Empty Tomatillo Husks – Why Are There No Tomatillo Fruit In Husk



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By: Jackie Carroll

When all goes well, tomatillos are hugely prolific, and just a couple of plants can provide plenty of fruit for the average family. Unfortunately, tomatillo plant problems can result in empty tomatillo husks. Let’s learn more about the reasons for an empty husk on tomatillos.

Reasons for an Empty Husk on Tomatillos

Empty tomatillo husks are usually due to environmental factors, such as extreme heat and humidity or lack of insect pollinators. You may also find empty husks on tomatillos when you have only planted one plant.

Besides the environmental factors that cause empty husks, tomatillos are also susceptible to diseases that prevent the fruit from forming and growing properly.

Fixes for No Tomatillo Fruit in Husk

Tomatillos are pollinated by bees and other insects that move from flower to flower. When temperatures or humidity are extremely high, the pollen adheres to the inside of the flower, making pollination difficult. As a result, the flowers may drop from the plant before they are pollinated.

Set out tomatillo transplants two weeks after the last expected frost date in your area. If you wait too long, you run a greater risk of high temperatures when the plants flower. When starting your own plants indoors, start them eight weeks before the last expected frost so they will be ready to transplant outdoors when the time comes.

Unlike tomatoes, which can be pollinated by the wind, tomatillos need an insect pollinator. If you don’t have bees or other suitable insects, you will have to hand pollinate the plants yourself. Use a cotton swab or small, soft paintbrush similar to those found in a child’s watercolor set. Use the tip to pick up pollen from the flowers on a plant, and then dab the pollen inside the flowers on another plant.

Tomatillo plants aren’t good self-pollinators. If you have only one plant you may get a few tomatillos, but you need at least two plants for a good crop.

You can prevent many of the diseases that affect tomatillos by spacing them properly and growing them on stakes or in cages. Keeping the plants off the ground makes them easier to harvest. It also helps keep the plants dry and allows air to circulate around them. Tie the plants loosely to the stakes using strips of cloth.

Tomato cages are ideal for tomatillos. Simply guide the stems through the holes in the cage as the plant grows. Remove suckers to improve the air circulation even more. Suckers are the stems that grow in the crotches between the main stem and a side branch.

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Why Are My Tomatillos So Small?

For many tomatillos are a great treat. Some are making jams with it. And this is why they are growing tomatillo trees. However, the one question that so many people are asking is why their tomatillos are so small. Or, why are there husks that are empty without any tomatillos?

If you want to make sure that your tomatillo tree has the right size tomatillos and that you won’t get empty tomatillo husks, then you need to make sure about a couple of things. Especially if this is the first time that you are growing tomatillos.


Comments (12)

Nc_crn

Tomtil's need insect visiting activity moreso than almost any of the garden nightshades (along with "ground cherries"). If you're not seeing bee/insect/etc activity on those flowers, they're probably not going to set well.

It's not uncommon to see Tomtil's flower like crazy for weeks and only "take" when the insects finally discover and pollinate them.

There's also temperature/humidity considerations, but Sept/Oct in north FL, that shouldn't be a pressing issue.


How is a tomatillo different from a green tomato?

A green tomato is simply an unripe tomato, whereas a tomatillo is a completely different plant. The tomatillo is in the nightshade family, just like the tomato, eggplant, and potato, but the tomatillo is in a different genus (in other words, tomatoes and tomatillos are only distantly related). Do not try to substitute green tomatoes for tomatillos in recipes, as they will not have the right texture or the depth of flavor that tomatillos have.

Difference Between Tomatillo and Green Tomato

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Tomatillo Growing Conditions

As a close cousin to the tomato, tomatillo plants have similar growing needs as their red-fleshed brethren.

Hardiness

Tomatillo is hardy in zones 8 to 10.

Light Requirements

Plant tomatillos in a spot that receives full sun.

Soil

Although tomatillo can adapt to various soil conditions, it will perform best in organically-rich and well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.3.

Watering

Like tomatoes, tomatillos need to be kept moist. When grown in the garden, give plants 1 to 2 inches per week when grown in containers, water daily or when the top inch of soil is dry.

Fertilizer

To keep tomatillo plants productive all season long, fertilize with compost tea every few weeks.

Plant Supports

Tomatillo plants sprawl outward with numerous branches and suckers growing from the central stem – much like indeterminate tomato types. Prevent foliage from touching the ground by using stakes, tomato cages, or other plant supports to keep them upright.

Pollination

Tomatillos are not self-pollinating. Plan on growing at least two plants within 25 feet of each other to ensure fruit set.

Companion Plants

Plant marigold and nasturtiums near tomatillos to attract pollinators. Basil, chives, sage, parsley, mint, and garlic will help repel pests. Carrots, onions, and Brassicas grow nicely alongside tomatillos.


Common Tomatillo Problems

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As long as your tomatillo plants are in a light, airy location, then they’ll be largely problem free.

While slugs, snails, and beetles can target the foliage, most insects tend to leave them alone. Should your plants come under attack from aphids, wash the pests away with a blast from a hose pipe, or by applying insecticidal soap.

Small or Deformed Fruit

Small tomatillos and empty husks are both signs of poor pollination.

As we’ve already noted tomatillo plants can’t self pollinate, and are also resistant to hand-pollination. Encourage pollinators by planting butterfly- and bee-attracting flowers and herbs. Avoiding the use of insecticides will also encourage bees to your garden.

Warm temperatures over 85°F, or humidity levels over 90% can discourage plants from forming fully functional reproductive parts, thus reducing yields. These conditions can also lead to smaller fruit.


Introduction to growing tomatillos

First let’s start with this: What is a tomatillo?

Often called a Mexican husk tomato, tomatillos are members of the Physalis family. While tomatillos look much like a green tomato, they are two very different fruits. Tomatillos take on a yellowish hue as they ripen they never turn red. Tomatillos are not as juicy as tomatoes, and unripe, can be a bit tangy.

All tomatillo fruits grow inside a papery husk, which tends to protect the fruit from pests. It’s not uncommon for ripe fruit to drop, and with that husk, they’re safe from slugs and other creepy crawlies that might otherwise damage the fruit — at least for a few weeks.

I’ve found that while tomatoes can be difficult to grow in my Hawaii garden, tomatillos thrive. They seem to be resistant to the powdery mildew that my tomatoes suffer with.

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Tomatillo varieties to grow

There are several named varieties of tomatillos to consider, but my tip is this: Unless you’re looking for a quirky item to sell at a farmers market, skip the little ones. Husking tiny fruit gets old quickly! Depending on the variety, tomatillos will be ready to harvest in 60 to 85 days. Tomatillo plants grow to about three-to-four feet tall.

Rio Grande Verde — Large fruit is borne on medium-size plants.

Purple Tomatillo — A deep violet when ripe, these tomatillos are a bit sweeter than the green varieties.

Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomatillo — Yellow blushed with purple, the fruit of these tomatillos grows one-to-two inches in diameter.

Since tomatillo plants are rarely (at least in my experience) available at nurseries, you’ll likely be growing tomatillos from seed. Their seeds are small but prolific. In fact, once you’ve grown tomatillos in your garden, you’ll likely find volunteer plants popping up the next season.

Requirements for growing tomatillos

This is a warm weather crop. Start seeds indoors six-to-eight weeks before your last spring frost. It takes a week or two for them to germinate. Transplant seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Use the same deep-planting method that I recommend for growing tomatoes tomatillos will also root from the stem.

You can also direct sow tomatillos once the soil has warmed. Learn to identify tomatillo seedlings and you can also encourage the volunteers that pop up in your garden.

You’ll need at least two tomatillo plants to cross-pollinate.

It’s usually not necessary to cage them, but giving them some support does keep the plant from sprawling. I use a lightweight tomato cage around mine so they take up less space.

Plant tomatillos in a sunny spot in your garden. They thrive in rich, well-drained garden soil.

Growing tomatillos in containers

If you’re limited on space, grow a couple of tomatillo plants in containers on your patio. They’ll produce lots of fruit during the warm months just be sure to give them full sun for the better part of the day.

Choose a medium to large container for the best results.

Combating pests and other problems

I’ve found that tomatillos are relatively pest-free in my garden, making them an easy crop to grow. They may be bothered by the three-lined potato beetle (that loves crops in the solanaceae family), which I learned from Rachel over at Grow a Good Life. (I initially thought they were cucumber beetles — they look very similar!) So far I’ve been able to simply hand-pick the marauders to keep them in check.

Marigolds are good tomatillo companion plants.

When to harvest tomatillos

Early in the season, tomatillo plants are loaded with papery lantern-like husks that are airy and empty. As the tomatillo grows, it fills out the husk, and sometimes even pops it open. Look for full husks and, in some cases, a slight change of color in the fruit. (Bright green fruit often ripens to a more yellowish-green, for instance.) Be sure to check the ground around the base of the plants, too. Dropped fruit is fair game and rarely suffers from spending time on the ground.

Using fresh tomatillos

My favorite way to use tomatillos is this easy salsa verde recipe, but they’re a great addition to recipes as well. Roast them to bring out their flavor or stir some into my family’s favorite white chicken chili. Use them to make green sauces like this green enchilada sauce recipe or this avocado tomatillo salsa.



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