Looking for something fresh and interesting for your container garden? Try growing tomatillos in pots! Like their tomato cousins, tomatillos thrive in pots and have so many uses in the kitchen.
The tomatillo (pronounced tow-muh-TEE-oh) is part of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. But even though they’re round and green, and many of the Spanish names for tomatillos include a reference to tomatoes, they aren’t baby tomatoes.
Tomatillos have a papery husk and a tart, tangy flavor. They’re usually green when ripe and less juicy than tomatoes.
Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa) are a frost-sensitive perennial native to Central America, though they’re most often grown as an annual.
The tomatillo fruit is used both cooked and raw in both savory and sweet dishes, most often in salsa and guacamole. They can also be cooked down and used as a sauce on meat or seafood. Or try adding them as a tart, nutritious addition to any fruit or veggie smoothie!
Tomatillos are a great source of nutrients including vitamins A, C, and potassium.
They’re also a delicious and easy-to-grow addition to your garden. They aren’t fussy about growing conditions and can withstand more heat than some other nightshades.
Tomatillos are also prolific producers, with as many as 12 tomatillos growing per plant. If you’re working with limited space on a patio or deck, growing tomatillos in pots is an excellent way to have your own fresh supply, right outside your kitchen door!
Read on for all the details you need about how to grow tomatillos from seed, what size container works best, and how to water and fertilize them.
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Growing tomatillos from seed
Tomatillo plants are frost-sensitive and do best when started indoors or planted from transplanted seedlings.
It’s best to plant seeds indoors at least 4-6 weeks before last frost, to give them plenty of time to get established before going outside. (Here’s a handy frost date calculator if you’re not sure about your local timing.)
Sow seeds indoors 1/4 inch deep in high-quality potting soil (see below for recommendations) or seed starting mix, and tamp lightly. Keep the soil moist until germination, which can take about 10 days.
I also highly recommend using a heat mat for heat-loving plants like tomatillos. My favorite is the highly-rated VIVOSUN Waterproof Seedling Heat Mat. It’s super popular for a reason! I have two and pack all my herb and veggie seed trays on them to get things going.
To sow outdoors, plant the seeds directly in potting mix at least 2-4 weeks after last frost, when soil temperatures consistently reach at least 60 degrees. Gently water them in.
Even though it will mean later harvest after a long growing season, don’t rush this part! Cool temperatures and any hint of frost will hinder growth.
Tomatillos germinate fairly slowly, taking up to 10 days to emerge, so be patient!
Once they sprout, keep them well-watered with a misting spray bottle so they don’t dry out.
Or start from seedlings
I recommend sowing tomatillos from seed when possible. But good-quality transplants can work well too!
Either way, when you’re working with seedlings, be sure to harden them off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions before planting in your container garden. Set them out in indirect sunlight for an hour or two per day for a 5-7 days, adding a bit more time and direct sunlight each day until they’re outside full time.
Best varieties of tomatillos for containers
My favorite seed company by far is Botanical Interests. They specialize in organic and heirloom varieties, at reasonable prices and with excellent quality. Their seed packets are also unique and cool, with amazing artist renderings of each plant and a lot of helpful planting and growing information.
They suggest these tomatillo varieties:
- Grande Rio Verde – produces lots of fruit on compact plants about 24″ tall … great for containers!
- Organic Purple Tomatillos – sweeter than green varieties, with lots of antioxidants … and amazing color!
How to grow tomatillos in containers
Like most vegetables, tomatillos like full sun and plenty of water, with well-drained soil. Be sure to place them in a sunny spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.
One of the nice things about container gardens is that you can move the pots around as the sun moves with the season — so if you’re getting full sun in spring but partial shade by mid-summer, consider moving them. Sometimes even a foot or two can make a big difference!
Tomatillos will start to produce fruit in late summer. The tomatillos themselves will be green, but the husk will turn brown when they’re ripe. Harvest them by pulling gently on the stem and twisting – don’t cut them off!
Store tomatillos in the fridge, where they’ll keep for about two weeks.
Best potting soil for tomatillos
Good potting soil is always crucial to the health and success of container plants, as they have limited access to nutrients and water compared to in-ground plants.
Overall best option: Miracle Gro Potting Mix – I’ve tried a lot of potting soil options … somehow I always go back to this standby because it’s so consistent, reliable and effective.
Best organic option: Fox Farm Ocean Forest Potting Mix – super high quality and popular for a reason!
How many tomatillo plants should I grow?
The average tomatillo plant can produce as many as 12 or more fruit, but they’re small, so expect about a pound or so total.
So if you’re hoping to have enough for fresh and preserved use — and to help with pollination (see below) — you’ll want to grow at least 2-3, if possible. Most salsa verde recipes call for a pound or more of tomatillos.
Best containers for growing tomatillos
Tomatillos do best in larger pots, as they can easily get big and sprawly. And like tomatoes, they need plenty of water. Bigger containers have more soil, which helps with water retention.
As I say in just about every post, I highly recommend fabric grow bags! They’re reusable, versatile and easy to move around. They’re also excellent at maintaining just the right amount of water retention.
My favorite grow bags are the VIVOSUN brand. I’ve used them for smaller greens like kale and spinach … compact vining plants like peas and beans … and even big robust cucurbits including pumpkins, squash and cucumbers.
They come in a wide range of sizes to accommodate just about any size plant. For space-needing, water-loving tomatillos, I recommend sticking with the bigger 15- to 20-gallon varieties:
15-gallon fabric grow bags: 1 tomatillo plant
20-gallon fabric grow bags: 2 tomatillo plants
Tomatillos need about 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Water at the base of the plant at the soil level, rather than over the top of the foliage, to prevent fungus and improve water retention.
Fertilize tomatillos with a balanced organic fertilizer every two weeks or so.
Like tomatoes, tomatillos thrive with high potassium for flower production and fruit bearing. I highly recommend Jobe’s Organics Tomato Slow-Release Plant Food … you just mix a handful into the soil when you plant. So easy and I’ve found it really makes a difference.
Important note: Make sure you cut back on (or avoid) nitrogen-heavy fertilizer as soon as you see flowers developing. Nitrogen helps with initial foliage growth but can hinder fruit (and flowers are the first sign of fruit on the way!).
You can also side dress tomatillos, which means mulching around the plants with aged compost. That can help keep the soil moist and feed the plants at the same time.
Trellis or support
Tomatillo plants can grow as high as 4 feet tall, so they do best with some support.
I love these tall tomato cages: K-Brands 48” stakes. They’re highly rated and work great for a wide variety of veggies and vining plants. They’re very durable and easy to set up, and I’ve had great luck with this brand and style for peas, beans, pumpkins and more.
Be sure to place the trellis when you transplant seedlings or when your homegrown seedlings reach about 4-6″ tall. Installing a support near a mature plant can damage roots.
How to harvest tomatillos
Tomatillos will start to produce fruit in late summer, usually between 75-100 days after sowing (depending on variety and growing conditions). If you transplanted, expect fruit about 65 days after transplanting.
The tomatillos themselves should be firm and green, and the husk will turn from green to tan or brown when they’re ripe. Harvest them by pulling gently on the stem and twisting.
Are ground cherries the same as tomatillos?
You’ll see different answers for this online, but no, ground cherries are not the same as tomatillos. They’re in the same genus (Physalis) but different species.
- Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa, P. philadelphica)
- Ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa, P. pubescens, P. grisea, P. peruviana and others)
How do you pollinate tomatillos?
Tomatillos are notoriously bad at self-pollination. While bees and other pollinators can do the job, you might consider hand pollinating your plants just to be sure.
It’s also advisable to plant at least two near each other for increased odds at pollination.
Check out my post about How to Hand Pollinate Vegetables for all the details!
How to preserve tomatillos
Tomatillos will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, if left in the husks and stored in a paper bag.
To preserve tomatillos, wash them thoroughly and remove the husks, then chop and either can or freeze them. To freeze, set on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Then you can transfer to a bag or other container for easy storage.
When it comes to canning, tomatillos tend to be firmer and less juicy than tomatoes, so they’re not as easy to can whole. The Practical Self Reliance site has a good in-depth post about how to can tomatillos.
Tomatillos are amazing in a variety of recipes, including salsa verde (green salsa), soups, smoothies and more. Here’s a list of 40 tomatillo recipes to try with the bounty from your container garden!
Remember to grow 2-3 or even more tomatillo plants if you have big plans for salsa, canning, etc.
More ideas for container garden inspiration:
- Compost 101
- Potting Soil 101
- Dirty Dozen foods you can grow in containers
- How to grow bell peppers in containers
- Growing pumpkins in containers
- How to grow green beans in a pot
- How to grow garlic in pots
- Growing jalapeños in pots
- Growing corn in containers
- Growing beets in containers
- How to grow edamame