Start your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before you intend to transplant them outside. Sow seeds a ¼” deep in your favorite seed starting mix. Tomatillo seeds will appreciate warmth to germinate, so a seedling heat mat will help, or the top of your refrigerator or clothes dryer may work for you. You should see germination within 5-8 days.
As part of the Solanaceae family, Tomatillo are frost-sensitive plants. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the ground is sufficiently warmed before planting them outdoors. Here in Western NC, that is around Mother’s Day.
Use grow lights for 12-16 hours a day to keep your seedlings healthy and prevent “leggy” plants. Harden off your seedlings before planting outdoors, and choose a spot with fertile, well-drained soil with at least 8 hours a day of bright, direct sunlight per day. Plant seedlings deep, as you would with tomatoes, leaving about three sets of leaves above ground.
Tomatillos will also do well in containers. Because of their tendency to sprawl even when staked, many folks prefer to grow in containers to control their spacing better. Choose a container with at least 12” depth, and remember containers will need to be watered more often because they will dry out quickly.
Tomatillos will produce fruit non-stop until frost kills the plants. Often, the fruit will fall off of the plant before they are ripe. You can just pick up the fallen fruit and let them continue to ripen inside their husk. The husk will take on a straw-colored, papery look when they are ready.
To eat them, peel off the husk. If you aren’t going to eat the fruit right away, it’s best to leave the husk on and store them at room temperature on your kitchen counter.
Tomatillo, Physalis spp.
Pollination, insect; Life Cycle, annual; Isolation Distance, 800 feet
Tomatillos have perfect flowers, but are self-incompatible and require cross-pollination by insects in order to set seed. At least 4 plants should be planted to ensure viable seeds. Tomatillo seeds can be hard to harvest due to their dense flesh. Our favorite method is to put the fruits in a blender with equal parts water and pulsing on low until the fruit is mashed. Allowing the seeds to then settle will have the seeds sinking to the bottom and the wet chaff floating to the top, which can then be poured off and the seeds spread out to dry. Fermentation is not necessary.