How to Grow and Harvest Tomatillos

A tart gift from Mexico, tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) are commonly used by chefs and home cooks throughout the United States and around the world to add a piquant va-va-voom to sauces and chutneys.

A green and purple tomatillo growing in the garden.

Beneath an intriguing, yet inedible, papery husk lies a fruit that, while mimicking the appearance of a green tomato, tastes nothing like a tomato.

Tomatillos’ flavor instead is often described as as “citrusy”, “tart,” “sour,” and “tangy.” Some compare the fruit’s taste to that of a Granny Smith apple or a green grape.

If you’ve sampled a salsa or jam containing these green wonders – or even a tomatillo mojito – you may have considered adding tomatillo (toh-mah-tee-yo) plants to your garden.

Learn how to grow and harvest delicious tomatillos at home. | Gardenerspath.com

Let’s explore the taxonomy and history of the plant, and then we’ll look at how to grow and harvest it.

The Background File

Tomatillos are part of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, along with tomatoes and peppers. The leaves look a bit like those of eggplant, another nightshade plant. Nightshade plants are grouped together because they each produce the same particular type of flower.

The fruit’s very name is a misnomer. “Tomatillo” means “little tomato” in Spanish, and while they are distantly related, the tomatillo is very definitely not a tomato.

Nevertheless, nicknames linking the two tasty fruits abound, with the tomatillo also being referred to as “tomate verde” (green tomato) and “husk tomato.”

How to Harvest Tomatillos | GardenersPath.com

Originating in Mexico and Central America, this citrusy plant has been an important food crop for millennia, though the plant has been around for even longer. In fact, in early 2017, scientists writing for the journal “Science” reported on their discovery and analysis of a 52-million-year-old fossilized tomatillo found in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

Tomatillo plants grow wild throughout their native regions, and some wild varieties in parts of the midwestern United States, where they — despite their edibility — are derisively referred to as weeds and are considered invasive.

Historical records show that numerous North American native tribes used these wild fruits (Physalis longifolia) to treat headache and stomachache, according to the Native Medicinal Research Program at the University of Kansas.

Prized for their unusual flavor and bright green color, these tangy fruits are now cultivated and enjoyed around the world. They can be eaten raw but most commonly are cooked.

Various Varieties

Toma Verde is among the more common cultivars, producing the classic, golf ball-sized green fruit. Grande Rio Verde is another well-liked variety, producing a larger, 2-3” sweet sphere. Seeds are available from Mountain Valley Seed Co.

Papery husked tomatillos on a blonde wooden sruface.

A number of purple types also exist, including Purple Coban, Tiny from Coban, and De Milpa.

Seven green tomatillos with the husks removed.

And a special variety called Amarylla produces immature green fruit that are only ready to harvest once they turn yellow, contrary to the usual harvesting advice (see below). The Amarylla is known to do well for gardeners in northern zones.

Can I Grow My Own?

In North America, tomatillos are grown as an annual.

As their popularity spreads, seedlings are becoming more commonly available at local garden centers, though not always at big box stores. You can also mail order seeds and propagate your own.

Three tomatillos growing on a vine in a garden setting.

If you go the seed route, start them indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost is expected in your area.

An important consideration when selecting transplants or starting seeds: Because tomatillos are not self-pollinating, they must be planted in groups of at least two to ensure fruiting.

Most gardeners find 2-4 plants produce sufficient fruits for plenty of salsa verde. The plants’ bright yellow flowers will attract bees and other pollinators. You might also add nasturtiums or marigolds as companion plants that will attract pollinators.

A yellow blossom on a tomatillo vine.

Though the tomatillo is a lighter feeder than the tomato, you will nevertheless want to work about two inches of compost into the soil, maintaining a neutral pH close to 7.0. You’ll want to thoroughly aerate your soil to improve drainage, and you should grow tomatillo plants in raised beds if you have heavy clay dirt.

Like their cousin the tomato, they want lots of sun, so select an appropriately bright location. And as with tomatoes, you’ll encourage strong, healthy plants if you bury 2/3 of each transplant to enable additional root growth from the stem.

Space plants about three feet apart. These semi-determinate plants tend to sprawl – growing to be 3 to 4 feet tall and wide – so you might want to use a trellis, stake, or cage for support.

The vines prefer well-drained soil, and can even tolerate moderate drought conditions. They do best, however, with an inch or so of water per week. They certainly won’t grow well in soaking-wet ground.

Adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch is a good idea to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.

The vines are well-suited for container growing. Use a 5-gallon pot for each plant. Keep an eye on soil moisture, as container dirt dries out more quickly.

Don’t Get Bugged by Bugs

It’s a good idea to plant onions nearby, to help with pest control.

Juvenille tomatillo fruit on a a vine in a garden setting.

No particular pest is unique to the tomatillo, but their leaves are susceptible to the usual suspects, such as cucumber beetles, potato beetles and other leaf-loving bugs.

Pick them off or use a natural insecticide to keep them away. You may also see aphids, which can be squirted off with a hose.

How Do I Know When They’re Ready?

The fruit is ready to pluck 75-100 days after transplanting.

Pick them when they fill out their husks and the husks just begin to split. If the fruit is still small and hard and the husk is still quite loose, it is too early to harvest.

Close up of green tomatillos on the vine.

Occasionally, the husk won’t split, but turns brown and leathery; this is also a sign that the fruit is ready to be harvested.

If the fruit turns pale yellow, you have waited too long. At this stage, the tasty interior becomes seedier and the flavor loses its distinctive tanginess.

When you’ve identified a fruit ready for harvest, it’s best to cut it from the plant, rather than pull it, which might damage the stem. Compost damaged or overripe fruits.

You can store harvested tomatillos in their husks at room temperature for up to a week or in the refrigerator either loose or in a paper bag for around three weeks. Avoid storing your harvest in plastic.

A bull full of green tomatillos with their paper husks attached.

Peel away the husk before preparing for consumption. As you peel the green orbs, they will feel sticky. Just wash the fruit to remove the tacky residue.

They can also can be frozen whole or sliced, or preserved by canning.

Easy to Grow, Delicious to Eat

Growing tomatillos is a fantastic way to add a new and unusual edible to your kitchen garden. If you’re comfortable growing tomatoes, you should have no trouble growing their green cousins.

Four green tomatillos growing on the vine in a garden setting.

Are you intrigued? Ready to introduce a new plant to your spring garden?

Create a true salsa garden by installing some tomatillo plants next to your tomatoes and peppers — your family will thank you!

Add a comment below to tell us your tale of tomatillos.


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A collage of photos showing different varieties of tomatillos growing in a garden. Close up shots.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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Jennifer
Jennifer (@guest_290)
3 years ago

Tomatillos are self fruiting. You only need one.

Kathleen
Kathleen (@guest_4024)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
1 year ago

Based on my own experience, if Jennifer had success with her one tomatillo, it is likely she had a neighbor, of whom she was unaware, who also had tomatillo(s). Community – awesome!!

Hazel
Hazel (@guest_1445)
Reply to  Jennifer
2 years ago

Where can you buy the seeds for the tomatillos

Linda
Linda (@guest_2239)
2 years ago

Wasn’t sure what this mystery plant was growing in my garden, so I just continued to take care of it. It is so big, top heavy, and these little bulbs are growing. Not sure what it is but just watching it, more and more bulbs are growing. My daughter and I are wondering what is this mystery plant here with our tomatoes, chilies… Hatch, Serranos, Poblanos,jalapeños – which are going very well. Well, my sister came by so I can share some of the veggies with her and I show her this plant that is just fallen over because it… Read more »

Jim C.
Jim C. (@guest_3984)
Reply to  Linda
1 year ago

I’ve been growing these for two seasons for salsa verde. Yes, they are a spreading plant but tomato cages help contain them. To get rid of the stickness after removing the husk, simply rub them with white vinegar. They can be made into delicious salsa verde and canned with little effort.

Dean
Dean (@guest_4553)
1 year ago

They are great when quartered and put with other vegetables on the grill.

SuzAnne Maple
SuzAnne Maple (@guest_4568)
1 year ago

I grew tomatillos last season and left them to die naturally over the winter. Now I have 20-30 plants in my raised beds that I didn’t plant, and they don’t look like weeds. I am wondering if the Tomatillos self-seeded? Is this possible? I am letting some of them grow to find out what they are.

Clara
Clara (@guest_4645)
1 year ago

My plants are about 3 ft tall and still have no fruit. What’s wrong?

Maurice W Hilarius
Maurice W Hilarius (@guest_7209)
Reply to  Clara
6 months ago

you need to have at least 2 plants fairly close to each other. The bees will pollinate the flowers, which is needed for fruit to happen.

Kim
Kim (@guest_4698)
1 year ago

Hi! I have two tomatillo plants that started out growing great together. They both had fruit. One started turning yellow and the leaves slowly wilted. Now it is happening to the second one. This one still has lots of fruit and I’m hoping I can save it! It almost looks like it’s not getting enough water but I water them pretty good daily. They are next to two tomatoe plants that are growing and looking awesome. Hoping you can help!!??

Donna
Donna (@guest_4787)
1 year ago

I have been growing these wonderful plants for about 5 years now. I rarely have issues with them. In the St Louis area we had a lot of rain all spring and most of summer so my plants were not real happy but have bounced back beautifully. I do get volunteers every year that sometimes produce fruit if they aren’t too far away from the purposely planted ones. With the wet weather this year I have had more fruit that didn’t ripen and fell off prematurely – I guess it was just too much water. Nothing really did very well… Read more »

Nan
Nan (@guest_4803)
1 year ago

I had several of these plants volunteer this summer, all over my various (zone 3) garden beds! The seeds may have been in the compost, but I don’t know how they got there! I didn’t know what they were, but was very curious, so let them be. I liked the little yellow flowers. The other day I saw a fruit husk, so figured out what the mystery plant was. I love tomatillos and had planned on planting some next spring!

Margaret
Margaret (@guest_4849)
1 year ago

Can I grow them in Wisconsin?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Margaret
1 year ago

In Wisconsin, you’re probably located somewhere in USDA Hardiness Zone 3-5. Tomatillos are happiest in Zones 5 and above, and they can be grown as annuals in Zones 5-9, given the proper care. They can only be grown as perennials in hotter Zones 10-11.

Mary
Mary (@guest_5381)
1 year ago

I grew tomatillos for the first time this year. I have many on the plants but our season has wound down and I am afraid we don’t have a long enough season. The husks are beautifully formed but the tomatillos are smaller than a grape. I am in Zone 7. I did start the seeds inside last spring; but maybe not early enough?

Romy hart
Romy hart (@guest_6099)
7 months ago

Can I just take the seeds out of a tomatillo dry them and then plant them

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Romy hart
7 months ago

You can! But in order to dry them, you’ll need to remove all of the pulp around the seeds first. There are actually a couple of ways that you can do this. If you’re starting with tomatillos that you bought at the store, select very ripe fruit for seed saving. If these are heirloom cultivars rather than hybrids, they should produce new plants that are true to seed. Hybrids, on the other hand, may be sterile, or they may produce new plants with different characteristics than the tomatillos that you bought. Your typical grocery store probably won’t be able to… Read more »

Sue
Sue (@guest_7485)
6 months ago

I was excited to find tomatillo plants at our big box store and are planting them today. Our first experience with them was a few years ago when we were out West and stayed at a bed and breakfast where they kept some on the dining table. We had no clue what they were but saw someone peel off the husk and eat what was inside so we followed suit. They are delicious. Thanks for the tips. We are in central Kentucky so hope they grow well here.

Clare Groom
Clare Groom (@clareg)
Admin
Member
Reply to  Sue
6 months ago

Hi Sue, thanks for reading. I have to admit, this year was the first time I tried tomatillos and now I love them! Yes, you can certainly grow them in Kentucky. Good luck with your crop, and let us know how you get on.

Carol
Carol (@guest_8131)
5 months ago

I live in zone 3 and found them at Fleet Farm nursery. I bought two plants and have them alongside my tomatoes. They are turning a little yellow but have flowers. They aren’t growing as fast as tomatoes. My mother-in-law was able to grow them 200 miles west of here but I am thinking I won’t be successful in this cold zone. Oh well.

Janie
Janie (@guest_8976)
4 months ago

I planted two tomatillos. They have grown well and produced hundreds of flowers – but no fruit! I see regular bees and carpenter bees on them frequently. What must I be doing wrong?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Janie
4 months ago

Where are you located, Janie? Has the weather been particularly hot and/or humid? And are the blossoms falling off, or are they still attached to the plants at this point? Extreme summertime weather conditions can make pollination difficult. With two plants you should have better luck since these plants need to cross-pollinate (rather than being self-fruitful). You could try hand pollinating, by bringing pollen from the flowers on one plant to the flowers on the other and vice versa, using a cotton swab or paintbrush. Good luck!

Kris
Kris (@guest_9151)
3 months ago

I was walking in my field and discovered this pretty plant with yellow flowers. I knew there was something special about it. Then I saw the “ fruit “ finally growing and recognized it as a tomatillo. I’ve never eaten or grown one. Well I guess I will be now !!

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
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Noble Member
Reply to  Kris
3 months ago

Be sure to ID it with certainty before you do any taste tests! Other lookalike members of the Nightshade family can be poisonous.

Mrs Yvonne Stoney
Mrs Yvonne Stoney (@guest_9582)
2 months ago

Hi, I live in the UK. I planted tomatillos for the first time in containers. The plants have done extremely well and I have lots of fruit, however we had lots of sun for 6 weeks followed by heavy rain this week. I woke up this morning and the plants have literally fallen over, the wind hasn’t blown them down, they have just decided to drop… 🤷🏾‍♀️ Anyway, do you know why it does that? Also I planted 4 plants together in one container and one more in a separate container, all close together. The one on the separate container… Read more »

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy (@rosekennedy)
Member
Reply to  Mrs Yvonne Stoney
2 months ago

Hello Mrs. Yvonne Stoney I am sorry to hear your tomatillos have decided to topple. I suspect the combination of being top-heavy and the soil in the pots getting overly dry caused the dropping. If you have a plastic pail big (and clean) enough, I’d recommend first submerging the upright pot in a big bucket of water, holding it under so that the rim and soil are all beneath the water. It should send up air bubbles. When it stops, that means the soil is drawing up water again, and that may help. But you may also have too many… Read more »

Rochelle
Rochelle (@guest_9623)
2 months ago

I planted a couple seeds at least 10 yrs ago. I have gotten numerous plants each yr since… But, my fruit never seems to fill the husks. I have at least a half dozen plants growing right now and the husks are small. Trying to feed them fertilizer hoping for an actual harvest something this year.
If any one has any suggestions please… I’m open for any help

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy (@rosekennedy)
Member
Reply to  Rochelle
2 months ago

Hello Rochelle! Those empty husks could be the result of a few different things. First off, if the plants aren’t close enough to each other to cross-pollinate, they won’t set fruit. Or, they could have some other trouble with pollination. For example, the pollen quality suffers in extreme heat or humidity. It gets tacky and at that point, it’s not viable. Sometimes this means your tomatillos won’t fruit until later summer when things cool off. But if this has been a problem for years, I wouldn’t count on it. There’s also a chance you don’t have enough pollinators in the… Read more »

Krista Joy Crosby
Krista Joy Crosby (@guest_10155)
1 month ago

HI! I grew 6 tomatillos this year, and they grew, blossomed, and fruited great. The problem is that none of the fruits grew big enough to fill out their husks before they turned yellow and fell off. Any suggestions?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Krista Joy Crosby
1 month ago

Did you have some extreme weather this summer, with a lot of heat and/or humidity? When the husks are altogether empty, this is generally due to a lack of pollination (which can happen if you aren’t growing more than one plant or if there’s a lack of pollinators in your garden). But if the fruit developed, failed to fill out, and then fell off, this can be due to heat stress. Fruits may also be small if you have a whole lot of fruit being supported by one plant – pruning off some of the flowers or fruit early in… Read more »

Rachel Fox
Rachel Fox (@guest_10445)
27 days ago

Hi, I live in Fort Worth, Tx. I grew tomatillos for the first time this summer. They did pretty good. I will grow more next year!

Rachel Fox
Rachel Fox (@guest_10446)
27 days ago

I only planted one tomatillo plant this summer and it bore fruit. I planted it between tomato plants. I guess that helped!

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Rachel Fox
27 days ago

Interesting… though they are both members of the nightshade family, tomatoes and tomatillos come from different genera. Tomatillos do develop both male and female parts on the same flower, they just aren’t particularly good at self-pollinating (this is usually done by insects, between plants). Perhaps you have neighbors who are growing tomatillos nearby? If you got just a few fruits, I’d suspect that this was a case of self-pollination, or pollen may have been carried from other plants in the vicinity, if not in your own garden. Self-pollination isn’t impossible with this type of plant, it’s just not very likely… Read more »