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The Lillian’s Yellow Tomato

Good things come to those who wait.  If you have the patience to wait for a Lillian’s Yellow tomato, seasoned gardeners agree you’ll be rewarded with a very good thing!  The gorgeous appearance and outstanding flavor make it a favorite for farmers markets — it’s appeared on the preferred lists of tomato experts for years for the same reason.

If you want to grow a tomato that gets rave reviews from home growers, then keep reading about the Lillian’s Yellow tomato.  It’s a tomato that’s guaranteed to end summer with a tasty bang!

Yellow tomatoes on a plant similar to Lillian's Yellow tomato.

History of the Lillian’s Yellow Tomato

The Lillian’s Yellow tomato comes from Tennessee.  Lillian Bruce of Manchester gave seeds to  Robert Richardson of New York, who then passed them along to heirloom tomato expert/collector Craig LeHoullier in 1988.  LeHoullier named the tomato “Lillian’s Yellow” and in 1990 he sent seeds to Seed Savers Exchange.

In Craig LeHoullier’s book Epic Tomatoes, the Lillian’s Yellow tomato appears on the “Ten Tastiest†list.

Characteristics of the Lillian’s Yellow Tomato

The Lillian’s Yellow tomato is an indeterminate heirloom that grows vines anywhere between 6-10 feet long.  It’s a potato leaf tomato that produces an average to average-high yield of fruit growing in clusters of 2-3 fruits.

Cluster of three yellow tomatoes on the vine.

Ripening Season

This is a late-season tomato with fruit maturing 90 days after transplanting.

Tomato Qualities

A Lillian’s Yellow tomato has orangey-yellow to bright yellow thin skin.  It has a slightly flattened shape and sometimes turns out lopsided.

Inside, the flesh is pale yellow, meaty and dense, with a creamy consistency.  It’s juicy and has few seeds.

Tomato Size

A Lillian’s Yellow is a medium-sizes to large beefsteak-sizes tomato, weighing up to 20 ounces.

Large yellow tomato on the vine.

Planting Zones

Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes will grow in zones 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12.  Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost.

Size and Spacing

Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes need their space — plant them 36-48″ apart and put support structures in place (stakes, cages, or trellises).

Pollination

Lillian’s Yellows are prone to catfacing which happens when the temperature goes too far in either direction while tomatoes are pollinating and setting fruit.  If these tomatoes experience temperatures below 50 degrees F or above 85 degrees F during this phase, catfacing is likely to occur.

Should your Lillian’s Yellows develop catfacing, the fruit is perfectly safe to eat.  It just won’t look very pretty.

Person holding red tomato with catfacing.
An example of catfacing in a red tomato.

Plant Care

Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes require normal tomato care.

The following sections will provide highlights about tomato care. For a complete guide on optimal tomato plant care, from planting to harvesting and storage, please check out our article on How To Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide For the Best Tomatoes.  You may also be interested in our blog post on how to grow big tomatoes!

Sunlight

Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.

Soil

Tomatoes thrive in soil that’s neutral (a pH between 6.0-6.5), well-draining, and amended with compost and decomposed manure to a depth of 24-36 inches. Adding crushed or ground eggshells to the soil helps prevent blossom end rot.

Person planting tomatoes in the garden.

Water

Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around your tomato plants, but keep the ground clear of mulch three inches around the base of the plant. Water on a regular basis at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry. Most tomatoes need an inch of water each week.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes require specific nutrients (such as calcium) to produce their best crops of fruit. To learn how to determine what your tomatoes need and when they need it, consult our ultimate tomato fertilizer guide.

Pruning/Pinching

Pruning and pinching are a tomato care technique that can help your tomato put forth its best yield. But you need to know when to do this and what tomatoes need it. To help you with this, visit our pruning tomatoes guide.

Pinching suckers off tomato plant.

Disease 

All tomatoes are susceptible to diseases, so it’s a good idea to take precautions against the common diseases like blight, fusarium wilt, Septoria leaf spot, Verticillium wilt, and Southern bacterial wilt. Keeping the foliage dry by watering the base of the plant and removing any foliage in contact with the soil are your best defenses against tomato plant disease.

To learn how to detect, treat, and take steps to prevent diseases, read our tomato diseases guide.

Pests

Growing tomatoes means dealing with pests. Aphids, whiteflies, tomato hornworms, slugs, pill bugs, stink bugs, and rodents are just a few to be on the lookout for. Companion plants like marigolds, catnip, fennel, dill, basil, and cilantro repel common tomato pests. Netting keeps out birds and larger pests, but may interfere with beneficial insects and pollinators.

For information to help you spot, eliminate, and deter 15 different pests, visit our guide on common tomato pests.

When to Harvest Lillian’s Yellow Tomatoes

Have patience!  Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes aren’t ready for picking until late August/early September in many zones.  You’ll be able to harvest until the first frost hits.

Picked yellow heirloom tomatoes.

Common Uses For Lillian’s Yellow Tomatoes

Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes are favorites for sandwiches, salads, cooked recipes, and canning.  Large ones make great stuff tomatoes!

What Does This Tomato Taste Like?

The Lillian’s Yellow always scores high in heirloom taste rankings (Craig LeHoullier rates the flavor at 9/10).  It’s described as sweet and citrusy, with flavors that are more complex and unusual than most yellow tomatoes.

Cooking

Use these in your favorite recipes — the color of the fruit will lend traditional red tomato dishes an interesting look!  It makes delicious and beautiful yellow tomato chutneys, sauces, and preserves.

Overhead view of gazpacho made with yellow tomatoes.
Yellow Gazpacho.

Eating Raw

The size of a Lillian’s Yellow makes it an ideal slicing tomato to go on sandwiches or burgers.  It makes a lovely diced ingredient for salads, salsas, and bruschettas.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Canning

Tomatoes are some of the easiest produce to can. Click here for an article that will tell you everything you need to know to safely can and store your tomato harvest.

Freezing

Tomatoes can also be frozen, although they become somewhat mushy when thawed out — use them for cooked foods. For the best way to freeze your tomatoes, read this article.

Drying

Dried tomatoes don’t have to be red — yellow tomatoes can be used too. This article covers three drying methods for creating delicious dried tomatoes.

Recipe Ideas

Stuffed Tomatoes 1 (filling without any meat)

Stuffed Tomatoes 2 (filling with meat included)

Summer Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Long’s Yellow Tomato Soup

Overhead view of person picking up slice of yellow tomato tart.
Yellow Tomato Tart.

Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Tomatoes don’t just look pretty — they’re healthy foods!  All tomatoes are high in fiber, vitamins C and K, potassium, and folate. They’re also one of the best dietary sources of lycopene, an antioxidant credited with reducing the risks of heart disease and cancer.

But Lillian’s Yellow is a yellow/orange tomato, which means it contains lots of beta-carotene (neutralizes free-radicals), extra folate and niacin, and even higher amounts of vitamin C than darker-colored tomatoes.

Where to Buy Lillian’s Yellow Tomato Plants or Seeds

Lillian’s Yellow tomato starter plants aren’t easy to find, but luckily the seeds are!  They’re available through several online retailers, including Amazon.

Where to Buy Lillian’s Yellow Tomatoes

As with most heirloom tomatoes, you’re unlikely to find Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes in grocery produce departments.  To find fresh heirlooms to buy, visit farmers markets or get in touch with specialty produce stores.  If there are tomato farms in your area, call them to see if they grow Lillian’s Yellows.

Wrapping Up the Lillian’s Yellow Tomato

Yellow tomatoes on the vine.

Sometimes the best is saved for last and that’s what the Lillian’s Yellow tomato is — a way to end tomato season as strong as it began.  Once you taste one of these sunny-colored fruits, you’ll know it was worth the wait!

Are Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes the grand finale of tomato season in your garden? If so, tell us about your experiences with them in the comments section below! To read about other tasty and tempting tomatoes, click here for our tomato blog posts.