Permaculture Orchard- growing tamarillo/tree tomatoes

IMG_1841[1] This was the first batch of passionfruit seedlings. This was way back in April 2014 and what a headache it was to get started. Our ideas have grown with us, mainly due to the interest generated from other young farmers and the plan now is to expand to a constant supply of seedlings to give out to other farmers. One and what i think is our biggest challenge is to solve our water problems, something that is difficult in Uganda where rain is seasonal

As a permaculture orchard, we see our activities spreading to have more fruit varieties as part of our plant family. So for the year 2015, we are establishing a seed bed of tamarillo seedlings. Tamarillo (unlike passionfruit) are not very popular among farmers, i first saw them as seedlings in Kenya and it was not a few months later that i saw the fruit in Rwanda where it graces many breakfast tables at guest houses and in local people’s homes. I have since been determined to introduce them in Uganda and the question i am always asked, is there a market? Of course there is a market, there is always a market for food as long as it is good food with supplements for our nutrition.

Growing Tamarillo /tree of life


The plant is a fast-growing tree that grows up to 5 meters. Peak production is reached after 4 years, and the life expectancy is about 12 years.The tree usually forms a single upright trunk with lateral branches. The flowers and fruits hang from the lateral branches. The leaves are large, simple and perennial, and have a strong pungent smell. The flowers are pink-white, and form clusters of 10 to 50 flowers. They produce 1 to 6 fruits per cluster. Plants can set fruit without cross-pollination, but the flowers are fragrant and attract insects. Cross-pollination seems to improve fruit set.The roots are shallow and not very pronounced, therefore the plant is not tolerant to drought stress, and can be damaged by strong winds. Tamarillos will hybridize with many other solanaceae, though the hybrid fruits will be sterile, and unpalatable in some instances.

Growth Habit: The tamarillo is a small, attractive, half-woody, evergreen or partially deciduous, shrub or small tree. It is also brittle and shallow-rooted, growing to a height of 10 to 18 ft. (rarely as much as 25 ft.).

Foliage: The alternate, evergreen leaves are muskily odorous and more or less heart-shaped at the base and ovate, pointed at the apex. They are 4 to 13-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 to 4-3/4 inches broad, thin, softly hairy, with conspicuous veins. The leaves are fairly easily tattered by strong winds.

Flowers: The fragrant 1/2 to 3/4 inch flowers are borne in small, loose clusters near the branch tips. They have 5 pale pink or lavender, pointed lobes, 5 prominent yellow stamens and green-purple calyx. Tamarillo flowers are normally self-pollinating. If wind is completely cut off so as not to stir branches, this may adversely affect pollination unless there are bees to transfer the pollen. Unpollinated flowers will drop prematurely. Flowers are usually borne in late summer or fall, but may appear at any time.

Fruit: The long-stalked, dangling fruit, borne singly or in clusters of 3 to 12, is smooth egg-shaped but pointed at both ends. It ranges in size from 2 to 4 inches long and 1-1/2 to 2 inches in width. Skin color may be solid deep purple, blood red, orange or yellow, or red and yellow, and may have faint dark longitudinal stripes. Flesh color varies accordingly from orange-red or orange to yellow or cream-yellow. While the skin is somewhat tough and unpleasant in flavor, the outer layer of the flesh is slightly firm, succulent and bland, and the pulp surrounding the seed in two lengthwise compartments is soft, juicy, and sweet/tart. The yellow types are usually a little sweeter. The pulp is black in dark purple and red fruits and yellow in yellow and orange fruits. The edible seeds are thin, nearly flat, circular, larger and harder than those of the true tomato.

Location: The tamarillo is small enough and attractive enough to fit into many parts of the home landscape as long as the site is well-drained. They grow best in full sun except in hot, dry situations, where partial shade is better. They need protection from strong winds.

Soil: Tamarillos require a fertile, light soil that is rich in organic matter. Perfect drainage is also necessary. Water standing for even a few days may kill the plant. Because of the shallow root system, deep cultivation is not possible, but light cultivation to eliminate weeds is acceptable.

Irrigation: The plant cannot tolerate prolonged drought and must have ample water during dry periods. A mulch is very beneficial in conserving moisture at such times.

Fertilization: Recommended fertilizer applications is 0.5 to 2 lbs. per tree of 5:6:6 NPK. Half of this should be applied in early spring and the other half in midsummer. A late winter application of superposphate every other year at the rate of 0.5 lb. per tree is also beneficial.

Pruning: Newly planted tamarillos should be pruned to a height of 3 to 4 ft. to encourage branching. Yearly pruning thereafter is advisable to eliminate branches that have already fruited and to induce ample new shoots close to the main branches, since fruit is produced on new growth. Pruning also aids in harvesting, and if timed properly can extend the total fruiting period.

Pruning can help to control fruit size, plant size, harvest date and to simplify the harvest of fruits. Cutting the tip of young plants leads to the desired branch height. Once the tree shape has been formed, pruning is reduced to the removal of old or dead wood and previously fruited branches, since branches that have already carried fruits will produce smaller fruits with lower quality the next time. Light pruning leads to medium sized, heavy pruning to large sized fruits. Basal shoots should be removed. When plants are grown in greenhouses, pruning prevents excessive vegetative growth.

When the tree is about 1 to 1.5 metres in height, it is advisable to cut the roots on one side and lean the tree to the other (in the direction of the midday sun at about 30 to 45 degrees). This allows fruiting branches to grow all along the trunk rather than just at the top.

Frost Protection: Although tamarillos can tolerate a few degrees of frost, they do best (and look their best) under frost-free conditions. In areas where frost may be a problem, providing them with some overhead protection or planting them next to a wall or a building may be sufficient. The smallish plants are also fairly easy to cover during cold snaps by placing carpeting, plastic sheeting, etc. over a frame around them. Potted specimens can be moved to a frost-secure area.

Propagation: Seeds and cuttings may be used for propagation. Seeds product a high-branched, erect tree, while cuttings develop into a shorter, bushy plant with low-lying branches. The tree does not always come true from seed, but is most likely to if one is careful to take seed from red fruits with black seed pulp or yellow fruits with yellow seed pulp. Germination is accelerated by placing washed and dried seed in a freezer for 24 hours before planting out. Cuttings should be of 1 to 2 year-old wood 3/8 to l inch thick and 18 to 30 inches long. The leaves are removed and the base cut square below a node. Cuttings can be planted directly in the ground, but should not be permitted to fruit the first year.

Pest and Diseases: The tamarillo is generally regarded as pest-resistant, although they are occasionally attacked by green aphids, and fruit flies will attack the fruit in areas where that is a problem. Nematodes are also a potential problem. The principal disease is powdery mildew, which may cause serious defoliation if not controlled. The plant is noted for its resistance to tobacco mosaic virus, though it is susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and potato virus. Die-back, of unknown origin, at times is lethal to the flowers, fruit cluster, twigs and new shoots. Potted plants grown inside should be watched for the common house plant pests, such as mealybugs, cottony scale and white flies.

The tamarillo tree is, compared to similar crops such as tomatoes, quite resistant to pests in general. Still, to reduce risk in intensive production systems, some pests have to be controlled to avoid major crop damage. To control pests, the same control methods as for other solanaceae can be used.

Harvest: Tamarillos are ready to harvest when they develop the yellow or red color characteristic of the particular variety. To harvest, simply pull the fruit from the tree with a snapping motion, leaving the stem attached. The fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 weeks, but temperatures below 38° F can cause the skin to discolor. Ripe tamarillos may be merely cut in half lengthwise, sprinkled with sugar (and chilled if you like) and served for eating by scooping out the flesh and pulp. The fruit should not be cut on a wooden or other permeable surface, as the juice will make an indelible stain. For other purposes, the skin must be removed, which is easily done by pouring boiling water over the fruit and letting it stand for 4 minutes before peeling.

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4 thoughts on “Permaculture Orchard- growing tamarillo/tree tomatoes

    • Hi Sekasana, the fruit matures in stages and not all at the same time
      However, it can be stored for up to 10 weeks by refrigeration
      You can have even 100 fruitlets on a tree, but this depends on the variety
      we only planted our tamarilo early this year, hopefully we can document the experience for you 🙂


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