Tomatillo One Sheet: Grow, Plant, Harvest Tomatillo | Everything You Need To Know

What Are Tomatillos?

A tomatillo (pronounced “toh-muh-TEE-yoh”) is a small, round, and green fruit that is a staple in Mexican and Central American cuisine. It belongs to the nightshade family and is closely related to tomatoes. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and have been cultivated for thousands of years.

Tomatillos are typically covered by a papery husk or husk-like calyx, which is removed before using the fruit. The fruit itself is firm and tart with a slightly citrusy flavor. When ripe, the tomatillo can range in color from yellow to purple, but the most common variety is green. The fruit has a unique tangy taste, and its texture is somewhat firm, similar to a tomato.

Tomatillos are commonly used in salsas and sauces, particularly in dishes such as salsa verde, which is a green sauce made with tomatillos, onions, garlic, chili peppers, and various herbs. They can also be used in soups, stews, and other savory dishes to add a bright, acidic flavor. In addition to their culinary uses, tomatillos are a good source of vitamin C and provide other essential nutrients.

When selecting tomatillos, choose firm fruits with intact husks that are dry and tight. Avoid those with shriveled or discolored husks. Tomatillos can be stored at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Overall, tomatillos are versatile and popular ingredients in Mexican and Central American cuisines, appreciated for their distinct taste and contribution to flavorful dishes.

How To Plant Tomatillos

The best growing conditions for Tomatillos.  You will want to make sure your tomatillos receive at least six hours of direct sunlight every day.  Tomatillos can grow 4 – 5 feet tall so we recommend you proved stakes to give your plant some added support.  Tomatillos grow well in containers- we recommend a 5 gallon or 7 gallon grow bag. This size of container will give them lots of room to grow.

  1. Choose a sunny location: Select a spot in your garden that receives full sun, meaning at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Tomatillos thrive in warm and sunny conditions.
  2. Prepare the soil: Well-draining, nutrient rich soil is essential for good tomatillo growth. While these grow wild in nearly any soil type, they will really appreciate starting out with an abundance of nutrition. A mixture of rich compost with coir is a good combination for your plants to thrive.
  3. Plant in pairs: Plant tomatillos in pairs during spring once all chances of frost have passed. Planting 2 or more at a time ensures the blooms will be pollinated.
  4. Watering and care: Provide regular watering to your tomatillo plants, especially during dry periods. Aim for deep, consistent watering, but avoid overwatering or waterlogging the soil. Mulching around the plants can help retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
  5. Fertilization: Tomatillo plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer if they are planted in rich well nourished soil. Keep the soil thriving with a good soil amendment and this should be enough to keep your plants fruiting throughout the season.

Best Outdoor Temperature For Growing Tomatillos?

Tomatillos thrive in warm weather conditions and are typically grown as warm-season crops. The ideal outdoor temperature for growing tomatillos ranges between 70°F and 85°F during the day. These plants are sensitive to frost, so it’s important to wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting them outdoors.

Tomatillos require a minimum soil temperature of around 60°F for successful growth. If the soil is too cold, the plants may struggle to establish and develop properly. You can use a soil thermometer to monitor the soil temperature and ensure it has reached the desired range before transplanting the tomatillo seedlings.

During the growing season, tomatillos benefit from consistent warmth and sunlight. They thrive in full sun, requiring at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. The warmth and sunlight help promote vigorous growth and fruit production.

However, it’s worth noting that tomatillos can tolerate higher temperatures as well. If the temperature rises above 85°F, they may experience some stress and reduced fruit set. In such cases, providing shade or using techniques like mulching and proper watering can help protect the plants from excessive heat and maintain optimal growing conditions.

Overall, aiming for a warm and sunny environment with temperatures between 70°F and 85°F during the day will provide the best conditions for the successful growth and development of tomatillos.

How Much Light Do Tomatillos Need To Grow?

Tomatillos require a significant amount of light to grow and produce a healthy harvest. They are considered full-sun plants, which means they need a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. However, tomatillos will benefit from even more sunlight if possible.

To maximize their growth and fruit production, it’s important to provide tomatillos with ample sunlight. More sunlight exposure helps the plants photosynthesize efficiently, leading to stronger and more robust growth. Insufficient light can result in leggy, weak plants with reduced fruit production.

When selecting a location to plant your tomatillos, choose an area in your garden that receives the most sunlight throughout the day. Avoid shaded areas or locations with obstructions that may block sunlight, such as large trees or buildings. Ensure the plants have access to direct sunlight for most of the day.

Tomatillo Watering Needs & Tips

While tomatillos require consistent moisture, watering them every day may not be necessary and can potentially lead to overwatering. It’s important to strike a balance and provide adequate but not excessive water for optimal growth.

The frequency of watering tomatillos depends on various factors such as weather conditions, soil type, and growth stage. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine the appropriate watering schedule:

  • Monitor soil moisture: Regularly check the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it feels dry at that depth, it’s a sign that the plants may need watering.
  • Water deeply and infrequently: When watering, aim to provide a deep watering that penetrates the root zone of the plants. This encourages the roots to grow deeper and promotes overall plant health. Avoid light, shallow watering, as it can lead to weak root development. Watering once or twice a week, depending on the weather conditions, is usually sufficient.
  • Consider weather conditions: Adjust your watering schedule based on the prevailing weather. During hot and dry periods, tomatillos may require more frequent watering, while cooler and rainy conditions may reduce the need for watering. Pay attention to rainfall and adjust accordingly to avoid overwatering.
  • Mulch to conserve moisture: Applying a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of the tomatillo plants can help conserve moisture in the soil and reduce evaporation. Mulching also helps suppress weeds, which can compete for water and nutrients.
  • Observe the plants: Monitor the overall health and growth of your tomatillo plants. If the leaves appear droopy or the plant shows signs of stress, it may indicate underwatering. On the other hand, yellowing leaves or soggy soil could signal overwatering.

Remember that it’s important to find a balance when watering tomatillos. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other moisture-related issues, while underwatering can cause stunted growth and reduced fruit production. By monitoring the soil moisture and adjusting your watering schedule accordingly, you can provide your tomatillos with the right water for healthy growth.

What Do Tomatillos Taste Like?

Taste is a significant aspect of tomatillos that differentiates them from other fruits and vegetables. Here’s a closer look at the taste of tomatillos:

  • Flavor: Tomatillos have a unique and distinct flavor. When consumed raw, they offer a tangy and slightly acidic taste, often described as tart and zesty. The flavor profile of tomatillos can be compared to a combination of citrusy and herbal notes, with hints of green apple or lemon. The tanginess of tomatillos adds a refreshing and vibrant element to dishes.
  • Texture: Regarding texture, tomatillos are firm and slightly crunchy when raw. They provide a pleasant mouthfeel similar to that of a crisp vegetable. When cooked or simmered, tomatillos soften and release their juices, contributing to the texture and consistency of sauces, salsas, and soups.
  • Versatility: Tomatillos are versatile and can be used in various culinary preparations. They are commonly used in Mexican and Central American cuisine, particularly in dishes such as salsa verde, enchiladas verdes, and pozole verde. The tangy flavor of tomatillos pairs well with other ingredients like onions, garlic, chili peppers, and herbs, allowing for a wide range of flavor combinations and culinary creations.
  • Complementary flavors: Tomatillos work exceptionally well with other ingredients to create a balanced and complex taste. They can help cut through richness and add a bright, acidic note to dishes. The tanginess of tomatillos pairs wonderfully with savory flavors, including meats, cheeses, beans, and grains. Their vibrant taste can enhance the overall flavor profile of a dish, providing depth and complexity.
  • Preservation: The taste of tomatillos can also change when preserved or cooked. When roasted or grilled, they develop a deeper and slightly smoky flavor. Similarly, cooking or simmering tomatillos in sauces or stews can mellow their acidity and enhance their sweetness.

Overall, the taste of tomatillos is characterized by its tanginess, refreshing acidity, and distinctive flavor profile. Their unique taste adds a delightful twist to a wide range of savory dishes, making them a beloved ingredient in many culinary traditions.

Tomatillo Companion Plants

Tomatillos can benefit from certain companion plants that can enhance their growth, attract beneficial insects, repel pests, or provide some shade and support. Here are some good companions for tomatillos:

  • Marigolds: Planting marigolds near tomatillos can help repel pests like aphids and nematodes. Marigolds have a strong scent that deters these insects, providing a natural form of pest control.
  • Basil: Basil is known to enhance the flavor and growth of tomatillos. Planting basil near tomatillos can improve their flavor and may help repel pests like mosquitoes and flies.
  • Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are beneficial companion plants as they can attract pollinators such as bees and hoverflies. These pollinators can aid in the pollination of tomatillo flowers, resulting in better fruit set.
  • Cilantro (Coriander): Cilantro is a popular herb used in Mexican cuisine and pairs well with tomatillos. Planting cilantro near tomatillos can provide a convenient source of this herb for your culinary needs.
  • Beans: Planting bush beans or pole beans near tomatillos can be mutually beneficial. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, which can benefit the tomatillos by providing them with a nutrient boost.
  • Corn: Growing corn alongside tomatillos can provide some shade for the tomatillo plants during hot summer days. Additionally, the cornstalks can offer a natural support structure for the sprawling tomatillo vines.
  • Radishes: Radishes can be interplanted with tomatillos as they mature quickly and can be harvested before the tomatillo plants fully develop. Radishes also help to loosen the soil, benefiting the root development of tomatillos.

Remember to consider the spacing requirements and growth habits of companion plants to ensure they do not overshadow or compete with the tomatillo plants. Additionally, rotate your crops each season to prevent the buildup of diseases and pests.

How To Harvest Tomatillos

To harvest tomatillos at their peak of ripeness and flavor, follow these steps:

  • Determine ripeness: Tomatillos are ready to be harvested when they have filled out their husks and are firm to the touch. The husks may change color from green to yellow or purple, depending on the variety. The fruit inside should feel plump and the husk should be tight.
  • Check maturity: If you’re unsure about the maturity of a tomatillo, you can perform a simple test. Gently squeeze the fruit between your thumb and index finger. If it feels firm and slightly gives under gentle pressure, it is likely ready for harvest. If the fruit is too soft or mushy, it may be overripe.
  • Harvesting: To harvest tomatillos, hold the fruit in one hand and gently twist or roll it to detach it from the stem. Avoid pulling or tugging forcefully, as this can damage the plant. The husk should remain intact during the harvesting process.
  • Remove husks: After harvesting, remove the papery husks from the tomatillos. The husks are usually dry and can be easily peeled away. If the husk is difficult to remove, it may indicate that the tomatillo is not fully ripe. Discard any damaged or spoiled fruits.
  • Rinse and store: Rinse the harvested tomatillos under cool water to remove any debris or residue. You can store them as whole fruits or prepare them for immediate use by cutting them into slices or dicing them. If you’re not using them right away, store the tomatillos in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator to maintain their freshness. They can last for up to a couple of weeks when properly stored.

It’s worth noting that tomatillos can be harvested at different stages of ripeness to suit your preference. If you prefer a more tangy and acidic flavor, harvest them when they are still green. For a slightly sweeter taste, allow them to ripen further until they develop a yellow or purple hue.

Our Favorite Tomatillo Recipes

Are Tomatillos Good For You?

Yes, tomatillos are considered a nutritious fruit and offer several health benefits. Here are some reasons why tomatillos are good for you:

  • Nutrient-rich: Tomatillos are low in calories but high in essential nutrients. They are a good source of vitamins, including vitamins C, K, and A. Tomatillos also provide minerals such as potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
  • Antioxidant properties: Tomatillos contains various antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids like quercetin. Antioxidants help protect your cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Dietary fiber: Tomatillos are a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and can aid in digestion, promote bowel regularity, and support overall gut health.
  • Immune support: The vitamin C content in tomatillos contributes to a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that supports immune function, helps produce collagen, and acts as an antioxidant.
  • Eye health: Tomatillos contain vitamin A and other compounds like beta-carotene, which are beneficial for eye health. These nutrients contribute to maintaining good vision and may help reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases.
  • Low in fat and cholesterol: Tomatillos are naturally low in fat and cholesterol. They can be a good addition to a balanced diet, especially for those aiming to manage their weight or maintain heart health.
  • Hydration: Tomatillos have a high water content, which can contribute to hydration and overall hydration balance in the body.

Where Do Tomatillo’s Get Their Name?

The name “tomatillo” originates from the Spanish language. In Spanish, “tomate” means tomato, and the suffix “-illo” is a diminutive form, often used to denote a smaller version or a variation of something. So, “tomatillo” can be translated as “little tomato” or “small tomato.”

The name is fitting because tomatillos are indeed related to tomatoes, but they have distinct characteristics that differentiate them from traditional tomatoes. The smaller size, papery husk, and unique flavor of tomatillos led to the use of the diminutive term “tomatillo” to describe this particular fruit.

One Thing You Might Not Know About Tomatillos

One interesting fact about tomatillos is that they are sometimes referred to as “husk tomatoes” or “Mexican husk tomatoes” due to the papery husks that surround the fruit. These husks serve as a natural protective covering for the tomatillos as they grow and develop. The husks not only shield the fruit from insects and environmental factors but also help to extend their shelf life after harvesting. The husks can keep the tomatillos fresh for several weeks if stored properly. So, while the husks are often removed before consuming tomatillos, they play an important role in their growth, preservation, and transport.

Fun Facts About Tomatillos…

  • Native to Mexico: Tomatillos are native to Mexico and have been cultivated in the region for thousands of years. They have a long history of culinary and cultural significance in Mexican cuisine.
  • Ancient crop: Tomatillos were one of the staple crops in the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztec and Mayan cultures. They have been cultivated for over 2,000 years.
  • Close relative of Cape Gooseberries: Tomatillos are closely related to Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) and belong to the same plant family, Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers.
  • Cultivated worldwide: While tomatillos have deep roots in Mexican cuisine, they are now cultivated and enjoyed in various parts of the world. They have gained popularity in Central America, the United States, and other countries with a growing interest in Latin American cuisine.
  • Salsa verde star: Salsa verde, a popular green salsa made with tomatillos, is often referred to as the “salsa of Mexico.” It is widely used in Mexican cuisine and adds a tangy, flavorful element to dishes.
  • Versatility in cooking: Tomatillos are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of culinary preparations. They are primarily known for salsas and sauces but can also be used in soups, stews, salads, grilled dishes, and even desserts.
  • Source of pectin: Tomatillos contain pectin, a natural thickening agent often used in the production of jams, jellies, and preserves.
  • Vibrant appearance: In addition to their delicious flavor, tomatillos add a vibrant and eye-catching element to dishes with their bright green color. They can make a visually appealing garnish or ingredient in many recipes.