I wanted to grow tomatillos in my container garden. The main reason being this plant is rare to find in India. And I’ve heard it tastes great with its tart and sweet flavor.
You can grow tomatillos in pots that are 12-inches deep and wide or at least 5 gallon in size. You need to use good potting soil, provide required moisture and nutrients, and at least 8 hours direct sunlight for tomatillos in pots.
You will find it interesting to grow these plants in your own garden. So follow the steps that I’ve written below and you’ll have no problems growing them.
1. Pick the best time to grow tomatillos
Tomatillos are a warm-season plant so the best time to grow them is in the spring/summer of your area. You want the temperature to be above 65 degrees Fahrenheit before growing them in your container garden.
The best time to grow them is a couple of weeks after the last average frost date of your area has passed just to be safe.
You may have a short growing season in your area but don’t worry because you can start the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last average frost date. You can then transplant the grown seedlings outdoors.
Since you’ll be growing the tomatillo seedlings for several weeks indoors, you’ll need to use a big enough pot for the seedlings till they have grown a few inches.
You can then transplant the seedlings from that pot to the larger pot you have in your container garden outdoors.
2. Find out how long the variety takes to grow
The tomatillo plants take about 90-120 days to grow and have tomatillo fruits ready for harvest. Make sure the plant can get plenty of sunlight and warm temperatures during this period.
You will know when the tomatillos are ready by looking at the outer cover which may have dried or started peeling. That’s the best time to harvest the tomatillos.
If you leave them for too long on the plant, they will turn yellow in color and lose their tart and sweet flavor.
3. Choose the right pot to grow tomatillos
Choose a pot that is at least 5-gallons to grow tomatillos. Such a pot will be at least 12-inches deep and wide making it a suitable container to use.
You can choose from materials like plastic, ceramic, terracotta, metal, or wood for the pot based on your preference. I like plastic because it’s cheap, durable, lightweight, and does not lose moisture fast.
Remember to look for a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom. These will help the excess water flow out when you are watering the tomatillo plant.
4. Prepare the pot to plant tomatillos
Before you can use the pot for adding the potting soil and seeds, you want to sterilize them. This helps remove unwanted pests, diseases, and chemicals from the pot.
The simplest way to do this is to use a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Keep the pot in this solution for 1 hour to sterilize it. Then take it out and rinse it well with clean water.
You can then dry it in the sun before using it for your tomatillo seeds or seedlings.
Add a few layers of newspaper to the bottom of the pot. This will seal the drainage holes at the bottom so the potting soil does not fall out.
You can buy some potting soil from a garden center, nursery, or online store. I recommend using potting soil rather than garden soil because it may contain pests, diseases, and chemicals.
The tomatillo plant will grow well in soil with loose texture but the garden soil may contain too much sand or clay. It may not retain water or drain out the water too fast.
It’s easy to make your own potting soil if you get the right materials. Mix 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part coco coir to make some good potting soil for growing the tomatillo plant.
You can add the potting soil to the pot so it fills it. But keep a couple of inches free from the rim of the pot. This will help you water the potting soil without spilling the contents out of the pot.
5. Plant tomatillos in the pot
You can either grow the tomatillos from seed or seedlings depending on your needs.
You get a lot more options when starting seeds. But if you have a short growing season, you’ll have to start the seeds indoors. You can buy the seeds from a local garden center, nursery, or online store.
The other option is to directly start with seedlings you purchase from a garden center or nursery. This helps you avoid the time you spend germinating the seeds so they develop into seedlings. The drawback is that you don’t get as many choices for which variety of the plant you grow.
If you start seeds directly in the pot, you need to plant 2-3 seeds together. This helps increase the chances that at least one of the seeds will germinate. You need to plant the seeds 1/4th inch into the potting soil.
Water the potting soil to keep it moist for the seedlings to germinate. You want to avoid splashing too much water as it can dislodge the seeds or drown them.
The tomatillo seeds will germinate after 7-10 days depending on how well you provided sunlight, moisture, and the right temperature. If you’re growing the seeds indoors, you’ll need to provide artificial light and heat.
If you’re growing the seeds outdoors, let the seedlings continue to grow. If you started seeds indoors, you’ll need to transplant them when they have grown 3-4 inches tall.
You should harden the seedlings before you can do this. Hardening means you keep the seedlings outside for a few hours every day and bring them back inside.
This helps the seedlings get used to the outdoor environment. Transplanting them immediately outdoors will stress them causing transplant shock. This can stunt their growth or kill the plant.
Once you have hardened the seedlings for a week, you can transplant them to the pot outdoors. This process is the same if you bought the seedlings from a store.
Make a hole in the center of the potting soil. Gently press the base of the pot containing the seedlings to remove the plant along with the rootball.
You need to place the rootball in the hole you dug in the potting soil. Make sure to cover the rootball with potting soil so no roots are exposed.
Gently press the potting soil near the base of the plant so it becomes firm and gives good support to the plant. Now you can water the potting soil thoroughly till the water drains out from the drainage holes at the bottom.
6. Place the pot in a good sunny location
Tomatillo plants are a warm-season plant that needs full sun. This means you need to place the pot in a location that gets at least 8-10 hours of direct sunlight every day.
If you started seeds indoors, you’ll need to either keep the pot near a windowsill that gets good sunlight or use artificial lights. If you use artificial lights you may need to keep them on for 12-16 hours every day.
The tomatillo plant is hardy and can grow even in partial shade or less light, but the growth will be prolonged.
In the summer, the weather may get very hot especially in the afternoon. This may cause the tomatillo leaves to wilt or curl up. It’s best to move the pot to a cool location when such conditions occur.
7. Water tomatillos in the pot
The tomatillo plant needs at least 1-inch of water every week to keep growing well. So you need to keep the right moisture in the potting soil.
The plant is hardy, and you can get away without watering the plant for 4-5 days, but this can stress the plant, and you want to avoid this.
I like to check the plants in my container garden every morning for pests, diseases, and moisture. I stick my finger 1-2 inches in the potting soil to measure how much moisture is present in the soil.
If the tip of the finger does not feel moist, it means the soil is dry and you need to water it. You should water the potting soil thoroughly until water comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom. This ensures that the required moisture has reached all parts of the potting soil and roots of the tomatillo plant.
You want to use a watering can to put water near the base of the plant. Avoid spilling water on the foliage as this can cause a humid condition that attracts fungal diseases to the plant.
It’s good to water in the morning because if there’s any excess water on the leaves, it will dry when the sun comes out.
I also recommend adding a layer of mulch to the potting soil. This could be organic material like grass clippings, wood chips, dried leaves, hay, or moss.
The layer of mulch helps insulate the potting soil from the outdoor weather. This means the moisture will remain in the potting soil for a longer period of time. So you don’t need to water the plant as often.
8. Thin the tomatillo seedlings in the pot
When starting seeds, we plant 2-3 of them together. The idea is that there is a better chance that at least one of them will germinate.
But if all of the seeds germinate you have the problem of potential overcrowding. This happens when the plants are competing with each other for nutrients.
Thinning is the process where you let one of the seedlings grow but cut off the remaining ones in the pot. You can pick the seedling to grow based on how healthy it looks.
The best time to thin the tomatillo seedlings is when they have grown about 2-4 inches tall and have grown a few leaves.
9. Add fertilizer to the tomatillo plants
I like to add compost to my potting soil when preparing the pot. This helps add the required texture, nutrients, and beneficial organisms to the potting soil.
You can also add compost every month to the potting soil as the tomatillo plant continues to grow. It’s best if you can make your own compost rather than purchase some from the store. They can be less effective.
If you cannot manage compost, the next best option is to use organic fertilizer. You can add a granular slow-release fertilizer to the potting soil when preparing it. And you can add a small quantity of such fertilizer every month.
The slow-release fertilizer releases into the potting soil every time you water the plant. And provides the required nutrients to the roots.
Another option is to use a liquid fertilizer that is absorbed faster into the plant. You can spray such fertilizer once every couple of weeks on the tomatillo plants.
When the plants are in the seedling stage, it’s best to use a balanced fertilizer having N-P-K values of 10-10-10. This will ensure the overall development of the plant’s roots and foliage.
Once the plant has matured to a certain level and ready to produce flowers, it’s best to switch to a fertilizer low in nitrogen. One such fertilizer would have an N-P-K of 5-10-10.
The low nitrogen will ensure that the tomatillo plant focuses its energy on producing healthy roots, flowers, and fruits. It will spend less energy on growing more foliage.
I suggest you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the quantity of the fertilizer as well as the number of times you need to add it to the potting soil or plant.
10. Provide support to the tomatillo plants
The tomatillo plants can grow about 3-4 feet in height. This is not very tall but you may still need to support the plant.
That’s because the plant can have plenty of foliage as it grows into a bush variety. It may grow plenty of fruits that will drag the plant to the ground.
The moment the plant touches the ground, there is a high risk of pests and diseases infecting it.
That’s why the best option is to use support such as a tomato cage to grow the tomatillo plant as well. Place the tomato cage around the pot as soon as you have planted the seeds or seedlings.
As the tomatillo plant grows into a thicker bush, you can guide the stems to the cage wall so it can get encouraged to grow vertically. The cage will also make it easier to harvest the tomatillos from the plant.
11. Prune the tomatillo plants in pots
Your tomatillo plant will start growing well with plenty of foliage. But too much foliage can be a bad thing for the plant as it requires a lot of energy.
The plant is spending a lot of its nutrients on growing new foliage rather than preparing to grow flowers and eventually the tomatillos.
You want to encourage the plant to stop growing foliage and start developing flowers. The best way to do this is with the method of pruning.
Pruning means you voluntarily cut off some leaves and branches of the plant. You may even remove dead parts of the plant including yellowing leaves, dry branches, dead flowers, and even diseased tomatillos.
I recommend using a bypass pruner to cut off the parts of the tomatillo plant. You want to sterilize the bypass pruner with rubbing alcohol before doing this.
This will help reduce the chances of diseases infecting the plant. The cut made with the bypass pruner is also clean. So it helps the plant heal faster.
I also suggest not to prune more than 1/3rd of the tomatillo plant at a time. Otherwise, the plant can get stressed and stop producing flowers and fruits as it focuses on healing itself.
12. Pollinate the tomatillo plants
A tomatillo plant will grow both male and female flowers. But the problem is that it is not self-pollinating. This means that the pollen from the male flower is not compatible with the female flower on the same plant.
This means you’ll need to grow at least a couple of tomatillo plants in your garden so they can pollinate and grow tomatillos.
If you grow some native plants in your garden, you’ll attract pollinators like bees. They will take the pollen of the flowers from one tomatillo plant to the other and pollinate them.
The problem can occur when beneficial insects like bees don’t find your garden attractive or don’t visit the tomatillo plants. The solution is to hand-pollinate the plants yourself.
The first method is to use a small paintbrush to brush the pollen from the stamen male flower of one tomatillo plant. You then brush the pollen on to the stigma of female flowers on the other plant.
The other option is to pluck a male flower from one of the tomatillo plants. Then gently brush the pollen-filled stamen of this male flower on the stigma of the female flowers you find on the other plant.
13. Harvest tomatillos from the pot
The right time to harvest tomatillos will depend on the variety you are growing. Usually, you should be able to harvest them about 90-120 days after planting the seeds.
It’s best to check out the seed packets or the seedling tags to find out after how many days the tomatillos will be ready for harvest.
The fruit has an outer husk that will start to dry or peel off. That’s when you know it’s the right time to start harvesting the tomatillos.
You want to avoid leaving them on the plant till they turn yellow. This will make the fruit flavorless instead of their tangy and sweet taste.
You can pluck the tomatillos by hand but I suggest using a bypass pruner. The cut will be clean and with less effort. This helps lower the chances that any bacterial or viral disease can infect the plant.
You can cut a little bit of the stem along with the fruit to keep them fresh for a longer time. You can even harvest the tomatillos a bit early and leave them in a cool, dry, place to ripen.
The ripe tomatillo fruits will stay fresh on the shelf for about 1 week. You can store them in the refrigerator for a longer period of time.