By Kathee Mierzejewski
If you’ve ever seen one, you probably wonder, “What is a tomatillo?” Tomatillo plants (Physalis philadelphica) are native to Mexico. They are quite common in the western hemisphere of the United States, and will most assuredly be found growing in Texas and New Mexico.
When you plant your tomatillos, you should make sure the area you choose in your garden gets full sunshine and is well-drained. They do not like soaking wet ground because they are native to a hotter climate. You also want the ground soil to be as close to a pH of 7.0 as possible. This is the pH the tomatillo grow best.
You can buy your plants already started at the garden center in your area. If you can’t find them, you should start your seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost is expected. Of course, if you live in a warmer climate, you can start your tomatillo plants directly in the ground. Do this only after all chance of frost has gone by. You don’t want there to be a frost as your tomatillo plants will surely die. Also be aware that tomatillos are not self-fertilizing. This means that you need at least two tomatillo plants in order to get fruit. Otherwise, you’ll have empty tomatillo husks.
You can harden your tomatillo plants when the weather reaches 50 degrees F. (10 C.) and consistently stays that way at night. By hardening, you should set them outdoors a little at a time so they get used to the outdoors.
The tomatillo grow well in tomato cages or by themselves. If you put your tomatillo plants in cages, you should set the plants two feet apart. If you want to let them sprawl, you can place them in the ground and let your tomatillo grow three feet apart. They will spread some, so you need to give them space to roam.
If water is scarce, you can water them. They do well without a lot of water, but do not like drought conditions. Organic mulch is a great product to help retain moisture and keep out weeks for your growing tomatillos.
When to Harvest Tomatillos
Harvesting the growing tomatillos is easy enough. You just wait for the fruit to get firm and the husk to get dry, papery and straw colored. Once this happens, your tomatillos are ready to pick.
Tomatillos store well in the refrigerator. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and even longer if you put them in a plastic storage bag.