The key to any great Mexican meal, tomatillos are relatives of the average garden tomato. These fruits are green and bear small outer husks around the fruit, giving them an exotic appeal. The plants are similar in form and growth to their cousin tomatoes, and while they can be eaten fresh and raw, often they are blended with other traditional Mexican vegetables including onions, peppers, cilantro, and lime, to make a delicious green salsa.
Tomatillo plants will thrive in hardiness zones 5A and warmer, and they are a good source of nutrition, offering a nice dose of vitamin C, as well as other beneficial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, dietary fiber, vitamin K, niacin, and magnesium.
Tomatillos thrive in soil that has a pH level between 6.5 and 7.0. Well-established drainage is also vital to the growth and fruit production of the plant. When choosing a garden space, it is ideal to pick a bed that has full sun. Prior to planting outdoors, prepare your soil by removing any rocks, sticks, or other debris, and fertilize the ground with compost or organic compound fertilizer.
It is important to note that tomatillos are not self-fertile; you will need at least two (and ideally a minimum of three or four) plants to ensure a full yield at the end of the growing season.
All but exceptionally warm climates will require indoor planting for tomatillo seedlings. Plant your seeds in pots three to four inches in diameter about eight weeks prior to the last spring frost. Once you have planted your seeds, cover your pots with plastic and place in a warm, sunny area until plant has germinated and surfaces. The cover can then be removed.
Harden off your seedlings after the risk of frost is eliminated by gradually introducing them outside. Begin seven to ten days prior to transplanting your tomatillos; place the pots outdoors in a shady area for three to four hours a day. Add one to two hours each of the following days, bringing the plants back indoors at night. On the third day, place the plants in the morning sun, moving them to the shade in the afternoon, and continue this pattern for the remainder of the transition. After seven days, your seedlings should be ready to transplant.
Transplant seedlings about eighteen inches apart in well-drained soil. Tomatillo plants are similar to tomato plants and will require support as they grow. Use cages, trellises, or stakes to help support the plant. These plants are also dependent upon water, so keeping the soil moist is important for their growth and fruit production. Adding mulch to the bed can help retain moisture as well.
The blooms on tomatillo plants are a strong attractant for bees. This can greatly help pollination in your garden and help you plan the best area for which to plant your tomatillo bed.
Tomatillo plants don’t attract specific pests, but they are prone to general garden pests that plague other plants, including aphids, beetles, and other leaf-eating insects. The most at-risk part of this plant is its leaves. To eliminate these pests, you can pick them off of your plants or use natural and organic insecticides. Alternatively, attracting ladybugs your yard can be helpful in eliminating the presence of aphids.
Tomatillos generally do not grow as large as the garden-variety tomato. These fruits are ready to harvest when they reach the size of a golf ball and their husks have dried out, cracking away from the fruit within. Simply pick your fruit from the plant as you would a tomato. Healthy, mature tomatillo plants can yield up to ten pounds of produce each.
Keep the husks on the fruit until you’re ready to eat or prepare them, as the husks keep the tomatillos fresh for longer. These fruits will store well in a cool, dry area in a paper bag or in the refrigerator for several weeks. Freezing and canning are more long-term storage options. Use in salsas, hot sauce, guacamole, or feature these delicious fruits in an entrée all their own.