Tamarillo, the tomato tree


The tamarillo is a fruit shrub native to the tropics which bears surprising fruits with firm flesh and a tangy, pungent taste.

Top Tamarillo facts

NameSolanum betacea (formerly Cyphomandra betacea)
FamilySolanaceae or nightshade
Type – fruit tree

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 it ripen on the plant

Its similarity to tomatoes gave it the common name tomato tree. Here is how to grow it at home.

Planting tamarillo

Planting tamarilloUnder our temperate latitudes, the tamarillo tree is grown outdoors only in areas where the climate is mild in winter, because leaves fall off at 28°F (-2°C) and the shrub dies if temperatures drop below 26°F (-3°C).

It can thus be grown along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, around the Mediterranean, if the growing conditions are carefully monitored and protective winter covering is provided.

  • Tamarillo requires full sun exposure, sheltered from winds.
  • The ground must drain perfectly to avoid stagnant water.
  • Soil must be rich and regularly fertilized.

Fertilizer for tamarillo trees

Tamarillo is a heavy feeder that will quickly drain the surrounding area from its initial nutrients. Ideally, you would fertilize at three key moments:

  • shortly before pruning, at the end of winter
  • once about a month after spring vegetation has started
  • one last time in mid- to end-summer to support fruit formation

A balanced fertilizer is fine, with an NPK ratio that has the same number for each element. This will help the entire tree thrive from root to fruit. For example, a 10:10:10 or a 5:5:5 fertilizer will do well. For these, follow the dosage recommended on the labels.

An even better option is to add organic fertilizer to the soil around the tree:

Organic fertilizers can be applied anytime, except for the colder months of winter when plants are dormant. See each article for the proper doses.

Growing tamarillo in pots

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

Potted tamarillo started from seedIt doesn’t resist freezing, so tamarillo must be grown as if it were citrus, bringing it in a greenhouse over winter, being a cooler place that is protected from frost.

  • Spread a bottom drainage layer about 2 inches (5 cm) thick made from clay pebbles.
  • Choose 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 tamarillo pot 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 tamarillo trees indoors all year round, you’ll have to organize their dormancy at some point during the winter.

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

Watering and caring for tamarillo

Tamarillo is a fruit tree that loves receiving a lot of water in summer, especially in case of high temperatures.

Daily watering is recommended if ever a dry spell or heat wave hits.

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

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

Harvesting tamarillo

Tamarillo harvestTamarillo is best harvested quite ripe, as close to complete maturity as is possible. It should be eaten quickly after the harvest, while still very fresh.

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.

All there is to know about tamarillo

Tamarillo is native to Peru and is well-known thanks to its red or orange fruit.

It belongs to the same family as regular tomatoes, Solanaceae, but its fruits look more like plums.

Tomato tree fruits are slightly tangy and their firm, meaty flesh can be eaten in the same manner as tomatoes are, though raw their taste is of the love-it-or-hate-it kind.

This fruit is also often savored juiced, and another name for it is tomato tree. Cooking it (or smoking it, even) will take the edge off of the fruit and it is excellent when minced into thick sauces where it balances other spices out.

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 tamarillo

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.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Green tamarillo fruits by Dinesh Valke under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Fruits on a plate by Lynn Greyling under Pixabay license
Seedlings in white pots by Maja Dumat under © CC BY 2.0
Harvest from a tree by Diego Castano under Public Domain