- sadly my cilantro died :( and I never put in onions- other than that, there is a salsa plantation in my back yard!

  46. neednap  Says:

    I’m also a first-timer with tomatillos, but have had success with tomatoes. The research I’ve done has suggested planting them deep, like you would a tomato; they send out rootlets from the stem and will be stronger. As for the other problems (no fruit, small fruit), I don’t know, other than making sure you have more than one plant (3 to 4 feet apart seems to be the recommended spacing). Good luck all!

  47. Mike Cornwell  Says:

    I Live in Swaziland, where can I get seeds to grow these tomatillos for home use?

  48. Mimi Z  Says:

    Mike, you can order them online. go to Burpee.com or Westcoastseeds.com. I live in East Africa, I have them sent to someone from back home and they send them to me. Some companies wont ship to Africa. I already planted one seed only and am starting to see some fruit but its still very early. I too am craving some green salsa. The jalapeños are in the pot next to the tomatillos. ;)

  49. Jennifer G  Says:

    I planted three tomatillos plants (each2-3 ft apart). I tucked hot pepper plants between them to make the most of my space and my tomatillos are GIANT!!! They’re each about about 8 ft tall and 4-5 ft wide…..I had to tie them up for support because the fruits were so heavy. Each one has about 50 fruits on them. Two weeks ago I pulled 4lbs (which yielded about 8 half-pints of sauce). I had blooms for a long time and I kept wondering if anything would happen and boy did they! They seem to respond well to both wet and dry conditions! I also gave them a weak solution of fish emulsion after it had started blooming (which I read they don’t need but I think I sure think it helped). To those of you having trouble….just be patient…… or try again next year (making sure to plant at least two). These are by far some of my most productive vegetables! And they look BEAUTIFUL!!!!

  50. Carol Smith  Says:

    Hi, I was just in Mexico – Tlaquepaque. My husband and I ordered grilled vegetables to stuff in tortillas. They brought out a Medley of different vegetables which appeared to have been grilled on top of the stove with butter. One vegetable was small appearing like a tomato. I asked what they were and the waiter said “Milpero” or small tomatillos. DELICIOUS.
    He said that the small were better in taste than the large. I will try to grow them this year. To everyone who wants to use these for Salsa – try the small tomatillos in a grilled dish. I can guarantee that you will love it.

  51. Cathy Rucker  Says:

    My tomatillos are normal size but they are like little empty lanterns. Does the fruit start to grow inside?

  52. Lupe  Says:

    I want to start growing tomatillos and have a few questions:
    1) I’m a rookie and can’t grow tomatillos in my apartment. My friends have roof access, but I don’t want to bother them to do my watering. Would a simple gravity fed drip irrigation system work? Would I have to have multiple drips into the same bucket?
    2) As an alternative, can I have the pots sit in a shallow irrigation bath? (very big bucket with a hole cut in the very bottom dumps nutrient water into a trough, water is soaked up from the holes in the bottom of the planter bucket)
    3) Can I keep the pots RIGHT NEXT to each other? I was thinking I might keep em on a radio flyer wagon and roll em up/downstairs coming to/from work because I don’t know if I get enough light during the day on my indoor patio. Thanks!

Leave a Response








(Email field must be filled in)

Top of page...