Tomatillos Can’t Grow It Alone

Each year we try a new plant or two in the garden. Sometimes the new plants do well and become favorites to be grown again and sometimes we need to stick to the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Well, next growing season we will be trying to grow tomatillos again. This summer’s attempt was a flop!

Well, not a complete flop. We learned some things about growing tomatillos. Check out this photo of one tomatillo plant. (Click on images to see a larger view.)

Single tomatillo plant
Single tomatillo plant laid in front of garage door.

Several plants were started by seed, but I don’t think the growing area was warm enough for the tomatillos to really get going. Maybe they are just not so easy to start via seeds indoors. Since it was our first attempt at growing them I can only guess as to what went wrong.

Only a couple of seedlings made it to the transplant stage and only one plant lived through the transfer to the garden. It totally loved where it was growing, but the sad thing was that the fruit did not mature. Take a look at the puny harvest.

Small fruits, small harvest
Small fruits, small harvest

Fruits should be big enough to burst their papery husk, like at least as big as a golf ball. Tomatillos that I’ve seen in the grocery store are almost two inches across. Our fruits were pea-sized to the size of a nickel.

Marble and pea size tomatillos.
Marble and pea size tomatillos.

The exciting thing is how well the one plant grew. It sprawled all over the garden as if it was trying to reach all corners of it. The one plant stretched to fill a 10 x 15ft. area. When the plant was pulled from the ground it still had tons of flowers on it. (Photos taken 18Oct21013 on the harvest date.)

True to tomato family fashion, the tomatillo plant developed roots where it touched the ground. That helps to anchor the plant and support its sprawling growth habit. This reminds me for next year to plant the transplants deeply in their holes as roots will develop all along the stem.

tomatillos rooted where they touched the ground
Roots grew out of the tomatillo stems that touched the ground.

Even though there were plenty of bees to pollinate the multitude of flowers on the single tomatillo plant, the fruit really needed to be set with pollen from another plant.

Tomatillo flowers and fruit husks.
Tomatillo flowers and fruit husks.

Growing one plant won’t provide the fruit that we seek because of the self-incompatability of the tomatillo plant, Physalis philadelphica. Tomatillos need some company to set fruit and just can’t go it alone. A majority of the husks on our single plant were empty and devoid of fruit.

Next year we will try to grow tomatillos again. As long as we make sure to have more than one plant we’ll be making some green salsa!