Tomatillo plant - growing and care

Tomatillo plant - growing and care

What is tomatillo?

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa Brot. Ex Hornem. Syn. Physalis phyladelfica L.) belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae Juss.). It comes from Mexico, where it was grown much earlier than tomato.

Taste of tomatillo is becoming more and more appreciated by consumers. Mostly due to the high nutritional value, high content of biologically active substances and the taste.

The fruits of the tomatillo have a dietary effect. Bioactive substances contained in their flesh neutralize free radicals. Thanks to this, they are slowing down the aging process of cells and limiting the formation of mutagenic changes.

History of tomatillo cultivation

Tomatillo, known in Mexico as Mexican husk tomato or Mexican ground cherry, comes from Mesoamerica,. There it was used by indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans. The name physalis comes from the Greek language and means a bladder, bellows or a bubble. The name tomatillo comes from the Nahuatl language and means 'a drop of fat' (tomohuac - fat, atl - water).

This vegetable was grown much earlier than the tomato, usually as an annual plant. Archaeological finds from the Tehuacán Valley indicate that it was part of the diet of the Maya and Aztecs in pre-Columbian times. Over time, after European colonization, it spread throughout the world.

The appearance of the tomatillo plants

The height of the tomatillo plant

Strongly branched, woody stem at the base, grows over 100 cm in height. For traditional Mexican varieties such as: Rendidora, Purple, Rio Grande Verde, Toma Verde, the plant height is about 150 cm. The Polish variety - Amaryla, is about 60 cm tall.

The stem of the tomatillo plant

Main shoot consisting of 3 to 5 internodes above the cotyledons. The last internodes end with a flower and two side branches. Due to the weight of the ripening fruit, numerous side shoots of the tomatillo plant are settling down.

Tomatillo leaves

The leaves are oval, pointed, and have wavy edges. The average length of fully mature leaves is 6 cm long and 3 cm wide.

Tomatillo flowers

Yellow, insect-pollinated short-stemmed flowers, 8-15 mm in diameter, grow singly in the branches of the shoots and leaf axils. Each of the five petals of the perianth has a purple spot at its base. The flower of a cupola is composed of five sepals, one pistil and five stamens.

Follicle covering the tomatillo fruit

As the plant grows, the flowering cup grows in size and eventually surrounds the berry inside. Such an expanded calyx is called a follicle by botanists

Tomatillo fruits

The juicy berry is the edible part of tomatillo. Characterized by high morphological variability, the fruit has a different color (green, orange or purple) and weight (20-60 g), depending on the variety. Inside the fruit there is a spongy flesh with a specific sweet and sour taste.

The glassy, aromatic, gooseberry-like pulp is pale yellow to greenish in color. The berry is smooth and shiny, covered with a 0.5 mm layer of sticky cover.


'Purple' variety produces small fruits of a purple color and weighing from 20 to 40 g. Plants of this variety grow up to 120-150 cm in height.

De Milpa

Plants of the 'De Milpa' cultivar reach about 85 cm in height. They produce purple berries weighing 20-40 g.


Rendidora is the most popularly grown variety of green tomatillo with a fruit color and weight of 30-40 g. Its plants grow up to 120-150 cm in height.

Toma Verde

Tomatillo 'Toma Verde' variety reaches up to 120 cm in height. It produces fruits weighing 20-40 g.

Rio Grande Verde

'Rio Grande Verde' is a popular variety of tomatillo, which produces large green fruits weighing about 60 g. It grows up to 120-150 cm in height.


The variety 'Amarylla' grows to approx. 60 cm. It has a strongly branching stem with overlapping shoots. This is mainly due to the mass of ripening fruits that bend the shoots to the ground.

The fruit of the follicles, which is mistakenly called by many a leathery shell, has a yellow-green color. It weighs 30-40 g and has a specific sweet-sour taste.

Tomatillo - cultivation and care

Growing tomatillos, especially in regions with a favorable climate, is not difficult. In turn, growing this vegetable in unfavorable climatic conditions may require a lot of work.

Optimum air temperature for growing tomatillo

The optimal temperature for cultivating during the growing season is around 25 °C (77 °F). High temperatures (> 35 °C) during flowering may lead to poor yielding or deformation of the fruit. On the other hand, too low temperatures below 10-12 °C (50-53.6 °F) inhibit plant development. The first autumn frosts end, determine the end of cultivation and plant death.

Optimum soil temperature for growing tomatillo

The optimum soil temperature should be between 19 and 23 °C. The temperature of the soil is important especially in the initial period of plant growing, especially after planting the seedlings. Therefore, soil mulching is often used in the cultivation of tomatillo. The mulch ensures good soil moisture and temperature, while protecting the plant from weeds.

What kind of soil for tomatillo should I use?

The most suitable are sandy-clay soils with a pH of 6.0-6.8, non-weeded, airy, due to the faster heating in spring. A sunny position, sheltered from the wind, especially in the early vegetation period of tomatillo plants.

How to space tomatillo plants?

Due to the vigorous growth and branching of plants, the spacing between plants of tomatillo should be at least 100 cm in a row and 50 cm between rows.

How often should you water tomatillo?

The high water requirements of tomatillo plant depend on the development phase. The water demand of plants increases significantly, especially during the seedling production period and during the fruit growth period.

During this period, the plants should be watered daily, especially on sunny days. In the late phase of fruit ripening, it is recommended to reduce the soil and air humidity around the tomatillo plant. It has a beneficial effect on the health of plants and berries. Therefore, keep watering to a minimum while the fruit is ripening.

How to support tomatillo plants?

Tomatillo plants can grow without any support. However, due to the large mass of numerous fruits, side shoots break off and whole plants lie down during ripening. Therefore, it is recommended to grow tomatillo with the supports, which at the same time ensure good air circulation in the ground part of the plant.

How to fertilize tomatillo plants?

The average doses of minerals in the field cultivation of tomatillos are as follows:

  • 112-168 kg ha-1 N;
  • 89.6 kg ha-1 P2O5;
  • 56-168 kg ha-1 K2O,
depending on the type of soil.

Setting up protection against frost

We should also remember that after planting the seedlings into the ground, it is worth monitoring the weather. When the temperature drops below 10 °C, it will be necessary to shelter the plants from the cold. The ideal material for direct plant protection is non-woven polypropylene and polyethylene film. They will provide a favorable microclimate around the plants and protect them against strong winds.

When to pick tomatillo?

We collect the fruit of the tomatillo depending on the variety. An important indicator of tomatillo fruit harvesting is their falling off with a gentle pull on the peduncle.

In the case of plants that produce green fruits, the color of the follicles should be observed. Follicle color changes from green to straw-green when it ripens. The fruits of the varieties with a purple color are useful for consumption when they turn purple and the follicles surrounding the fruit begin to burst. Most varieties are ready to harvest about 60-70 days after sowing the seeds.

How to propagate tomatillo?

Tomatillo can be propagated generatively or vegetatively by rooting older plant shoot. However, the easiest way to propagate the tomatillo is from seeds obtained from ripe fruit.

If you want to get the seeds from the tomatillo, choose the most ripe berries and then extract individual seeds from the vitreous flesh. Put them on a paper towel and let them dry, then sow or leave them in a dry place until sowing. Remember that seeds lose their ability to germinate when stored for a long time. It is best to sow the seeds of the tomatillo to 1-1.5 years after harvesting the seeds.

How to store tomatillo?

Tomatillo fruits stored in the follicles remain fresh for 2-3 weeks at room temperature of 20 °C. Depriving the plants from the follicle causes the fruit to deteriorate and rot faster. The durability of the berries is also negatively affected by washing them immediately after harvesting. Often in such cases, the fruit rot after a few days.

Tomatillo pests and diseases

Tomatillo is a plant that is very resistant to diseases and pests. Only when the air humidity is too high and frequent rainfall the plants can become infected by fungal diseases and the fruit may rot. During cultivation, the plants may be infected by the tobacco mosaic virus, which manifests itself as yellow discoloration on the leaves.

The greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) is the most common pest that attacks the tomato orchid, especially during seedling production. On the other hand, the pests of the tomatillo, which cause damage to the fruit, are Heliothis virescens and Agrotis segetumor.

Is tomatillo toxic?

The tomatillo fruit is edible only when it is ripe. During maturation, the overgrown calyx turns from green to brown, it grows and opens. Fully ripe berries fall to the ground. Consumption of unripe apple fruit may cause abdominal pain and digestive system disorders.

This is because all parts of the plant contain poisonous glycoalkaloids. It is related to the belonging to the nightshade family. Similarly, unripe fruits of tomatoes, eggplants or green potato tubers contain substances that are harmful to humans, such as tomatin or solanine.

Tomatillo nutrition facts and health benefits

Physalis ixocarpa Brot. ex Horn. is a rich source of many nutrients and biologically active. The raw material of the tomatillos is edible berry (Fructus Physalis), which has antiallergic, dietary and digestive properties.

The tomatillo fruit also has antimicrobial, antioxidant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-allergic properties. It contributes to the maintenance of proper energy metabolism, and also reduces the feeling of tiredness and weariness. It has a positive effect on the functioning of the nervous and circulatory systems.

It is sometimes used as a natural remedy for diseases of the urinary system and skin. Tomatillo is becoming a significant vegetable often used in pharmacy as well as the food industry.

Best ways to use tomatillos

Due to its versatile use, tomatillo is classified as a spice, medicinal and ornamental plant. In the times of the Maya and Aztecs, it was an important part of the diet, more important than the commonly known tomato.

Nowadays, the tomatillo is the main element of Mexican cuisine. You can also pickle tomatillo fruits, same way like cucumbers. It is often used in spicy chili sauces to soften their taste.

When it comes to the taste of the tomatillo fruit itself, it can be compared to a combination of cucumber, melon and tomato. The growing popularity of Latin American cuisine and the openness towards refreshing tastes make the tomatillo of guests more and more often on our tables.

The decorative aspect of the tomatillo is also more and more appreciated. The colorful follicles covering the fruit attract attention, making tomatillo one of the best ornamental plants of nightshade family. The plant itself looks beautiful against the background of other plants. And despite the fact that it is a vegetable, it looks very impressive in the company of other ornamental plants.


I hope that with this short description we have encouraged you to start growing tomatillos in your garden. Tasty fruit appear as early as 2-3 months after sowing the seeds. The only limitation in growing tomatillos is the low temperature, which in the temperate climate zone ends the harvest of this vegetable with the arrival of autumn frosts.

The decoration of the follicles, which covers the fruit, also determines the cultivation of the tomatillo, which make this plant an interesting species with ornamental qualities that will surely win your heart.

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