Tomatillos: An Exotic Treat for Gardeners


I remember the day I discovered the tomatillo. A friend introduced me to the lush citrusy-sweet fruit in her homemade salsa verde (green salsa). One taste and I was hooked. I knew I had to grow some of these little gems in my own garden.

The tomatillo is a beautiful fruit, encased in thin paper husks. Today, it is a must-have for salsa lovers everywhere, but it has noble and ancient beginnings. Tomatillos are native to Mexico. They were domesticated by the Aztecs around 800 B.C., making them one of the oldest vegetables we still grow today.

Growing Tips

Choose a growing site in full sun, with well-drained soil. Tomatillos are tough and thrive in hot weather, but like their cousins the tomato, they do not like soggy soil.

Mulch your tomatillo plants with 1-2 inches of rich compost, grass clippings, or straw for best results. This helps keep life-giving water in and also keeps the diseases out.

Raised beds and containers are great for growing tomatillos. Plant your tomatillos at the same time you plant tomatoes, when all danger of frost has passed. Tomatillos are not self-pollinating. To have fruit, you must grow at least 2 tomatillo plants. Otherwise, you’ll be left with lots of pretty little yellow flowers but no fruit, so plan accordingly.

Additionally, like their cousins, the tomatillo will need support in the form of a stake or cage. This will help air circulate around the plant and will in turn, help keep the plant disease free. Not to mention, it makes harvesting the plentiful fruits much easier!

Harvesting Tips

Tomatillos are great producers.  They are prolific and will bloom and fruit nonstop until cold weather. This means you can enjoy salsa verde all summer long!

Pick the tomatillo fruits when they begin to plump out enough so that the husks just begin to split. If you wait too late, the tomatillo loses its peak flavor. You can store tomatillos in their husks at room temperature for up to a week or in the refrigerator for up to three weeks…but using them fresh out of the garden is best.

To cook or eat, simply remove the papery husks and wash the fruit inside, then enjoy in your favorite recipes. If you’re short on ideas, just consult a Mexican cookbook as they are used frequently in this kind of cuisine. Salsa is a wonderful place to begin. Additionally, tomatillos are delicious fresh-roasted on the grill.

You can freeze tomatillos after they have been peeled, washed, and dried.

With tomatillos, it is easy to enjoy a little exotic taste of ancient culture right at home. Enjoy!

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