Despite the similarities in habit and appearance to the popular tomato vine, you won’t find tomatillos growing in too many backyard vegetable gardens.
This unusual plant is rare in the home garden, but the fruits are popular in salsas and many other ethnic recipes.
Tomatillos are also known as Toma Verde or husk tomatoes. The name husk tomato refers to the papery shell that covers the small cherry tomato sized fruit and splits open as the tomatillos mature and ripen.
With a quick glance a tomatillo plant could easily be mistaken for a tomato vine. There are several different varieties including; Purple de Milpa, Green Husk Tomatillo, Dr. Wych’s Yellow, Verde, and the Purple Tomatillo. The purple tomatillo fruits are ornamental and slightly sweeter in flavor.
Growing Tomatillos in the Garden
Tomatillos are raised in the same manner as you would grow tomatoes. At least I think they are… my one attempt at growing tomatillos a couple of years ago was not exactly a success. The plants grew well and looked healthy but for some reason failed to produce a single fruit.
The strange thing was that the plants did have flowers and small papery husks, but no tomatillos. If I had to speculate on a reason for the failure to bear fruit I would assume that the soil was too high in nitrogen; encouraging vegetative growth rather than fruit production.
A gardener in St. Catherine’s, which I believe is in Canada, commented as follows on her own interest in growing this plant: “Has anyone had any luck with the tomatillos variety this far north? Salsa is big in my family and we would like to have a crack at this authentic Mexicasa treat.”
Her question was proposed to subscribers of the Gardening Secrets Newsletter and several readers weighed in with their own experiences on the matter of growing tomatillos:
Gardener’s Tomatillo Growing Successes
“I live in Montana, I planted Tomatillos about 4 years ago and they have come up every year since voluntarily. I gave away bags full last year. So the answer from me is yes, they grow in the North. Keep Growing!” – Lola Friedhoff
“Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato, or Tomatillo plants should do well anywhere tomatoes grow. I’ve had luck with all of the species with the exception of one year when nothing seemed to grow. Good luck and keep trying.” – Jeanne
“I grew Tomatillos several years ago, green (variety), without any problems. Planted them just like regular tomatoes. They went wild and I ended up with more tomatillos then I knew what to do with. I used a hand posthole digger to dig my holes, then filled the hole with leaf mold compost, then planted the tomatillo plants.” – Jim Davis
Tomatillos are Worth a Try
For Northern gardeners it appears that if you can raise tomatoes in your garden, you should also be able to grow and harvest a crop of tomatillos. Start the seed indoors and transplant them out into the garden using the same techniques and timing as with your tomato transplants.
You can also use a layer of plastic mulch to raise soil temperatures in the tomatillo bed throughout the growing season. If your season is extremely short select a variety such as the Purple Tomatillo that has a shorter time to maturity and is listed at 60 – 90 days.
So for those of us that have yet to harvest a ripe tomatillo, it sounds like there’s still hope and that it would be worth the effort. It’s probably too late for me to plant tomatillo seeds this season, but I think they will be on my list of additions to next year’s garden.
This post has been submitted as part of the Weekend Herb Blogging Project for the week of June 10, 2007. If there are other tomatillo experiences, recipe ideas, or tips for growing tomatillos in the home garden, feel free to chime in.
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