Cyphomandra, the tomato tree

The tomato tree is a fruit shrub native to the tropics which bears delicious fruits called tamarillo, with firm flesh and a tangy taste.

Key tomato tree facts, a summary

Name – Solanum betacea (formerly Cyphomandra betacea)
Family – Solanaceae or nightshade
Type – fruit shrub

Height
 – 3 to 13 feet (1 to 4 m) (in its natural environment)
Exposure – full sun or well-lit when indoors
Soil – light, rich enough

Harvest – summer, let fruits ripen on the plant.

Here is how to grow it at home.

Planting the tomato tree

Under our temperate latitudes, the tomato tree is grown outdoors only in areas where the climate is mild enough in winter, because this shrub dies if temperatures drop below 26°F (-3°C).

It can thus be grown along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, around the Mediterranean, and even in these regions will need protective winter coverings.

  • Tomato trees require a sun-bathed area, sheltered from winds.
  • The ground must drain perfectly to avoid stagnant water.
  • Soil must be rich and regularly fertilized.

Growing a tomato tree in a pot

If you fear that temperatures fall below freezing in winter, you don’t have a choice but to grow your tomato tree in a pot so that you can protect it over the winter.

It doesn’t resist freezing, so tomato trees must be grown as if they were  citrus, bringing them in a greenhouse over winter.

  • Spread a bottom drainage layer about 2 inches (5 cm) thick made from clay pebbles.
  • Select a citrus-specific or fruit tree soil mix.
  • Place the pot in the sun but avoid very hot locations because potted plants dry up much faster.
  • Bring the pot outdoors from May to October-November.
  • Bring the pot back indoors or in a greenhouse or lean-in, not necessarily heated as long as it doesn’t freeze in winter.

If you choose to grow tomato trees indoors all year round, you’ll have to organize its dormancy at some point during the winter.

  • This dormant state means to reduce watering.
  • Place the tomato tree in the coolest spot of the house.
  • Maintain sufficient light, because it still is needed, even in winter.

Care and watering of the tomato tree

It is a fruit tree that requires a lot of water in summer, especially in case of high temperatures.

Water daily if ever a dry spell hits.

  • Avoid wetting the leaves while watering.
  • For potted tomato trees, water as soon as the surface of the soil is dry.

Apart from watering, it is relatively easy to care for the tree in winter and in summer.

Harvesting tamarillo, the tomato tree’s fruits

Tamarillo must be harvested very ripe, as close to full maturity as is possible, and it should be eaten quickly thereafter.

If not yet mature, it doesn’t taste so good, and if too young it even becomes difficult to digest.

If the fruits aren’t ripe enough upon harvest, you can let them ripen just like regular tomatoes before eating them.

Learn more about tomato trees

Native to Peru, it is well-known thanks to its red or orange-pink fruits, that resemble plums even though it belongs to the tomato family.

Tomato tree fruits are slightly tangy and their firm, meaty flesh can be eaten in the same manner as tomatoes are, often raw.

This fruit is also often savored juiced, and another name for it is tamarillo.

The world’s largest producer is Columbia, in South America, which explains why this fruit tree has trouble growing out doors in more temperate climates.

Smart tip about the tomato tree

To grow it outdoors, try to find the Cyphomandra corymbiflora variety because it is hardy down to 19°F (-7°C), if in full sun and sheltered from wind.