Growing Tomatillos in Containers, Pots At Home

Growing Tomatillos in Containers

The Tomatillo is also known as the Mexican husk tomato is an annual plant of the nightshade family and its tart edible fruits. Tomatillos are great container plants for kitchen gardens. Tomatillo plants will need stakes, trellis, or other types of support. The flowers will attract bees, which will increase Tomatillo fruit production. Tomatillos do well in small 5-gallon plant containers with well-draining potting soil. The Tomatillo looks much like a tomato. The Tomatillo is generally green but can be orange, yellow, red, or even purple. Tomatillo is enclosed in a papery wrapping called a calyx. The condition of the calyx is used as an indicator of freshness in fresh markets. In this article we also discuss the below topics;

  • Can you grow Tomatillos in pots
  • Do Tomatillo plants need cages
  • How long do Tomatillos take to grow
  • Growing Tomatillos in pots
  • Pruning Tomatillos
  • Tomatillo plants growing tips
  • How do you grow Tomatillos
  • Tips for Growing Tomatillos
  • How do you harvest Tomatillos

A Step By Step Guide to Growing Tomatillos in Containers

Tomatillo Varieties

The best varieties of Tomatillos are given below;

Purple – This type has a dark purple colour skin that adds colour to the garden. It’s a lot sweeter than other green-coloured Tomatillos. Purple is equally delicious in salsa.

Purple Coban – Another purple-coloured variety, this one is an heirloom and it matures in 70 days.

Toma Verde – This type is quick-maturing Tomatillo (60 days) that produces large-sized fruits.

Tomayo – Tomayo plant yields big green balls of semi-sweet Tomatillos.

Amarylla – It is a yellow coloured variety that matures in about 60 days. 

Rio Grande Verde – For the gardener looking for a plant that yields big fruits, this variety is the number one choice.

Other Tomatillo Varieties to Grow in Your Garden are;

“Cisineros” – Very large, green fruits.

“di Milpa’ – Small wild variety.

“Pineapple” – Small and fruity tasting.

“Purple” – Heirloom purple variety with sweet fruits.

“Toma Verde” – A traditional green variety.

“Verde Puebla” – Large, productive green variety

Soil Requirement for Growing Tomatillos in Containers

Tomatillos need potting soil that drains well. Choose a soil that has been enriched with lots of organic matter like aged manure or mature compost. Then, add plenty of organic matter to the soil, before planting. Tomatillos prefer a somewhat neutral soil pH level of around 6.5 – 7.0, but for the most part, they will grow anywhere there is heat, sunshine, and regular water.

Difference Between Tomatoes and Tomatillos

Tomatoes and Tomatillos belong to the same nightshade family, but they are slightly different plants. Tomatillo fruits have a slightly more acidic, slightly less sweet flavor than ripe and unripe tomatoes. Overall, the Tomatillo fruit flavor is more vegetal and bright, and the interior texture is denser and less watery.

The Best Containers for Growing Tomatillos

Tomatillos are big and sprawling plants. They also need lots of water. To have the best chance for success growing Tomatillos, get the biggest container you can and then fill it up with a good quality potting soil. You’ll want to use a large size pot because the more potting soil you use the better the moisture retention will be, and the happier the plant. For growing Tomatillos, you can use almost any container that is big enough to hold at least a cubic foot of soil. A large reusable grocery bag or large conventional flower pot would work too. Also, growing Tomatillos in a grow box makes it easier to keep the plants hydrated.

Normally, Tomatillos need at least a 5-gallon pot per plant. They do best with ample space and lots of water, so the bigger container is better. You will need at least two Tomatillo plants to bear fruit (3 or 4 is ideal) and both containers need to sit near each other. Be sure your containers drain well or root rot will devastate your Tomatillo plants.

Growing Conditions for Tomatillos in Containers

  • Select a growing area with full sun exposure and well-drained rich soil. The Tomatillo is a lighter feeder than tomatoes, and they do not fare well in soggy, poorly drained soil.
  • Like tomatoes, Tomatillo plants need some support or they will sprawl over the ground and intrude on neighboring plants. Large tomato cages work well for Tomatillo plants.
  • You will want to plant your Tomatillos in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Also, these Tomatillo plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall so you’ll need a fairly large area to grow them. It is advised to stake or corral them if you don’t want them sprawling. You can use the same kind of stakes you use for tomatoes.
  • Tomatillo plants are large and vigorous plants so they need a lot of water.
  • If you are using a grow box, then follow the directions for the addition of fertilizer. If you are using a conventional pot, mix a slow-release fertilizer into the potting soil, following directions on the box. Tomatillo plants grow fine without additional fertilizer, however.
  • You will need two or more plants for the blooms to be pollinated and fruit to be produced.
  • Tomatillos need even moisture to prevent blossom end rot.
  • Don’t give Tomatillos supplemental fertilizer. Too much nitrogen results in more foliage and less fruit.
  • Most Tomatillo varieties have a bushy growth habit and require ample space to grow, so space your plants 24 to 48 inches apart.

How do you Propagate Tomatillos?

Tomatillos can be grown from seed or cuttings.

To propagate Tomatillo plants by seed, start seeds indoors 2 months before the last expected frost (seeds will germinate in 4 to 7 days). Seed trays aren’t large enough to grow Tomatillo seedlings for 2 months, so either uses a larger plant container when starting seeds or transplants seedlings into a large pot after the first set of true leaves forms. When bringing the young plants outside, harden them off by getting them used to the cooler outdoor garden weather. For a few days, keep the plants out in the sun only during the daytime and bring them back indoors at night.

Cuttings will take root easily. If plants sprawl, branches that touch the soil may develop plant roots on their own. If you wish to do cuttings, choose 6 inches or longer vigorous branch. Remove it along the stem, and strip off lower leaves, ensuring that a few leaves are remaining at the tip. Trim it down to 6 inches height. You can dip it in rooting hormone if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. Place your cutting into a container of moistened potting soil and it will form plant roots within a couple of weeks. Ensure your soil remains damp, but not soggy, while it’s setting roots. Then, this will be enough to keep your stem hydrated until it forms new roots to absorb nutrients.

Process of Planting Tomatillos

Tomatillo seedlings are not always widely available, but the plants are easy to start from seed. You can start seed indoors, about 4 weeks before your transplant. They germinate and grow quickly, much like tomatoes.

Tomatillo Plant.
Tomatillo Plant.

Tomatillos must be transplanted into the ground around the same time you plant your tomatoes. Tomatillo plants are a little more forgiving, but waiting until the nights start to warm up is ideal. These are very sensitive to cold temperatures.

It is important to remember that you will need at least 2 Tomatillo plants, for pollination and fruit production. Tomatillo plants are self-sterile; meaning the flowers of an individual plant cannot pollinate themselves. You will need more than one plant to get fruits.

The plants are bushy and about 2 – 3 feet tall. The plants can get heavy with fruit and staking or caging is highly recommended. You can plant them closely, but they are easier to harvest with at least 6 inches between plants.

Gardening Tips for Growing Tomatillos in Containers

Tips for Growing Tomatillos in Containers.
Tips for Growing Tomatillos in Containers
  • Plant Tomatillos in a sunshiny spot. For best results choose a spot that gets 8 or more hours of sun.
  • Tomatillos like the heat, but not the cold.
  • A rich, moist soil that drains well. They like to be water frequently, but Tomatillos don’t like soggy feet.
  • Tomatillos like friends. They need to be planted in multiples to pollinate and produce fruit. So plant at least two.
  • Like tomatoes, indeterminate Tomatillos will need support as they grow or they will be floppy. A simple cage or stake will work fine.
  • Also, as with tomatoes, Tomatillos are the perfect vegetable for planting in containers. Just make sure the container is large enough, and water often to compensate for container plants drying out quicker.
  • Like tomatoes, Tomatillos need some support or they will sprawl over the ground and intrude on neighboring plants. Large tomato cages work well for Tomatillos. Like tomatoes, you can set the transplants a little deeper in the ground than they were in their pots. The buried stem will turn into extra roots and help feed the plant.

Fertilizer Requirement for Growing Tomatillos in Containers

  • Tomatillo plants do not need much fertilizer to thrive if they are planted in nutrient-rich soil. Though, they will do best if fed occasionally with a compost tea. If you choose to purchase an organic fertilizer, try one that is low in nitrogen but high in potassium and phosphorus.
  • Start by applying about 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. Although moderately drought-tolerant, Tomatillo plants do best with an inch or so of water per week. If space is limited, pinch off the growing tips to control spread.
  • Tomatillo plants do well with regular application of a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous and potassium. Before planting, amend the soil with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, using 1/4 pound per every 50 square feet. Be sure to work the fertilizer deep in the soil. After harvesting the first Tomatillo fruits, apply a second feeding consisting of 5-10-10 fertilizer, using 1/2 cup for each plant. This second feeding helps Tomatillo plants continue flowering and producing fruit.

How Much Water Does a Tomatillo Plants Need?

Tomatillo plants need to be watered regularly. Never let the soil dry out but be sure not to let it get soggy either. Like tomatoes, Tomatillos need regular watering to produce fruit. Apply about 1 inch of water per week, or more if you live in dry conditions. Water at the base of the Tomatillo plant; overhead watering can encourage disease. Keep in mind that containers dry out fast. Keep an eye on them, particularly during dry spells. Ceramic pots tend to dry out quicker than plastic containers. Water Tomatillo plants at the base and be sure they get 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly.

Support for Tomatillo Plants

Tomatillo plants grow tall quickly and need support even before they start to bear fruit. Place a stake in your containers before transplanting to avoid damaging the plant roots later on. Gently tie the vines to the stake as they appear to need the support. Use a thick string or cloth to avoid damaging the vines. Be sure the vines do not touch the ground, which tends to attract pests and encourage disease.

Pruning Tomatillo plants

Light pruning is good for Tomatillo plants, as it promotes good air circulation around the plant. The majority of your pruning must be removing sucker shoots. A sucker shoot comes up in the V-shape created by the main stem and a branch. Simply pinch off the new shoot once it reaches 2-4 inches in length, or trim it off with a clean and sterile pair of pruning shears. Use metal or wooden stakes that are at least 2 inches in diameter and 4 or 5 feet tall.

Tomatillo Growing Problems

Tomatillos have only a few insect pests and diseases. Insect pests include cutworms, root-knot nematode, tobacco budworm, and whiteflies. Common diseases are black spot and tobacco mosaic virus.

Flea Beetles – Flea beetles are irritating little creatures that munch on the foliage of Tomatillo plants. A homemade spray should do the trick if you encounter them and need to get rid of them, but they’re not a big problem especially not with nearly mature plants.

Mosaic Virus – Mosaic virus eventually kills off plants. Affected plants should be destroyed and promptly removed from the garden.

Black Spot – Black spot is a fungal infection that plant leaves dark spots on foliage, but may eventually affect fruit appearance if left untreated. Certain fungicides can be applied to treat the issue, but to avoid it in the first place it’s best to ensure proper air circulation between plants and avoid overwatering.

Spider Mites – You’ll notice yellowing and browning leaves and lots of little spider-like insects. Prune away impacted plant leaves, and spray the plants with water. Use neem oil to control them long-term.

When and How to Harvest Tomatillos

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When and How to Harvest Tomatillos.
When and How to Harvest Tomatillos

Tomatillo plants tend to grow in height and produce a lot of leaves before they start producing fruits. You can expect the fruits to start maturing in 80 days. Harvest Tomatillos when the fruits fill out the husks and the husks begin to break open, about 100 days after transplanting. In some cases, the fruits will not break open the husks and you have to feel the fruits for firmness. Ripe Tomatillos turn green to pale yellow.

Harvest the Tomatillo fruits, husks, and all. If you are using them right away, remove the husks, and then wash the sticky fruits. Otherwise, leave the husks in place, and you can store the fruit for up to a month. Do not seal them in airtight containers or plastic bags; store them in mesh bags in a cool, well-ventilated spot. Smaller varieties are delicious for fresh eating.

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