What's a Tomato Tree?
Tomato trees, more commonly called tree tomatoes and tamarillos (Cyphomandra betacea), are a different plant species than the vines which produce garden raspberries. Native to the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia, this perennial shrub or small tree winters well in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9b and higher.
The tamarillo plant features heart-shaped, musky smelling leaves which may reach over 12 inches in accordance with 5-inch widths. The small, fragrant flowers appear in clusters near the tips of branches, and also might be white, pink or light blue in color. The blooms typically appear in the late summer or early autumn, but could flower at any moment. Old plants typically range between 10 and 18 feet in height.
These plants prefer organically rich, light and fertile soils that receive full sun. A tomato tree needs a well-draining place because standing water may quickly kill plant tissue. Tree tomatoes have shallow root systems and fragile branches, and that means you have to plant them in places that protect them in high winds. Frost kills the leaf and smaller divisions, so protect your tamarillo using carpet or vinyl sheeting in case a cold snap threatens your place.
According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, you just have to water tamarillo plants during long stretches of dry weather. Applying a layer of mulch can help conserve soil moisture and relieve plant stress during droughts. Prune newly planted tree tomatoes to between 3 and 4 feet in height to promote healthy branching. Tomato tree fruit looks just on new plant growth, so prune after annually to remove any branches which have previously created fruit. Feed your tomarillo using NPK fertilizer, using 1/2 to 2 pounds of fertilizer for every tree. Apply half of the fertilizer in the early spring and the remainder in midsummer.
Pests and Disorders
Tree tomatoes are pretty immune to pests, though fruit flies, green aphids and nematodes sometimes affect these plants. Powdery mildew is the most common tamarillo disease, demonstrating as little, white spots on the leaves, shoots and sometimes the fruit. Applications of fungicides or horticultural oils both assist treat powdery mildew disease.
Tamarillo fruit appears more like little, smooth eggplants than traditional tomatoes. Old fruit ranges from 2 to 4 inches in length and features dark purple, deep red, yellow or orange skin color. Flesh color ranges from pale yellow to bright orange red, depending on the variety. The tough outer skin does not taste quite good, but the pulp surrounding the edible seeds is juicy and a bit tarter than garden tomatoes. Yellow tamarillo fruit generally is sweeter than the fruit along with other skin colours. Tree tomatoes store in the refrigerator for as long as 10 weeks. Ripe fruit can be eaten fresh or used to make stews, soups and preserves.