A native of Peru, Cyphomandra betacea is commonly known as the tree tomato or tamarillo. It is a relative of the tomato, potato and nightshade plants. Unlike the tomato, it has a thick, inedible skin and a sweet interior pulp. Tamarillos are in commercial production in New Zealand and California. The fruit is used in fruit salads, beverages and chutney. Somewhat of a novelty, the tamarillo tree is not usually sold at local stores but seeds are available by mail and online.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Things you need
- Flowerpots, 5-gallon
- Potting soil
- Liquid fertiliser, 15-15-15
- Measuring spoon, 1/2 teaspoon
Plant the seeds in large pots or outside after the last frost. Water thoroughly first, then pull the soil up into a 6-inch diameter mound. Place one seed on top of the mound and barely cover it with moist soil. Add a 2-inch layer of mulch around the mound; do not cover the seed.
Place the pot in direct sun, sheltered from the wind. Keep moist until the seed sprouts, usually within 5 to 10 days. After the seedlings are established, allow the top of the soil to dry before watering.
Fertilise weekly with a liquid 15-15-15 fertiliser. Mix 1/2 teaspoon into one gallon of water. Tamarillos are heavy feeders during the growing season. Stop feeding in the winter months or when the weather turns cool.
Prune as needed to shape the tree. Like tomatoes, tamarillos grow vigorously and tolerate heavy pruning.
Spray for aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and whiteflies as needed.
Tips and warnings
- Order seeds and plants from reputable nurseries. If ordering online, look for satisfaction ratings from customers. Avoid vendors with poor ratings.
- Tamarillos survive temperatures as low as 35F. If you live in a cold climate, plant in pots and move inside in the late fall, before the first frost.
- Fresh fruit is occasionally found at local farmers' markets.
- Canned tamarillo chutney may be available through speciality food stores or by special order from your local grocery store.
- The advertisements for "Giant Tree Tomato" are for a variety of tomato, not a tamarillo tree.
- Due to cross-pollination, seedlings are not always true to the parent tree. If sprouting from fresh fruit, using a seed from the yellow fruit with yellow seed pulp provides the best results according to Julia F. Morton in "Fruits of Warm Climates."
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- Purdue Agriculture; Fruits of Warm Climates - Tree Tomato; Julia F. Morton; 1987
- "An Article detailing Miscellaneous Tropical and Subtropical Fruits"; Wilson Popenoe; 2011
- The National Academies Press; "Lost Crops of the Incas - Little-Known Plants of the Andes..."; 1989
- Natural Hub.com; Growing Tamarillo Relatives in the New Zealand Home Garden; L.R. Meadows; June 2002
- New Zealand Gardener: Seasonal Recipes