The tree tomato (or tomato tree) is much larger than the normal tomato plant.
Key tomato tree facts
Name: Solanum betacea (old: Cyphomandra b.)
Family: Solanaceae (nightshade)
Type: fruit tree
Height: 3 to 13 feet (1-4 m) (in the wild)
Exposure: full sun or well-lit when indoors
Soil: light, rich – Hardiness: 28°F (-2°C) – Harvest: summer, ripen on tree
Tree tomato is a distant cousin to the common tomato, and they both grow luscious tomatoes! In temperate climates, you can grow it as an indoor tree.
Planting tree tomato
If it freezes in your area, grow this tree in a pot so you can bring it indoors over the winter. Here, we’ll take a look at both: outdoor growing and indoors.
Planting tree tomato in an indoor pot
For the pot:
- find a large pot at least a foot across and deep (30 cm) with a hole under for extra water to seep out
- pour gravel in the bottom 2 inches (5 cm)
- best is citrus tree soil mix or orchard tree soil mix, with good drainage
Exposure / right spot for the pot:
It likes bright sun, but either ensure high air moisture or avoid direct sunlight (and radiators) because it doesn’t like dry air.
- Bring the tomato tree outside from mid-spring to mid-fall
- Protect your Solanum betacea from the cold in a greenhouse or lean-in so it doesn’t freeze
If you can’t bring it in and out, then you’ll have to help the plant “pretend” it’s winter at some point indoors. This is for the fruiting cycle, it’s a form of vernalization. To trigger dormancy:
- Reduce watering to half the usual summer dose
- Move the tree to the coolest room of the house (50-60°F / 10-15°C is ideal)
- Place it near a window, it still needs lots of light
Planting Tree tomato outdoors
Again, remember this tree dies at just below freezing, and won’t bear fruit if it’s any colder than 50°F / 10°C.
You might need to winterize it if you’re at the threshold.
Apart from that, here are the key planting tips:
- Full sun is great, and shelter from strong winds is good, too.
- Excellent drainage is a must: it hates wallowing in sitting water.
- Rich soil is important, and you’ll have to keep it rich, too: yearly fertilizing is expected for this tree.
Caring for Tree tomato
Watering is the most time-consuming part of caring for the tomato tree.
Watering: gear up for summer
As for its lower-lying cousins, avoid getting leaves wet to avoid tomato mildew.
- In pots, you’ll need to be extra-careful to water often.
Fertilizer, the tomato tree loves good food!
Tree tomato will drain the soil around it of its nutrients rather fast. Within a year or two, most nutrients are depleted.
- The easy way means not raking up leaves to let them break down under the tree, and tossing back fruit peelings near the trunk.
- The more elegant way is to gather all this plant material up and give it back either as a fermented tea, mulch, or rich compost.
Pruning tomato tree
- Pruning indoor tomato tree: if left unpruned, it would grow into a single, tall, spindly stem. Prune it by snipping of the bud tip or cutting a portion of the stem off. It’ll then branch out. If you repeat this, you’ll get a healthy, short, bushy tree.
- Pruning outdoor tree tomato: prune it to about 5-7 feet tall to make it easier to harvest fruits. Do so after the fruiting.
Tree tomato harvest
One thing to know: these fruits best when ripened on the tree. So you really have to practice just-in-time harvesting! Easiest is to go ’round every couple days and pick what’s ripe. You’ll quickly get a feel for when this is, since unripe tree tomatoes taste awful!
They’ll also ripen a bit more when picked, but not to the extent we’re used to when picking normal tomatoes.
Learn more about the tree tomato
Tree tomato, or Solanum betacea, is native to South America. It’s quite common in Ecuador and Columbia. More and more varieties are appearing in garden stores throughout the world, with red, purple or yellow fruits.
Fruits look like oval, egg-shaped tomatoes, but they don’t taste the same at all! Some people really hate the taste, it’s quite peculiar. It’s an excellent replacement for tomatoes for cooking whenever you’re making a sauce, but that’s about it in terms of similarity.