Tomatillos share many traits with tomatoes. Both fruits are members of the nightshade family, thrive in heat, and produce sprawling green plants. Where the two plants differ is in the flavor of their fruit. Tomatillos are firmer than tomatoes and when ripe they sport a tangy lemon flavor. An important ingredient in Mexican stews, moles, and salsas, tomatillos are easy to grow and delightfully productive in the home garden.
Tomatillo Salsa Garden
Plant a salsa garden by combining easy-to-grow tomatillos with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Choose a variety of paste tomatoes (with a firm texture and fewer seeds) and cherry tomatoes to change up the flavor of your fresh salsa. Peppers are available in many different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors. Plant a jalapeno type to give your salsa some heat and include a couple of favorite bell types to impart classic pepper flavor.
Tomatillos are grown just like tomatoes. Plant them in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. They tolerate short drought periods once their root system is established. Tomatillos are generally started from transplants purchased at the nursery and planted in the garden after the last chance of frost passes. They are also easy to start from seed. Start seedlings indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Before planting outside, harden off the transplants by placing them outdoors for a few hours at a time.
Tomatillos grow into large, sprawling plants. Space transplants 3 feet apart in rows 3 to 6 feet apart. Water plants as needed so they receive about 1 inch of water per week, either from rainfall or irrigation. Remove weeds regularly and apply a 2-inch-layer of shredded mulch to conserve soil moisture and control weeds.
Tomatillos are ready to harvest 75 to 100 days after transplanting. For best flavor, harvest the fruit when the husk changes from green to tan while the berry is still green. The size of the husk and fruit, as well as the color and flavor of the fruit vary by cultivar. Fresh tomatillos can be stored in their husks in a paper bag in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Remove their husks and refrigerate the fruit for 3 months.