How to Care for Tomatillo

Tomatillos are light green to yellow with a removable paper shell image by Barbara Brown

Overview

Tomatillos are used in Mexican and Latin American dishes like salsa verde and guacamole. They are distantly related to tomatoes and are grown in a similar way. The big challenge to a gardener is finding a source of tomatillo plants. If you cannot find transplants, then growing tomatillos from seed is your only option. Mature tomatillos are the size of golf balls, light green to yellow in color, with a papery wrapper that is removed before cooking or eating.

Step 1

Getting the tomatillo seedling is as simple as purchasing a transplant at your local nursery or as complicated as growing it indoors from seed. If starting your seeds indoors, the easiest way is to use peat pots and prepared soil mix. Place the seeds into the mix, moisten and cover. After the seed has germinated and put on its first leaves, remove cover and grow to about 2 to 3 inches. Then harden off before transplanting into the garden. Purdue University Horticulture Extension provides detailed instructions to help grow transplants from seeds.

Step 2

Transplant the tomatillo plant into a sunny location with well-drained soil after all danger of frost is past. The plant will grow fairly tall and should be staked or given cage support. A neutral soil pH is desirable. Light fertilization with high nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer works well for tomatillos. Only add phosphorous if your local soil does not have a residual from previous gardening. Space the plants about 3 feet apart to allow spread and air flow.

Step 3

Water deeply once or twice a week in the heat of summer if there has been no rainfall. Tomatillos are somewhat tolerant about moisture, but do not like drought conditions. Use mulch around the plant to help keep the soil moist.

Step 4

Harvest tomatillos when the paper shell around the plant begins to dry, turns brown, and breaks away easily from the fruit---about 100 days.

Tips and Warnings

  • Tomatillo plants are bothered by high humidity and susceptible to fungus infections. "It is important to note that pesticides registered for tomato are not necessarily labeled for use on tomatillo. Additionally, few selective herbicides are registered for this crop," notes the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension in an article on growing tomatillos.

References

  • Starting seeds indoors
  • University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension - Tomatillos
  • Basic Gardening Tips

Who Can Help

  • Tomatillo Seeds can be purchased from Pumpkin Nook
Keywords: tomatillos, growing tomatillos, plant care tomatillo

About this Author

Barbara Brown has been a freelance writer since 2006. She worked 10 years performing psychological testing before moving into information research. She worked as a knowledge management specialist and project manager in defense and health research. She is studying to be a master gardener and has a master's degree in psychology from Southern Methodist University.

Photo by: Barbara Brown