Have you grown ground cherries yet?

I talk a lot about growing vegetables and herbs but did you know that I grow quite a bit of fruit too? One of my favorite things to grow every year is the ground cherry! It's basically a small yellow cherry with a tropical flavor that grows on a low bush. Oh, and it grows inside a paper lantern!

Ground cherries growing

The first time I heard of ground cherries I was intrigued. They are related to the tomato (another fruit) and have tiny seeds inside, not a pit like regular cherries. They have a mild almost tropical fruit flavor and they are wrapped in a papery husk that needs peeled back before eating. As mentioned above, they look a lot like paper lanterns.

I first started growing ground cherry (Physalis) because they are so darn cool looking. I still grow them because not only are they delicious, but each plant provides baskets upon baskets of them...and they bear fruit for months on end! They are an annual but will bear fruit all the way up till the first frost.

They're one of the fruits I grew to sneak some extra fruits and vegetables into my family's diet. It worked! They absolutely love ground cherries!

There are several different varieties but I like to grow one called Aunt Molly's ground cherry.

How to grow ground cherries

I always start my seeds indoors about two months before my projected last frost date. Use a seed heating pad as most seeds require fairly warm soil to germinate. I didn't write down the exact date the seedlings appeared, but it was a little less than 2 weeks.

When seedlings are about 2" high I transplant them into 4" pots to give them enough room to grow till they go into the garden. Transplant ground cherries to garden after soil has warmed up.

Space plants about 3 feet apart. I put a ton of compost in the hole when I planted them since I had read they like a lot of organic matter. Plant in well drained soil in full sun. I fertilized every two weeks, otherwise a fairly low maintenance fruit.

Since they are related to the tomato plant you can transplant them deeper into the dirt than other plants. They will grow roots along the stem that is underground. Many gardeners use raised beds for ground cherries as they do need good drainage.

This is a bushy plant that grows to about 2 feet tall. They can be grown in the garden or on the patio in containers.

Ground cherry, growing

Depending on the variety, they will take 65-75 days to maturity. The ground cherry will drop to the ground when ready to harvest. They will start out slowly producing but soon pick up speed and produce heavy yields all season long. The more I harvest, the more they seem to produce! 

They do very well even in the hottest weeks of summer. Mulching with straw, dried grass or dried leaves in extreme heat does seem to help. Plus, if you have a layer of mulch under the plant it keeps the fruits from getting dirty when they drop off the plants when they're ready.

Ground cherries are fairly disease and pest resistant, though something did steal a few from the garden. Squirrel maybe? I found a few half eaten in a pile this year, but otherwise haven't had any problems with pests or disease over the years.

How to harvest ground cherries

Ground cherries will drop off the vine when they are ready. To harvest, simply pick them up off the ground. Do not pluck them from the vine, just wait for them to drop. I place them in baskets on my kitchen counter for a few days to allow the husks to dry out and for the fruits to finish ripening. 

Store ground cherries in their husks. They can stay fresh for up to three months! You can eat them plain or pretty much any way you would eat regular cherries. They have a high pectin content which makes them perfect for jams and jelly's. They do have a ton of tiny seeds though, so jams can be a bit seedy which can seem odd to some people. 

As they age the ground cherry husks will start to disintegrate and get papery thin, almost lacy looking. The fruit will also dry out eventually but it is still edible! They're actually sold in stores packaged like raisins but they're called golden berries.

Ground cherries

How to save ground cherry seeds

To save seeds, you just need to remove them from the ripe ground cherry. Rinse seeds and allow them to dry thoroughly before storing. I give it at least a week. Store in paper seed envelopes. 

Since they are so small some people like to smash the fruits in water and drain off the pulp. I've even seen a blender used. These are great methods if you're saving a lot of seeds.

How to use ground cherries

This fruit is edible raw or cooked. It can be added to fruit salsas, salads or baked into pies, cobblers and other desserts. Pretty much any way you can use a regular cherry, you can use a ground cherry!

Here s a great recipe for Ground Cherry Jam

Ground cherry can keep for about 3 months as long as you leave them in their paper husks...which is nice because you can have fresh fruit long after the summer growing season has ended!

This is a fun fruit to grow. I really like to grow unique things in the garden and  introduce new people to them. Ground cherry and Cucamelon are probably my favorite 'fun' crops to grow.

Want to learn more about growing your own food? Click here for my other posts on growing your own food, herbs and flowers.


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