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Growing Tomatillos


TOMATILLO  (Physalis philadelphica and ixocarpa)

The tomatillo, pronounced [to-ma-ti-yo] apparently, is believed to have been was domesticated by the Aztecs as far back as 800 BC. Tomatillos belong to the solanaceae family and are related to Cape Gooseberries and tomatoes. The tomatillo fruit is relatively small (golf ball sized), spherical green or green-purple, pineaple in colour depending on the variety. They are covered with a slightly sticky, waxy layer which is protects the fruit from moisture loss. In addition to that the fruits are further protected with a green surrounding papery husk, formed from the calyx, which turns beige when the fruit is ripe.

Tomatillos have an interesting tart flavour with a hint of green tomato and pineapple, and are a much loved ingredient in Mexican cooking for making salsa verde or green sauce. Tomatillos are are high in ascorbic acid and much higher than tomatoes in solid matter(9%). There is no free juice in the tomatillo fruit.


Growing Tomatillos

In the UK, and particularly in the North, it is recommended to grow them in a greenhouse, just like tomatoes as they like warmer temperatures. Usually tomatillos grow to 2 m in height in a season and carry a copious crop of fruit if conditions allow. If space permits, it is recommended not to pinch the plant for optimal growth. Tomatillos need support as well as tying to some structure as they are rather floppy.


While Tomatillos are extremely floriferous, many report difficulties getting them to fruit unless you have more than one plant, the temperature is adequate, and there insects for pollination. Note that, artificial (manual)” pollination with a brush or finger does not seem to work. Tomatillos are self-incompatible and all plants are hybrids”.


How to plant tomatillos?


In March or April, sow tomatillo seeds as you would sow tomatoes in pots in a warm environment (18 C). Once germinated, keep them at slightly lower temperature inside to avoid them from growing leggy, until late April or May when is warm enough and it’s time to plant them outside permanent position in the greenhouse.



If growing them outside, make sure to take them out only when the warm weather has truly arrived.

Danger: These are sub-tropical plants and should not be taken outside before the last expected date for frost in your area. This date varies according to where in the UK you live. Even after this period, the plant needs protecting with a cloche or fleece otherwise the plant will suffer damage. One night of frost will kill this sub-tropical plant!


How to feed Tomatillos?


Feed them with tomato focus or fertilizer and keep them hydrated.


Pests and Diseases


They don’t seem to have particular problems with pests and diseases in the UK.


When to harvest Tomatillos in the UK?


Late Autumn, when the fruit has grown about the size of the surrounding papery husk and has changed colour depending on its variety it’s time to harvest them. In order to protect the fruits, leave the papery husks intact. When the plant starts to die, remove any remaining fruits and place in a sunny windowsill.


How to store Tomatillos?

Keep them in the papery husk and they should last at least 5/6 months.


How to eating and cooking Tomatillos?

Use as you would use any tomatoes as well as eat them fresh as you would any fruit.


Suggested varieties of tomatillos

Tomatillo Purple (Physalis Ixocarpa).   

Tomatillo Verde (Physalis Ixocarpa).   

Tomatillo Pineapple (Physalis Ixocarpa).   

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