Tomatillo Plant Profile

tomatillo growing in a garden

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

In This Article

Ever wondered what those green tomato-like fruits are in salsa verde? What gives salsa verde such a distinctive flavor are not green tomatoes, but a close relative of the tomato, tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa). Although tomatillos are related to tomatoes, their appearance and flavor are markedly different.

Tomatillos have heavily serrated obovate leaves, with five-petaled yellow flowers with dark splotches at the base. The round fruits are covered in a papery husk and look like hanging lanterns while growing. As tomatillos mature, they completely fill out the husk and it splits open to reveal the plump little fruits inside. The conventional green tomatillo turns either apple-green or yellow when fully ripe. The purple tomatillo starts green, then turns a dusky eggplant color. The purple varieties tend to be a bit less sour than the green, although both are tart.

Tomatillos are similar in appearance to cape gooseberries and ground cherries, but again, their flavors are not really comparable. Tomatillos are much tarter than these fruits, which makes them great choices for dishes such as salsa verde. However, the leaves, stems and husks of these plants are toxic.

Tomatillos are generally started indoors, six to eight weeks before last frost. Seed germination to mature fruit usually takes 75 to 100 days for most varieties.

Botanical Name Physalis ixocarpa
Common Name Tomatillo, husk tomato
Plant Type Perennial vegetable; usually grown as an annual
Size 18 to 36 in. tall; 18- to 24-inch spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral (6.5–7.0)
Native Area Mexico
Hardiness Zones 8–10 (USDA); grown as annuals in all zones
Toxicity Leaves, stems and husks are toxic
tomatillo buds
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
budding tomatillos
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
tomatillos ready for harvest
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

How to Plant Tomatillos

Tomatillo nursery seedlings are not always widely available, but the plants are very easy to start from seed. You can start seed outdoors after all danger of frost, or indoors, six to eight weeks before your outdoor planting date. It's important to remember that you will need at least two tomatillo plants to ensure pollination and fruit production. Tomatillos are sterile, meaning the flowers of an individual plant cannot pollinate themselves. You will need more than one plant to get fruits.

Tomatillos are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Wait until the ground has warmed and all danger of frost has passed before transplanting outdoors. Give seedlings plenty of time to harden off before planting; nighttime temperatures should be 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Like tomatoes, tomatillos produce roots all along the stem, so the seedlings should be planted deeply.

The plants are bushy and about 2 to 3 feet tall. They can get heavy with fruit and staking or caging is highly recommended. Harvesting is easier with at least 3 to 4 feet between plants.

Tomatillos are largely trouble-free, provided you provide enough air circulation to prevent fungal diseases. Snails, slugs, and beetles may be rare problems

Tomatillo Care


To fruit well and remain healthy, give your tomatillo plants a spot in full sun.


Add plenty of organic matter to the soil before planting. Tomatillos prefer a well-drained, somewhat neutral soil pH of around 6.5 to 7.0, but for the most part, they will grow anywhere there is heat, sunshine, and regular water.


Tomatillos are fairly drought-tolerant but thrive best with about 1 inch of water per week.

Temperature and Humidity

Tomatillos thrive in climates with hot summers. Humidity levels are generally not a factor.


There is no need to fertilize tomatillos. However, even though tomatillos are lighter feeders than tomatoes, it's a good idea to work in some compost to the soil before planting.


  • 'Cisineros' produces very large, green fruits.
  • 'di Milpa' is a small wild variety. The name translates as "from the field."
  • 'Pineapple has small, sweet-tasting fruits.
  • 'Purple" is an heirloom variety with large, sweet fruits.
  • 'Toma Verde' is a traditional green variety.
  • 'Verde Puebla' is a large productive green variety.


Tomatillo plants tend to grow in height and produce a lot of leaves before they start producing flowers and fruits. You can expect the fruits to start maturing in 75 to 100 days. Once they do start setting fruits, the plants will remain productive until frost. Watch for the moment when the husks begin to split open as the fruits fill out. You can harvest before splitting happens, but the fruits get sweeter as they mature.

Tomatillo fruits have a sticky film on them, which washes off easily enough. If you plan to store your tomatillos, keep them in their husks, and refrigerate them. However they will only last a couple of weeks, so use them up fast.

Tomatillos are a traditional ingredient of Mexican salsas, especially green sauces like salsa verde. They are also excellent grilled just until charred and slightly softened, or mixed into chili and stews.

Propagating Tomatillos

Tomatillos can be propagated from seeds saved from the pulp of the fruit. Soak the squeezed-out pulp in a bit of water until mold forms on the top. This fermentation phase removes the gel coating from the seeds. Rinse well, and place on a paper plate to dry. Do not dry the seeds on paper towels, because they will stick. Dry thoroughly, place in a paper envelope, then store seeds in a cool, dark location to use the following spring. Tomatillos sometimes self-seed in the garden when fruits fall to the soil and are left to rot. These volunteer seedlings can be carefully transplanted elsewhere in the garden.

Tomatillos are also fairly easy to propagate from stem cuttings.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Iannotti, Marie. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast. Timber Press, 2014.

  2. Growing Tomatillos. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

  3. Growing Tomatillos and Ground Cherries In Home Gardens. University of Minnesota Extension