Growing tomatillos?

April 9, 2007

Hi there, has anyone had success growing tomatillos at all? Any tips you might have? I love making tomatillo salsa and I thought this year I might try growing the tomatillos right outside my door instead of always having to head to the supermarket. Thanks. :)

Comments (27)

  • Violet_Z6

    They like it hot, they can take up a lot of room so you might consider caging, you'll need at least 3-5 plants to increase your chances of having both male and female plants.

  • instar8

    Hmmm...that would have been a nice thing for them to mention in the seed catalog, that the plants are separate sexes...learn something new everyday! Guess I'd better plant a couple more seeds, I planted 4 and got 2 seedlings, my luck's not that good!

  • raisemybeds

    I am growing them for the first time this season - thinking the same thing as some of you - that I would like to make my own green sauce. I have managed to germinate maybe 6 to 8 of them and the seedlings transplanted well and are looking very good so far. I was hoping to get away with a final planting of only one or two due to space constraints. What is this about needing several plants and male versus female etc? Can someone elaborate please?

  • penguingardener

    I too am sowing them for the first time and found only 1 out of 4/5 have germinated.

    I also read about male and female plants and coming across a post of a gardener who's taking their chances that the bees who visit their tomatillo plants have visit others in the neighborhood.

    I'm not too sure if I will sow more or give away my tomatillo. Maybe I'll just plant it and just plain get experience growing it? I just don't know where I'll plant it in my small urban garden.

  • koreyk

    I have grown tomatillos and never noticed male and female plants. they can grow like weeds in a crowded space. What I do not like about them is that the leaves get all covered with a tiny caterpillar. does not really do much harm but does not look good. the tomatillos are fine. the yield seems low to me. the plants run wild and sprawl. they will reseed vigorously next year.

    Now that I am more into salsa I might try them again. They make a good salsa.

    I very strongly doubt that tomatillo have different sex plants. almost no plants are of that type. I would not worry about the sex on the plants. I will bet all plants will have tomatillos and even if you have one plant it will have tomatillos with good seed for the next year.

  • moosemac

    I've grown tomatillos for several years and have never planted more than 3 plants. The plants get huge! I use the Florida Weave method and they are still 4'wide and can grow 10-12' tall if you let them. I usually give them a haircut once or twice during the season which encourages bushiness but at least I can reach to harvest. With 2 plants I have more tomatillos than my family of 4 can eat in fresh salsa plus can and I still end up giving them away. They are easy to grow but I find if you don't keep them off the ground they will get little worms. The trick is to pick them just before the fruit drops. I usually give the plant a gentle shake and then pick up what falls. As an alternative, pick them when the husk splits though this seems to coincide with the fruit dropping off the plant.

  • hunter_tx

    I usually grow three or four at a time, and get plenty of fruit. Down here, they grow very vigorously and sprawl all over the place, so caging is almost necessary. I wasn't aware that there are male and female plants, but I've never grown just one (of anything lol), so it didn't matter.
    Mrs H

  • lonmower

    I have grown tomatillos for two seasons
    They are very fun to grow as they are very prolific
    I would say that caging is by mucho primero
    Last year I had all the limbs supported and it was very easy to pick the fruit or see the ones that had dropped when they were ripe.
    The best news...besides what great salsa they will make is that they are so easy to preserve. Canning requires only the heat bath, and you can freeze them whole with no blanching

    Good Luck and don't be afraid to make your salsa HOT!

  • dirtdiver

    I've only grown the purple ones--they're so good right off the vine, they seldom make it all the way to the kitchen. I haven't really had to stake them, though staking would still be a better way to go--perhaps the variety is more compact. I'm a little curious about that "male/female" plant thing, because I have noticed that when I've given single plants to people, they sometimes report back that they got no fruit, and I've had plants side by side and had one bear little or no fruit.

  • alabamanicole

    My research indicates that tomatillos are not self-fertile, however they are not male/female plants. So at least two would be required, and probably 3 for safety in case on plants fails.

  • herbivore

    Oh my gosh, so much information so fast! Thank you all so much.

  • grandad_2003

    There was a long discussion on pollination of Tomatillo's in this very forum about a year ago. My experience with Tomatillos planted from seeds from the same packet was great production one year and zero production the next year. I had planted 3 plants both years. My conclusion (rightly or wrongly) was that the difference in the two years was more related to lack of or no bees vs plant or individual flower sex. I gave my gardening buddy 2 plants from the same plant stock that produced nothing for me. He produced so many Tomatillos that he had decided not to plant this year and instead to use last years crop from the freezer.

  • raisemybeds

    lonmower - can you be more specific about how to freeze the tomatillos whole? Do you put them in baggies? Do you cook them at all first?

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Grandad is correct... the tomatillo pollination issue was indeed discussed last year (see the link).

    Tomatillos are self-fertile, and there are no male/female plants. Don't take my word for it, if a plant is blossoming but not bearing, dissect a flower - you will find that the flower is "perfect", meaning that it has both stamens (male) and pistil (female). When conditions are right for self-pollination, it will occur.

    I and many others have grown single plants with good results (unless you are canning, you only need one!). This is not to say that multiple plants won't improve pollination - just that it isn't necessary to get fruit. But like some self-fertile plants, tomatillos may require agitation to transfer the pollen effectively... whether by insects, wind, thumping the flowers lightly, or giving the plant a good quick shake in the morning. Some of their cousins, the peppers (which are also self-fertile), behave the same way.

    Tomatillos are related to tomatoes, and should be started as transplants using the same dates in Northern climates. However, they seem much more sensitive to environmental conditions. They need more heat, and appear to be more sensitive to water stress (so mulching is advised). Some are daylength-sensitive to some degree, and will refuse to set fruit during the long days of mid-summer. It is also my observation that while some plants may blossom early, they will drop blossoms until the plant reaches a certain size, at which time the blossoms begin to set in large numbers (which may or may not involve daylength sensitivity).

    I harvest the fruits when they drop from the plant, or when the husk begins to dry. Mice use the same strategy, so I had to place several mouse traps under the plants (for ground cherries also).

    Here is a link that might be useful: Tomatillo pollination

  • lonmower

    Raisemybeds (et.al.)

    On freezing...

    Naturally remove husk and wash
    I put the quantity I use in a batch of salsa per plastic freezer bag.
    Remove the air from freezer bag (i use the "holding bag under water and releasing air without the water getting inside" method)
    THAT'S IT!!!!

    When you thaw the fruit...there will be juice in the bag...put that in your salsa also. Naturally fresh is best, but this is a easy way to have great homegrown salso the year round.

    Happy Dipping

  • jaliranchr

    Thank you, Grandad and Zeedman, I was certain there were no male and female plants for tomatillo since I grew one that bore quite well two years ago and two that puttered along amiably last year. Geeze, and here I was all ready to go buy a lottery ticket if I was that lucky! :)

  • catankgirl

    Thanks for the info, all. I just transplanted two tomatillo plants I had started indoors to a cute watering-can-turned-planter outdoors, which I think is a mistake now I'm hearing how big they get. I thought the vine spilling over would look lovely, I love the look of wild tomato plants, but now I'm not sure if I'll actually get any tomatillos from it. And I love my salsa. I wonder if it's too late to start some more? I guess it can't hurt...

  • dman81

    I recently had a very nasty storm cell come through my garden and it killed 2 of my tomatillo plants. I only have 1 plant left and it had 2 of its lowest branches broken off. I took both branches and stuck them in the dirt. Well to my surprise 1 of them actually rooted and is growing again. My question is since this is essentially a clone of the mother plant will it be able to set fruit since tomatillo as highly self incompatible. Any ideas?

  • coraktp

    I live in the California high desert. In places where there's rain and vegetation, rodents are pickier about what they'll eat. Rodents out here will eat peppers and eggplants to the ground as soon as you set out the seedlings, but leave tomatoes plants alone. They of course will devour the ripe tomatoes, but leave the plants alone. My question is does anyone who has problems with rodents eating pepper and eggplant plants also have problems with them eating tomatillo plants. I need to know whether I have to cage my tomatillo seedlings (I only have a few) and 1/2 inch hardware cloth is mucho expensive so I try to only use it when it's absolutely necessary - which is over most of what I grow, I probably have $1000+ in hardware cloth protection over pots in my tiny desert yard.

  • seysonn

    Tomatillos are self-fertile, and there are no male/female plants. Don't take my word for it, if a plant is blossoming but not bearing, dissect a flower - you will find that the flower is "perfect", meaning that it has both stamens (male) and pistil (female). When conditions are right for self-pollination, it will occur. (zeedman)
    Zeedman spoken. I agree.
    There s no such a thing as MALE and FEMALE tomatillo plant. That is why you don't see such a statemen in seed cataloges, plant labels. etc. Some people claim that you have to have more than one plant to get fruits. Even then ALL those plants bear fruits. Male & Female ? !

    I have proven the above claim to be FALSE( at least to myself). Not just once but 3 times in the past. The last time was last season. My sole tomatillo plant kept blooming from May all the way till frost but no husks until late August. Then it was too late and they could not grow to maturity. Maybe we have a very cool summers here.
    So no more tomatillo plant for me. I'll buy the fruits real cheap from Asian markets.

  • Happy Hill Farm

    I am growing them here in south Jersey for first time. Started from seed mid march (will start later next year) and just transplanted them out last week. Seeds were from either Johnny's or SSE. Great germination rate. About 15 plants, half under polyspun covers to protect from wind/temp. This morning, during storm, noticed that some unprotected planted had broken off from wind. I also pinched off buds when transplanting. They are doing better than my peppers, about as good as the tomatoes.

  • Mindyw3

    I grew them one year, two plants side by side and gota handful of tiny tomatillos. Didn't work out too well. I agree that you need several plants most likely..

  • nancyjane_gardener

    My first year I had one....a few flowers, no fruit til late in the year...a bust!
    The next year I had a couple of volunteers! Had a great crop!
    Now when I find them , I put them in a bed and give them a tomato cage! I bought a 6 pack this year in case I didn't get any volunteers. Make sauce like crazy! Nancy

  • annie1992

    I've never posted here, I mostly hang out on "Cooking" and occasionally "Harvest", but I grow a large organic garden and have gardened for at least 40 years.

    I've grown tomatillos here in Michigan for the past three years. I find them to be vigorous and prolific. I start my own plants from seed, I got the seed from Territorial Seed Company and planted them in CowPots. They are transplanted outside the end of May. I plant them along the metal fence that surrounds my swimming pool and then mostly ignore them, they like the fence to "climb up".

    My mother loves them, thinks they are ornamental. The vines grow to the top of my 4 1/2 foot pool fence. I do find that I get some small tomatillos at the end of the year but a very large portion of them are big enough to split the husks and are as big as the ones I can get at the local grocery.

    The first year I had two plants, and they both bore fruit. My local extension service tells me they are not self-fruitful or self-pollinating in many cases, and at least two are needed for the most consistent and successful cross pollination but they would not tell me that there was no chance of getting fruit from a single plant, only that I'd have better luck with two or more.

    Now I plant about a dozen because I like a green enchilada sauce made from them. That contains cream so it has to be frozen, but I also can salsa from them.


  • Kippy

    First year I planted one. We got tomatillos and no one else in the neighboring gardens planted any.

    The next year I planted two and had a dozen pop from from the year before

    This year I did not buy any, transplanted about 6 volunteers and weeded out the rest. I would say that the one I bought did not have male/female flower issues. But they do like heat and some water. By the middle of July I am usually sick of Tomatillos and the cabinet is full of canned salsa so I pull the plants.

  • happybana

    One of my tomatillos has grown, in a 5-gallon fabric container, into a beautiful little tree. The other, while it has tons of blossoms (which are just starting to dry up, so I'm not 100% sure if they'll fruit yet) is scraggly and viney. I'm thinking about moving the tall lovely one inside as a houseplant, but was worried about separating them since I had heard they weren't self-fertile (which I thought was odd since they were quite clearly in possession of both male and female parts). This has given me a bit of hope that I'll be able to take this lovely thing inside, put it in my ridiculously sunny bedroom in front of the full-length window (and maybe give myself a little extra privacy in the process) and possibly still get some fruits. Either way, it's such a pretty plant I think I'll be happy.

  • Jonagold

    Tomatillos are easy to grow, They like warm weather. Mine usually get about 1/3rd the size of my tomato plants. I give them about 5 feet between plants and just let them grow with no support. I planted Tamayo R hybrid variety this year. The fruits were very large and the plants seemed less aggressive. They were wonderful. Almost 150 lbs from 4 plants so far with one more picking before the end of season. I will be planting this variety again and recommend it.

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