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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
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Your reactions
  • Chris Gough wrote on 27 October 2021 at 8 h 08 min

    Feed tamarilloes regularly, what does that mean? How much per sq meter, when? what NPK?

    • Gaspard wrote on 27 October 2021 at 14 h 29 min

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment – I added a section in the article about how to fertilize the tamarillo tree, I hope it helps.

  • Valerie Bossom wrote on 3 May 2021 at 4 h 52 min

    can I prune my Tamarillo ? I have it in a pot & its getting very tall & ,it grows rapidly, only 1 branch off it, I was thinking of planting it in the garden, but not sure about the root system ,don’t want anything that can cause a problem later, we live in Queensland Australia, so not cool weather problem, thank you, hoping you can help me

  • Hazell wrote on 23 November 2020 at 12 h 37 min

    My Tomatillo, growing in a pot, has both black fly and green fly on the back of the leaves. I have removed them by hand with a soft paper towel. What organic remedies could you recommend to get rid of the flies? Removing them by hand was fine as the plant is still quite small, but could be a problem as it gets taller. Any other advice would be gratefully received. I live in the southern hemisphere, so am heading towards summer, which can be very hot and wet here.

    • Gaspard wrote on 23 November 2020 at 16 h 45 min

      Hello Hazell, unless you send me a picture to prove me wrong, greenfly and blackfly are actually two species of aphids. You can find a lot of different organic tips to control aphids here. It’s just the right time to look into it, too! With every passing fortnight, populations can double this season in your part of the world.

  • Jenni wrote on 17 May 2020 at 0 h 58 min

    I have a one year old Tamarillo in a pot. The large bottom leaves turned yellow and dropped off and Incan see that this is happening gradually up the stem. Where the leaves have dropped off I can see new leaves appearing. Is this normal? Also, the tree has started to branch at the top, do I need to provide some sort of support for these branches as with the heavy leaves I am concerned that they will break.

    • Gaspard wrote on 17 May 2020 at 11 h 39 min

      Hi, it’s part of the growing cycle to replace older leaves with fresh ones higher up, so your intuition was correct. You can extend the life of lower leaves a bit by increasing moisture around the plant, especially if growing indoors.
      Normally the branches will strengthen as the leaves grow larger, so you needn’t worry about staking them. In the summer, you can bring it outdoors a bit or on a balcony so that it can experience wind. Wind also strengthens branches and stems. Do this progressively though: 1 hour/day for 3-4 days, then 2 hours/day for 3-4 days, then half a day for a week and then you’re good to leave it out if it doesn’t get too cold at night.

  • Tom Witte wrote on 13 June 2019 at 3 h 08 min

    I have been growing Tamarillo (tomate de árbol) for several years. I sometimes have unexpected and unexplained die off which is probably due to the clay soil of the East SF Bay Area where I live that doesn’t drain well. Thanks for the information about root rot. Tamarillos are not common in Peru however. They are more common in Ecuador and Colombia. Most Peruvians I know have never heard of them.

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 15 June 2019 at 22 h 07 min

      Hi Tom! That’s very true and actually today’s countries don’t really reflect the areas that were under the rule of this or that civilization at the time. I believe it was a food that the Inca spread as they conquered different parts of Central and South America. Today, most fruits sold across the world come from strains cultivated in Australia and other warm countries. Thanks a lot for your comment!