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How to Grow and Care for Ground Cherries

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Ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are a little-known fruit that is simple to grow in the garden and has few pest and disease problems. The sweet-tart flavor of their small yellow-orange fruits is similar to pineapple, with a faint tomato flavor in the background.

Ground cherries, like tomatoes, are members of the Solanaceae plant family. They are not, however, related to true cherries, despite their common name (Prunus spp.).

Small, sprawling shrubs with bright green leaves with toothed edges, ground cherry plants resemble small, sprawling shrubs. They have yellow flowers in the summer before bearing fruit wrapped in a papery husk in the late summer to early fall, similar to tomatillos.

Ground cherries should be planted in the spring. They grow quickly as annuals and complete their life cycle in one season. Before you start planting, keep in mind that all parts of the groundcherry plant, except the fruit, are poisonous to humans and pets.

How to Plant Cherries in the Ground

When Should You Plant?

The plants can be started either indoors or outdoors after the threat of frost has passed, about six to eight weeks before your projected last frost date in the spring.

Choosing a Planting Location

Ground cherries can be grown in traditional garden beds, raised beds, or containers. If you’re going to plant something, make sure it gets plenty of sunlight and has well-drained soil. Examine the area for any taller trees or shrubs that may provide too much shade during the day for your ground cherries.

Support, Depth, and Spacing

Plants for ground cherries should be at least 2 feet apart. Planting young plants at the same depth as they were in their previous container is recommended. Seeds should also only be planted about 1/4 inch deep. To keep the plant from flopping over under the weight of the fruits, a support structure such as a tomato cage or stakes can be useful.

Ground Cherry Care

Light

Full sun, or at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, is best for ground cherries. They can tolerate some shade, but they will produce fewer fruits as a result.

Soil

Soil These plants aren’t fussy about the type of soil they grow in. However, they thrive in well-drained, organically rich soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Water

Ground cherries require about an inch of water per week and prefer moist soil. Plants that are exposed to dry conditions may drop their blossoms without producing fruit. So, if you haven’t gotten any rain, plan to water at least once a week—and possibly more frequently if the soil is drying out in extremely hot weather.

Humidity and Temperature

Within their growing zones, ground cherries have a high heat tolerance. They thrive in temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit and can withstand temperatures as high as 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Frost, on the other hand, can harm plants.

If you reside in a colder region and your ground cherries are threatened by frost before they ripen, shelter your plants with row covers or even a huge piece of fabric. These plants don’t usually have a problem with humidity.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer Compost-amended soil is ideal for growing ground cherries. If your soil is poor, you can use an organic fertilizer designed exclusively for fruits and vegetables when planting.

Pollination 

Ground cherries self-pollinate, attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden. 

Types of Ground Cherries

Ground cherries come in a variety of flavors, including:

  • ‘Aunt Molly’s: This is the most widely available type, and it grows upright and bushy.
  • ‘Cossack Pineapple’: Similar to pineapple, this type has a characteristic tangy-sweet flavor.
  • ‘Goldie’: This type is very similar to ‘Aunt Molly’s,’ although it grows a little slower and spreads a little wider.
  • Tomatillo vs. Ground Cherry

Tomatillos and ground cherries have a lot in common. They belong to the same species, and their fruits are both enclosed in a papery husk. Ground cherries, on the other hand, are typically smaller than tomatillos. They’re also yellow or orange, unlike green tomatillos.

Ground Cherries Harvesting

Ground cherry is the common name for the plant because the fruits are often harvested from the ground rather than directly off the plant. During the late summer and early fall, each plant produces about a pint of fruit.

When the fruit is ripe, the husk dries out, turns tan, and falls off the plant, leaving the fruit inside. To catch the fruits and make harvesting easier, some growers place cloth or containers under their plants.

Pick up the fallen fruit as often as possible. If it’s left on the ground and breaks open, ground cherry seedlings could spring up all over the place.

Fresh ground cherries are frequently used in salads, as well as cooked in sauces and other dishes. When stored in the refrigerator, they will last for up to two weeks. They can also be frozen and kept for several months in an airtight container.

How to Grow Them

Growing ground cherries in a container allows you to move the plant into adequate sunshine as needed and protect it from harsh storms that could harm your harvest. To accommodate the plant’s vast root system, use a container that is at least 8 inches deep.

Drainage holes should also be present in the container. Excess soil moisture can easily escape through the walls of an unglazed clay container.

Ground Cherries Propagation

Seeds are commonly used to propagate ground cherries. They can, however, be grown from cuttings. This is a simple and economical method of establishing a new plant. Late spring to early summer is the finest time to take a cutting. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut a 4- to 6-inch stem cutting in half and remove any lower-half foliage.
  2. Apply rooting hormone to the cut end.
  3. Place the cutting in a shallow, drainage-holed container filled with soilless potting mix. Place the cutting in a warm, indirect light location.
  4. Keep the growing medium moist but not soggy for a couple of weeks, and roots should appear. When you notice new development on the stem, it’s time to transplant it.

How to Grow Ground Cherries From seed

Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep in an organic seed-starting mix to start your ground cherries from seed inside. Planting them in biodegradable seed cells that you can subsequently plant in your garden without having to transplant the seedlings can be beneficial.

Maintain a warm environment for your seeds, between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure the soil is regularly moist but not waterlogged.

In around two weeks, the seeds should germinate. Keep the seedlings near a sunny window and keep the soil moist until the final frost date in your area has passed. After that, for approximately a week, you can move your seedlings outside for gradually longer periods to adapt them to direct sunshine before planting them in your garden.

Wait until your spring temps are consistently warm before starting plants outside. After that, sow the seeds about 1/4 inch deep in your garden soil and water them lightly every day until they sprout.

Ground Cherries Potting and Repotting

For potting ground cherries, use an organic potting mix formulated exclusively for fruits and vegetables. Unless you’re transplanting a young plant from a small container into something larger, you won’t need to re-pot your plant during the growing season. If that’s the case, plant it at the same depth it was in its prior container add potting mix around it.

Common Plant Pests and Diseases

Ground cherry plants, in general, are more resistant to pests and diseases than tomatoes and tomatillos. They do, however, face some of the same challenges as their kin. Whiteflies, flea beetles, hornworms, and cutworms, in particular, may attack the plants, especially if they are weakened by dryness.

If there isn’t enough air circulation around the plants, fungal issues can develop. Many issues can be avoided with proper growing conditions.

By Elissa Sanci

Elissa Sanci, the owner of the website GardenProducts.org, graduated from Santa Barbara City College – a famous public school in California with many diverse training professions, and she majored in horticulture.

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