Tomatillo: A Growing Guide

Learn how to grow these amazing husked vegetables—and how to make a tasty green salsa.

Photography by Rob Cardillo


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essential ingredient in green salsaGrowing
Tomatillos are hugely prolific and fruit nonstop until laid low by frost. Apply 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch, such as grass clippings, to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture. Although moderately drought-tolerant, tomatillos do best with an inch or two of water per week. If space is limited, pinch off the growing tips to control spread.

You'll be preparing your first salsa verde about 75 to 100 days after transplanting. Pick the fruits when they fill out their husks and the husks just begin to split. If the fruits feel like mini marbles inside loose husks, wait awhile, but harvest before they turn pale yellow, as they become seedier and their flavor loses the desired tangy acidity as they ripen. Store harvested tomatillos in their husks at room temperature for up to a week or in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Recommended Varieties
'Toma Verde' is the standard large-fruited variety, with golf-ball-size, tart green fruits. Extra early at 60 days from transplanting.

'Purple' has small, intensely purple fruits and green husks. Highly decorative and long-storing. 65 days.

Problem Solving
Though tomatillos seem exotic, they are ideal for beginning gardeners, because they rarely suffer disease and insect pest problems. Cage the plants off the ground to allow air to circulate—which protects them from diseases, such as early blight—and to keep them out of reach of slugs and snails. The plants aren't as heavy as tomato plants, and the undersize wire cages typically sold for tomatoes work fine for supporting tomatillos.

Lots of Flowers But No Fruit!
Tomatillos are not self-pollinating like their tomato cousins. In order for the flowers to set fruit, you must grow at least 2 tomatilla plants.
Otherwise, you'll be left with lots of pretty little yellow flowers and none of the tasty green fruit.

Preparation Techniques
Preparing tomatillos for cooking or storage is easy. Just remove the papery husks and wash the sticky fruits inside. Tomatillos need no coring or seeding before being incorporated into your favorite recipe. To freeze, simply place washed, dry fruits in freezer bags and seal. Although tomatillos are usually cooked, they can also be eaten raw.

Newbie hint: Harvest all your tomatillos to prevent a forest of self-sown seedlings next year. Consign overripe and rotten fruits to your hot compost heap.

Master’s tip: When frost threatens, pull up your tomatillo plants and hang them upside down in an unheated garage. The fruits will keep for at least a couple of months.

Ripe and ready: Pick tomatillos when the fruit splits its husk open.

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