Friday, August 17, 2012

Tomatillos, Part II By Amy Norwood

This is a sequel to the excellent post on growing tomatillos by Elizabeth Buckingham dated September 6, 2011,  a post I wish I had read before I planted my single tomatillo this spring.  Elizabeth warned us about single tomatillo plantings.
Tomatillo Plant

As of this writing , my tomatillo plant is a beauty, big and full with lots of wonderful flowers that have so far not started a single fruit.  I recently grew concerned about the lack of fruit and tried to find an explanation.  I was surprised to learn that there’s little consistent and definitive information on the subject of growing tomatillos on the Internet, in print, and in the knowledge base of seasoned gardeners.  What I concluded from my research is that, to maximize your odds for producing a tomatillo crop, you should plant two plants of the same variety next to each other.   I’m an amateur gardener, so I hesitate to offer what sounds like an authoritative an explanation for this, but here goes:  tomatillos and tomatoes are in the same family and are often discussed interchangeably in the literature.  But, unlike most tomatoes, tomatillos don’t self-pollinate.  Two plants are required to make fruit. 

The plastic tag in the tomatillo plant you buy at the garden store won’t mention this issue.  And, the signage in the garden store probably won’t mention it either.  But now you know.
Tomatillo in Demonstration Garden

         I’m attaching pictures of the two tomatillo plants in this year’s Hort Demo Garden at the Jeffco Extension office.  The pictures show two tomatillo plants of the same variety, side by side, with an abundance of tomatillos.  The gardeners in charge sure know their tomatillos!

Now that I’ve diagnosed the likely cause of my tomatillo problem, I need to take action.  For now I’ve ruled out removing the plant because it’s still an interesting experiment (and it looks great).  I’ll shake the plant gently in the morning to move the pollen around in case I’m wrong about the two-plant requirement.  I’m also hoping there’s another lonely tomatillo plant in a garden not too far from mine.  And for my Hail Mary pass, I’ve bought a package of tomatillo seeds to grow a friend for my plant. 

Maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll have a REALLY long growing season this year.  (I can’t find any plants to buy online). From this experience I’ve learned the obvious lesson about growing tomatillos.  I’ve also learned a bigger and more universal lesson:  read up on the new plant before you buy it and spend two months giving it loving care in your garden.