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How to Grow Tomatillos in Your Vegetable Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 7, 2020 • 4 min read

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Tomatillo plants (Physalis ixocarpa and Physalis philadelphica) originated in Mexico and are members of the nightshade family. Also known as Mexican husk tomato, tomatillos bear small bright green fruits that are the fundamental ingredient in salsa verde and many other delectable Mexican dishes.

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How to Plant Tomatillos in Your Home Garden

Before planting tomatillos, it's important to know that they require cross-pollination. Unlike their self-pollinating tomato plant relatives, tomatillos require at least two plants in the same garden in order to bear fruit.

  • Start seeds indoors. Six to eight weeks before your last spring frost date, plant your tomatillo seeds in a seed-starting tray. Harden off your seedlings before transplanting them outdoors four weeks after the last frost. Tomatillo seeds require temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. You can grow tomatillo plants are as annuals in USDA hardiness zones five through nine and as perennials in zones 10 and 11.
  • Choose a sunny location. A full sun environment is ideal for tomatillos to thrive.
  • Plant tomatillos in well-drained, rich soil. Tomatillos grow best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If your garden soil is high in clay, try planting in a raised bed to improve drainage.
  • Enrich your soil with nutrients. Before planting your tomatillos, improve your soil by mixing in a few inches of aged compost. This will also improve your soil's moisture retention.
  • Bury seedlings deep, and space them far apart. Tomatillo plants sprout roots from their stems, so you want to bury two-thirds of your young plants’ stems to encourage new root growth. Space plants four feet apart with an additional four feet of space between rows to give them enough space to sprawl out.
  • Water thoroughly. Make sure the soil is moist, but not waterlogged. Spread a two-inch layer of organic mulch, such as straw or grass clippings, over the topsoil. This will help suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

How to Grow and Care for Tomatillos

Once you've transplanted your tomatillo seedlings, follow these growing tips to make sure your tomatillo plants are cared for until harvest.

  • Provide at least once inch of water per week during the growing season. Make sure your soil doesn't become oversaturated. Tomatillos are relatively drought-tolerant, so in temperate climates watering once a week is usually sufficient, and it's acceptable to let your soil dry out before watering. In hotter climates, you may need to water more frequently.
  • Give your tomatillos a support structure. Since tomatillos grow up to four feet tall and wide, you'll need a support structure to hold your plants up and prevent your ripe fruits from resting on the ground. You can support your tomatillo plants with a trellis, a tomato cage, or by staking the plants with wooden stakes.
  • Fertilize if your soil is lacking nutrients. Fertilizer may not be necessary if you start with a rich enough soil, but if your soil needs a boost, try using a watered-down liquid fertilizer once a month. You can also use a homemade compost tea in order to enrich your soil with beneficial microbes.
  • Monitor for pests. You can spray aphids away with a garden hose and pick tomato hornworms off your plants by hand. Control other harmful pests such as potato beetles and flea beetles with an organic insecticide or by companion planting onions nearby.
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How to Harvest Tomatillos

Make sure you harvest all of your ripe tomatillos, or you may end up with an excessive amount of self-sown new seedlings next year.

  • When to harvest: Depending on the specific variety, tomatillo plants produce ripe fruit between 75 to 100 days after transplanting. They're ready to harvest once the fruits have become firm and filled out their papery husks to the point that the husks are beginning to split. If your tomatillos have turned pale yellow and softened, you've waited too long.
  • How to harvest: Gently shake the plant and many ripe tomatillos should naturally fall off. For a tomatillo that seems ripe but doesn’t fall, use a knife to cut it off close to the husk (as opposed to pulling it off, which may damage the vine).
  • How to store: Place tomatillos in a paper bag (this will absorb excess moisture and prolong their shelf life) and store them in your refrigerator for up to three weeks. Tomatillos will keep at room temperature for one week. Make sure to leave them inside their husks until you're ready to use them.
  • How to prepare for cooking: Remove the fresh tomatillo fruit from its husk and wash it under running water. Now you're ready to spice up your Mexican cuisine with some homemade salsa verde, guacamole, or enchilada sauce.

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