Article from Ingham Branch News, from the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
by W.A. Fletcher N.Z. Ministry of
The Tree Tomato or 'Tamarillo'
The tamarillo or tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea)
is a native of the Andean region of Peru, and has been cultivated in
other parts of the world, such as Sri Lanka, India, the South East
Asian Archipelago, and also in New Zealand on a commercial scale.
The genus Cyphomandra
belongs to the family Solanaceae, which contains about 30 species of
soft-wood shrubs that are all natives of Central and South America and
the West Indies. The tamarillo is a small tree which grows to about 3
metres. The fruit can be eaten raw, or cooked in sauce, jams, chutneys
and savoury dishes. In fact, it can be used wherever ordinary tomatoes
are used. There are two main types, the yellow and the red. The red
being more widely-grown because of its bright colour, but the yellow is
more popular with home gardeners as it is sweeter.
sub-tropical shrub, young trees are intolerant of frost; more mature
trees will take a little frost as long as it is slight and infrequent.
Trees prefer light, well-drained soils and need ample moisture
throughout summer, however they will not stand waterlogging. The large
leaves and extremely brittle branches make it very prone to wind
damage, so they need to be protected with permanent windbreaks. The
branches will break off easily when they are heavily laden with fruit,
even in quite light winds.
Tamarillos are easily propagated from
seed or cuttings. Cuttings produce lower bushy plants compared with
seedlings, which generally produce a straight main stem up to 1.5 m
before they branch. If a more bushy plant is preferred from a seedling,
pinch out the top at approximately 1 metre. Seedlings should be planted
out in October and should be kept moist so that early rapid growth can
be obtained. Cuttings can be taken in Autumn or Spring, selecting 1- to
2-year-old-wood, approximately 45 cm (18") long. Remove all the leaves,
and cut the shoot square at the base just below a node. When setting
out in the orchard, thoroughly mix 400 to 500 g of blood and bone in
the bottom of the planting hole.
Trees are self pollinating and
produce their fruit on current season's growth. When pruning your
trees, remove dead, diseased and crowded old wood. To promote strong
new growth, cut back the laterals that have fruited. If trees are not
pruned, the new fruiting wood gradually extends from the ends of the
branches and laterals and the middle of the tree are left more or less
barren. The fruit that is produced on the ends of these branches and
laterals which are weak and spindly are generally poor in size, and the
weight of the fruit will cause them to break.
If you prune
judiciously, you will maintain a strong framework and this will
encourage good quality fruit to grow in towards the centre of the tree,
on branches that are strong enough to bear their weight. Trees can be
pruned any time from Spring to November, depending on when you want
your next year's crop to mature. Pruning in early Spring results in
early maturity. Pruning in October or November will result in a later
A complete NPK fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen,
similar to the type used on citrus trees is recommended. This should be
applied in three separate dressings, one-third just before pruning, to
stimulate Spring growth, another third about a month later before the
onset of the dry weather, and the last third in February, after rain to
help swell the developing fruit.
Tamarillos usually start to
bear within 18 months of planting. They usually come into full
production within 3 or 4 years, but from a commercial point of view
they are usually only profitable for 7 - 8 years. Under suitable
conditions, a tree may produce 20 kg or more fruit annually. Several
pickings are necessary, as fruit does not ripen on the tree all at
once. However it is of an advantage to the home gardener, as you will
have a continuous supply of fruit from March approximately through
winter when not much other fruit is available.