The tomatillo is a rising star in the garden world that is starting to pop up in home gardens throughout country. Closely related to the tomato, it’s a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and native to Mexico. The sticky, green or sometimes purple fruit is covered in a thin outer husk, giving it the common name “husk tomato.” Used in traditional Mexican and Central American cuisines, the tomatillo is a crucial ingredient in many fresh salsas and sauces that can bring an acidic and slightly sweet flavor profile to many vibrant dishes.
Planting & Growing Tomatillos
Most gardeners will have to start tomatillos from seeds, as living starts are hard to come by in many regional nurseries. They should be started from seed indoors a month or two before being transplanted outside once the chance of frost has passed.
When selecting a grow site for your tomatillos, look for a location with full sun and well-drained soil that has a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Individual plants should be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart, and you’ll need multiple plants to encourage pollination required for fruit production, as they’re are typically incapable of self-pollination. Tomatillos are leggy indeterminate plants, so they benefit from staking to keep both vegetation and fruit off the ground.
Fruit production occurs between 50 and 75 days depending on the selected cultivars and the climate. If the local conditions are favorable, plants will be heavy producers and will keep fruiting until the first fall frost.
Harvesting & Storing Tomatillos
Knowing when to harvest tomatillos can be a challenge for gardeners given the green color of the fruit and that ripeness can be subjective as a matter of taste and culinary need. For fully ripe tomatillos, look for some splitting of the outer husk, a very slight yellowing of the bright-green fruit, and the fruit easily falling off the vine. If left too long on the vine, the flavor and firmness of tomatillos begins to diminish quickly.
Once harvested, tomatillos tend to keep better than their tomato cousins. Stored in the refrigerator with their husks on, tomatillos will keep well for two or three weeks.
Recommended Tomatillo Cultivars
Some of the best green tomatillo cultivars include “Rendidora” and “Rio Grande Verde.” A good choice for a purple fruiting cultivar is the eponymously named “Purple” or “Tomatillo Purple.”