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, make sure the area you choose in your garden gets full sunshine and is well-drained. They don’t like soaking wet ground because they are native to a hotter climate. You also want the soil to be as close to a pH of 7.0 as possible.
You can buy your plants already started at a garden center in your area. If you can’t find them, start 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 after all chance of frost has gone by. 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 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, set the plants 2 feet apart, or if you want to let them sprawl, set them 3 feet apart.
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 weeds for your growing tomatillos.
When to Harvest Tomatillos
Harvesting the growing tomatillos is easy enough. 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 for up to two weeks, and even longer if you put them in a plastic storage bag.