Growing Tomatillos in the Home Garden
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Tomatillo Physalis philidelphica is similar to tomato and is in the Solanaceae family. It produces round green or purple fruit that can be used in various ways. Plants are native to Mexico and Central America. The fruit is slightly acidic, providing a tangy citrus flavor. Fruits are encased in a paper husk with a sticky film that should be washed before use. All other parts of the plant are poisonous except the ripe fruit. These plants are easy to grow, with plants reaching 3-4 feet tall and wide at maturity. Flowers are a yellow/gold color with a green or dark center. Each plant can produce 2-3 pounds of fruit, with ripe fruit ready to harvest in 60 to 75 days. Fruit production will continue until the first frost.
There are many different cultivars of tomatillos. The cultivar ‘Pineapple’ has fruits that taste similar to pineapples. Another cultivar variety ‘Purple Coban’ produces purple fruit instead of green fruit. Other cultivars, ‘Cisneros’, ‘de Milpa,’ and ‘Super Verde,’ are popular tomatillos to grow due to high fruit yield and better pest resistance.
Plants should be seeded six to eight weeks before outdoor planting. Stems of the tomatillo plant are easily propagated. By transplanting, plants will mature 4-5 weeks quicker than if seeded directly. Direct seeding is another option and should be done after the last frost.
Tomatillos prefer a soil pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Avoid planting in soils with poor drainage, and plants can be planted in raised beds or containers. A sandy, silty loam with good drainage is the preferred soil condition for growing tomatillos. A thin 1-inch layer of compost can be added per 100 square feet. Testing your soil before planting is recommended to determine fertilizer needs and adjustments to the soil,
Planting and Care
Tomatillos are cared for similarly to tomatoes, with one key difference. Tomatillos prefer to cross-pollinate, requiring at least two plants to be planted in your garden for a better fruit set. At least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight is preferred. Plants have a sprawling growth habit and will need the support of a tomato cage or a trellis system. Seedlings should be planted 2 feet apart with rows spaced 3 feet apart. Tips of plants can be pinched off to limit growth if space becomes a concern. Plants should be watered with 1-2 inches of water a week and plants are relatively drought tolerant.
Insects and Diseases
Tomatillo plants suffer from the same insect problems as tomato plants. Common pests include the Three-lined Potato Beetle, tomato fruit worm, aphids, and cutworms. Tomato leaf curl and turnip Mosaic are both diseases documented that can affect Tomatillos. Crop rotation is recommended to help decrease the risk of disease.
Matthew Clay is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wilkes County.