Garden Tips. How to grow the Tomatillo, the Tomatoes cousin.

Tomatillos are known for being used in authentic Mexican cuisine and are catching on in American dishes. ingredients
Creative Commons License photo credit: ercwttmn

But I first heard about Tomatillos when I was making jams and jellies. They had a recipe for a Tomatillo Jam that everyone was raving over. I have made jams and jellies from tomatoes, which are wonderful, so I decided I would have to try growing Tomatillos.

They are a rather funny looking vegetable growing in the garden. The plants resemble tomato plants in look and growing conditions.  But they are a small green fruit that will turn yellow when it’s really ripe and grows in an odd shaped papery skin. As they mature the skin will open and expose the fruit.

I always enjoy growing a new crop so the first year was an adventure. They are easy to grow and produce well so the crop was a huge success.

If you have never grown them before just remember that they are a warm weather crop and love heat. With this in mind choose a site that gets full sun and has well-drained soil that’s not too rich. A pH reading that’s close to neutral (7.0) is good for them.

How to grow the tomatillo

You will need to start Tomatillo seeds 6 to 8 weeks in advance of your last frost or when you plan to set them out into the garden. They cannot handle cold nights or any frost!

I had to start my plants. Our local greenhouses don’t carry them and I live in a zone 5 and need the plants to have a head start for my cooler climate.

If you start seeds, treat the seeds and seedling just like you would tomato seedlings. If you live in a warm climate you can plant them directly into the ground.

Whether you start you seeds or purchase plants you need to harden off the plants before putting them in the ground. To do this slowly expose them to direst sunlight usually an hour at a time each day and if they show signs of wilting move them to shade. A week will usually harden the plants to sun and wind condition.

Hardening off plants is very important! Many people skip this step and the plants suffer from stress and they are set back later in producing crops. Sometimes they will actually die.

After the plants are hardened off plant them in the garden. Spacing is the same as tomato plants and will depend on if you stake the plants or let them sprawl on the ground. I always stake my plants. I have better control over controlling insects and they are cleaner.109::365 tomatillo flower
Creative Commons License photo credit: .j.e.n.n.y.

Water when the ground is dry and if possible use a deep watering method that directs the water into the soil and does not just let water spread on the surface of the ground.  I apply a light fertilizer when I plant them, when they first start to blossom and about three weeks later.

The Tomatillos are ready to harvest when the fruits are firm and husks are papery and straw-colored. Usually the husks will break open when they are ripe. If they don’t, simply test them with a gentle squeeze to check ripeness.

Tomatillos are one of those garden plants that are just fun to plant and grow. The husks can also be used in crafting.

If you are having any tomatillo crop problems this article might help: Tomatillo and tomato growing problems

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68 responses to “Garden Tips. How to grow the Tomatillo, the Tomatoes cousin.”

  1. Denise

    Are your plants getting enough water or too much? They also might need a nutrient that they are not getting from the soil. Have you fed them any fertilizer? Also check the soil.

  2. Dorian

    I am planting my first tomatillo and it appears to be growing great. It is huge and flowering wonderfully, however I am not seeing any fruit. It is growing like crazy, but not a single fruit.
    Does it need another plant to cross pollinate? Any suggestions.

  3. Denise

    You should have more than one plant. It may not produce well, but tomatillo plants produce slowly so give the plant more time.

  4. Liz

    I am having the same problem as Dorian. My plant is healthy looking and flowering like crazy but not the first fruit. It appears the flowers just fall off. Suggestions?

  5. Chris

    This is the first year that I have planted Tomatillos and my plants have produced a lot of flowers but no fruit yet. I put them in large pots near the garden and I have seen bees pollinating the flowers so I guess its a waiting game.

  6. Carlita

    My tomatillos are not fruiting either and the leaves are constantly dying. I had 4 but I am now down to 3 because 1 actually died. I am growing them on my terrace in very large pots and the weather is warm and the sun shines for about 16 hours a day. I feed them food 3 times the week with regular daily intervals of water. I’m not sure why they are not doing well because my peppers and carrots and other things are beautiful and producing. However these tomatillos seem to be hanging on my a thread. Can anyone explain to me why they leaves and tiny flowers are dying all the time?

  7. Linda

    I have a single tomatillo plant in a large deck planter. I have tried hand pollinating, putting it near my tomatoes, and nothing! I have tons of flowers, but no fruit! My tomatoes, however, are very productive!!! I am treating the tomatillos like the tomatoes. Is that wrong?

  8. Nona

    I have 2 plants in a raised bed garden and they are finally producing the husks but I think they just take a longer time to fill in with the little tomatoes inside. I also just got hit by these gross tomatoe bugs (that look like rolled leaves) so make sure to remove them and kill them away from your plants so they don’t infect them again and keep a sharp eye out. Good luck to all of us.

  9. Margie

    This is my first year to grow tomatillos. I planted four since that is how they came at the green house. They were treated like my tomatios. Some time release all purpose fertilizer, cages, and water as needed. I live in a dry climate in Wyoming and usually water about 1 inch a week. It has been unusually cool this summer. They are doing great. I have been checking recipies. Had not cooked with them much because the fresh ones are usually fairly expensive here. I made the salsa recepie that is in Joy of Cooking and thought it was good and easy. I think I will roast the excess and freeze them to use in sauces and chili.

  10. Lois Caster

    This is also the 1st year I have tried tomatillos. I have only 1 plant in a deck planter. It is loaded with flowere and husks that are about 1 inch in diameter. When you check a husk there is a pea sized green fruit inside. We have a short growing season. Is my growing season to short for full growth?

  11. Denise

    You should still be able to get a good crop. If you feel you are going to have a cool night, cover the plant and pot to protect it. And since its in a planter you could also move it indoors if need be.

  12. Katy

    For those with a single tomatillo plant that is not producing fruit, tomatillos require at least two plants for cross-pollination, and will otherwise not bear fruit.

  13. I had to harvest all of my tomatillos the other day since the weather was threatening to dip below 30 overnight in Minnesota. I had 6 plants that grew like crazy and so I ended up with quite a few nice-sized tomatillos and lots of small ones. I may use some of the smaller ones to dry out the seeds and try planting them in the spring to see how they do. This was my first year growing them and I had novices they would grow so big! I plan on moving them and giving them more growing room in the spring. I may try a tomatillo jam recipe since I have so many. Very easy to grow, and hearty plants. They actually did better than my tomatoes and jalapenos this year. My only problem was that there were bugs inside of many of them upon harvesting. I’m not sure what exactly they were but they look like an earwig. Yuk! I got the feeling they were feeding off of the protective, sticky coating inside the pod/leaves. They never ate through the fruit at all. Just harmless, ugly bugs, I’m sure.

  14. I also did not use chemical fertilizer. I put egg shells, used coffee grounds, and a packaged all-natural fertilizer that is made from worm castings (poop!). I can’t wait to grow them again in the spring!!! They are fast-growing and easy to grow. And yummy to eat! Maybe I’ll cook and freeze for sauces, too. I make awesome fresh pico de gallo using tomatillos, tomatoes, red onion, jalapenos, lime juice and cilantro. Mmmmmmmmmm!!!!

  15. Elaine

    I grew tomatillos for the first time this year and they did great, 2 plants in my front yard in full sun. All my neighbors were curious about what the plant was, so now more folks are interested in growing tomatillos.

    I’m in Seattle and our nights are getting down to 40 degrees, days in low 50s, but no frost in sight. Will I get any more ripening in these conditions, or is it just too cool and time to pull up the plants and salvage what I can?

  16. George Woods

    I planted one plant late in the summer in an oak tub located in a sunny spot in the garden. It’s now late October and it has become a huge, healthy plant with dozens of fruit the size of small marbles. However the fruit appears hollow, like Chinese lanterns. No weight to them at all. Is this just the start their maturing into real tomatillos or is it more likely that it’s now just too cool and hazy to be productive?

  17. Denise

    Now that your nights are cool the fruit will be very slow to rippen. Some people will pull the plant up, hang it upside down in a warm place and let the fruit ripen. It works most of the time.

  18. KiwiGordon

    I live in New Zealand and am growing Tomatillos for the first time. First flowers have just appeared so fingers crossed.
    I usually take the laterals off the tomatos I grow, can anyone tell me if I should take laterals off tomatillos – will I get stronger plants?

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