They are in the same family as the tomato and closely related to the cape gooseberry. They have the shape of a sphere and produce a green (sometimes green-purple) fruit and tomatillos are readily used in Mexican cuisine. Believe it or not they are easier to grow than you think and can be added to virtually anyone’s home vegetable garden. Just keep in mind that in order to have successful tomatillos in your home vegetable garden, you must grow at least two plants. Two or more grown close to each other will ensure proper pollination.
Because they are in the same family as tomatoes, and if you have grown tomatoes before, the learning curve to grow tomatillos in your home vegetable garden will be small. Just like with tomatoes, you can start your seeds indoors about 7 weeks prior to the end range of your frost area as noted by the USDA frost zone map. For example in my area, zone 6, the range is March 30 to April 30. I will start 7 weeks from April 30.
When planting your seeds indoors make sure the seed does not exceed ¼” in depth. The seeds are fairly small and if you put too much soil on top of them they may not generate the energy needed to push through. You can expect your seeds to germinate anywhere from 7 to 15 days. Using a humidity dome, cold frame etc, will definitely speed things up.
Like tomatoes, tomatillos like the soil to be a bit more acidic, so try and get the pH range of your soil in the 6.0 to 7.0 area. Now would be a good time to invest in a pH soil tester if have not done so already. Tomatillos grow best when the temperature of the soil is around eighty degrees Fahrenheit. You can help warm the soil up by putting down a clear plastic tarp over the area and letting the sun do the rest of the work.
When the day finally comes to move your tomatillos to the outdoors make sure you give them plenty of space. As a rule of thumb, stick with 3 feet from one plant to the next. This will give the plant and their roots plenty of room to grow, but at the same time be close enough for pollination purposes.
Make sure the plants are in an area that receives full sun and don’t forget to give them a moderate watering. Every other day should suffice, unless you are experiencing periods of extreme heat. Then give them a daily watering, first thing in the morning just as the sun is rising.
You will know it is time to pick a tomatillo because the outer layer, called the husk, will start to turn brown and/or split. Just use a pair of garden scissors to snip them off.
For you advanced home vegetable gardeners out there who practice in crop rotations and companion plantings avoid following eggplants, potatoes,tomatoes and peppers in a rotation and stay away from pole beans, dill, fennel and potatoes in your companion plan.
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, who operates the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook and the widely popular Seeds of the Month Club.