One of the most popular types of vegetables in Mexico thrives excellently in summer hobby gardens in local regions. The tomatillo thus opens up a unique opportunity for fans of Mexican cuisine to cultivate an extravagant plant in their kitchen garden at home. This does not necessarily mean that the Physalis philadelphica comes along with capricious claims – quite the opposite. Gourmets will vehemently deny any resemblance to the tomato. With regard to their cultivation, there are nevertheless extensive analogies. This circumstance is not least due to the fact that tomatillos belong to the nightshade family. Find out in detail below how cultivation, care and wintering work.


  • Plant family of the nightshade family (Solanaceae)
  • Genus Bladder Cherry (Physalis)
  • Art Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica)
  • Native to South America, particularly Mexico
  • Annual cultivated herbaceous plant
  • Growth height from 150 to 200 centimeters
  • Self-sterile, yellow flowers with a black center
  • Spherical, green fruits in a lampion-like shell
  • Toxic solanine content in green parts of plants and unripe fruits

There is a closer botanical relationship with the well-known Cape gooseberry , although both species differ significantly in terms of use. Tomatillos are primarily used to make spicy dishes such as salsa verde. In addition, as they grow, they burst through the papery covering, making them unsuitable for decoration. Compared to the tomato, the tomatillo has a completely different pulp consistency, which is more reminiscent of an apple.

Cultivation of tomatillo

In view of a ripening time of about 70 days, cultivation behind glass is recommended in the local climate. This applies regardless of whether you grow Physalis philadelphica in beds or containers. Sow seeds indoors from mid-February. If a greenhouse is available, you can take your time until mid-March.

Like all seeds that thrive in pulp, tomatillo seeds are also subject to natural germination inhibition. With the help of a simple pre-treatment, the germination rate can be increased significantly.

  • Soak the seeds in lukewarm chamomile tea for half a day
  • Alternatively, soak in diluted garlic juice at room temperature
  • Don’t let the seeds dry out, sow them immediately


The use of a nutrient-poor peat-sand mixture is recommended as a substrate. Coconut fibers or fine-grained perlite have proven to be best. In addition, the specialist trade has special seed soil ready, which you should sterilize in advance to rule out any contamination by spores, viruses or insect eggs. For this purpose, the earth is placed in the oven for 30 minutes at 150 to 180 degrees top and bottom heat or in the microwave for 10 minutes at 800 watts.

  • Fill small growing pots to 75 percent with substrate
  • Spread the seeds 2-3 centimeters apart
  • Sieve thinly with substrate or sand and moisten

In order to provide the seed with the required germination temperature of 22 to 24 degrees Celsius at this early time of the year, a heatable indoor greenhouse is ideal. Alternatively, place the seed pots on the warm window sill and place a heating mat underneath. A conducive, humid and warm microclimate is created by cling film that is pulled over the pots. Germination begins within 2 to 4 weeks. During this phase of tomatillo cultivation, regular moistening of the substrate is of paramount importance for vigorous growth. The seedlings have not yet received fertilizer.


If the seeds are alive, the first step is to push two tiny cotyledons through the substrate. The first true pairs of leaves follow within a few days. Seedlings that have reached a height of 5 centimeters are pricked out. To do this, take a pricking stick and lift the strongest specimens out of the substrate. Pot them into their own 9 cm pots filled with potting soil. Singulation is more gentle if the most promising tomatillo remains in each seed container. Only when this pot has rooted through is the young plant transferred to a larger pot.

Tip: If the root strands are shortened to a length of 2 centimeters with scissors, this gardening trick encourages the further branching of a seedling.

plant out

Until mid-May, take care of the seedlings in a sunny, warm window seat, whereby the tender little plants should be protected from the blazing midday sun. The young tomatillos are now growing rapidly, so that it is sometimes necessary to repot them into a larger container in the meantime. In any case, it is advisable to support the young plants from a height of 10 centimeters with a stick. When the ice saints are over, plant out in the bed or bucket.

  • A sunny, warm, sheltered location is ideal
  • The soil is rich in nutrients, humic, fresh and moist and well drained
  • Soak the root balls of the still potted tomatillo in a container with water
  • Thoroughly weed the bedding soil, remove roots and enrich with sifted compost

After the preparation is complete, dig planting holes twice the volume of a root ball. Drainage at the bottom of the pit made of crushed potsherds, gravel or pumice serves to prevent waterlogging. Now unpot the tomatillo and plant it. Firm the soil well and water generously. A planting distance of 80 centimeters is considered appropriate. A stable support, such as a wooden stick or a trellis, is indispensable. Otherwise, a Physalis philadelphica will quickly sink to the ground and thrive creeping.

Note: Since the cold from the sheep is still threatening until the beginning of June, experienced hobby gardeners protect the tomatillo cultivation with a film at night until then.

If you prefer cultivation in a bucket, it should have a volume of at least 40 liters. Compost-based vegetable soil or your own mixture of garden soil, compost, leaf soil and sand or perlite is suitable as a substrate for permeability. Also consider a watering edge and an adequate climbing aid for the tomatillo. In addition, the bucket should be placed on a plant trolley so that the cold-sensitive plant can be pushed into the house overnight if necessary until after the sheep’s cold.


The key care aspects for growing tomatillo revolve around water and nutrient supply. Since the nightshade plant shoots up to 2 meters in height within a short time and produces 10 centimeters large, heavy fruits at the end of the season, it requires a large amount of energy.

watering and fertilizing

Depending on the weather, daily watering is required. It is always poured directly to the roots and not over the above-ground parts of the plant. The higher the temperatures, the higher the water requirement. A tomatillo should never dry out. At the same time, there must be no waterlogging, which would be accompanied by a latent risk of root rot. From this point of view, experienced hobby gardeners mulch the bed with leaves, straw, nettle leaves or lawn clippings. This keeps the soil moist and warm. At the same time, the mulch layer reduces the development of splashing water, so that the risk of infection from late blight is significantly reduced in damp weather.

  • Fertilize with compost every 2 weeks from May to August
  • Mineral fertilizer preparations are not appropriate
  • Fertilize in the tub with liquid fertilizer for vegetable plants

Pouring out

The striking affinity for cultivating tomatoes suggests that a tomatillo is to be pinched. Experience teaches that the nursing measure is not necessary in principle. If, on the other hand, you are aiming for the harvest of extra large fruits, the excess side shoots should be broken out in favor of a selected main shoot. Preferably in the early morning hours, snap off the stinging shoots so that the resulting wounds can heal by the evening. When doing this work, consider the need to stabilize remaining shoots with a support at the same time.

Idea: If the construction of a climbing aid or a trellis is too complex for you, simply stretch a cord between two high wooden posts. The long sprouts of a tomatillo are simply placed on top.

Remove king flower

Enthusiastic hobby gardeners can spend hours discussing the weal and woe of the royal blossom. In this regard, the pros and cons should always be weighed from an individual point of view. The king flower is the first flower of a Physalis philadelphica that arises from a Y-branching. This is where the first fruit will sprout. If you are aiming for a compact plant with small fruits, let the king flower do its thing. However, if you are pursuing the goal of growing a tall-growing tomatillo with numerous flowers and voluminous fruits, the royal flower has to give way. Otherwise, the plant invests a lot of energy in fruit at this early stage, at the expense of further growth. Cut out the flower with a knife or break it off by hand.

Pollinate manually

In the field, insects are responsible for pollinating tomatillo flowers. In the greenhouse or winter garden, in the absence of natural pollinators, artificial insemination is required. In addition, this measure serves to produce single-variety seeds if sowing is planned. This is especially true when different tomatillo varieties are grown and cared for. Since a Physalis philadelphica is self-fertile, the pollen from a second plant is essential for pollination. Here’s how to do it:

  • Manual pollination takes place just before the flower opens on its own
  • Carefully open the tomatillo flower with tweezers
  • Pick up the pollen with a brush, carry it to the flower of the second plant and apply to the stigma
  • Pack the pollinated flower in an air-permeable bag and label it

If a fruit begins to grow after some time, fertilization was successful and the sac can be removed. Ultimately, leave only as many flowers on the plant as you want fruit.


Native to the tropical regions of South America, the tomatillo is sensitive to cold. In the bed, the plant is therefore cultivated as an annual, especially since sowing and cultivation are so easy to do. Mother Nature nevertheless designed the Physalis phialdelphica for perennial culture. A container plant can therefore very well overwinter, as long as it is offered an adequate winter quarters.

  • After harvesting, cut back the tomatillo by two-thirds of its height
  • Carry in a bright room with temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius
  • Water less and do not fertilize during the winter
  • Gradually get used to higher temperatures and sun from March

Hobby gardeners with limited space cut off cuttings with a length of 10 to 15 centimeters in late summer. Half of these are defoliated and planted in potting soil. The offshoots spend the winter in the bright, warm window seat and receive regular water while they develop their own root system.

Note: If space permits, pruning a tomatillo should only take place after wintering in March. In this way, the plant starts the new season healthy and vital.

Hobby gardeners who like to break away from the traditional in their planting plan are on the right track with the cultivation of tomatillo. The tropical nightshade plant is considered an exciting alternative to tomatoes, not only in terms of appearance, but also in terms of taste. Sowing under glass from mid-February is recommended, with planting out from mid-May. The Physalis philadelphica also thrives in the bucket if a few care aspects are taken into account. The focus is on water and nutrient supply. The extent to which the towering plant is pinched is a matter for the individual gardener to decide. The same applies to handling the king flower and manual pollination. The flexible handling of a tomatillo continues with regard to its overwintering.

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