by Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever heard of ground cherries? Have you considered growing them around your home?
If you haven’t heard of this fruit, that’s okay. It’s one of the best kept secrets in gardening. Ground cherries (Physalis) are annual plants that take a shrub-like form.
They can be planted in the spring and produce a harvest around summer. There are lots of interesting things to know about ground cherries.
Even if you’ve read a how-to on growing this plant, it’s still important to keep a list of tips and tricks around to ensure you’re fully prepared for growing a new crop in your gardening area.
Take the following tips into consideration before adding ground cherries to your garden.
1. Plant Ground Cherries at the Appropriate Time . . . Inside or Out
Ground cherries don’t handle frost well. Therefore, it’s vital you know when your final frost date is for the spring.
From there, you can decide the best method for growing ground cherries. If your last frost date is later in the growing season, consider starting ground cherries, from seed, indoors.
When using this method, ensure you start the seeds approximately two months prior to the final frost date.
If you have a longer growing season, you can direct sow ground cherry seeds once all threat of frost is over.
Whichever method you choose, be prepared for a longer germination period and low germination rates. Ground cherries can take a couple of weeks to germinate, and the soil surrounding them should be kept consistently moist until the seeds sprout.
Due to the low germination rate, it’s wise to plant more seeds than what you wish to grow. Therefore, if some fail to sprout, you still have plenty of plants to work with.
The most important tip to raising ground cherries is to start the seeds at the right time and in the right way for your planting zone.
2. Plant Ground Cherries in the Right Soil at the Right Depth
Ground cherries don’t require much to grow well. However, they do have a few basic needs which must be met.
One of the things they must have is proper soil. It must be slightly acidic, dense in nutrients, and well-draining. Be mindful that the soil isn’t overly saturated as this will damage the roots.
Once you know the soil requirements are met, you should also ask yourself if you’re planting at the right depth.
This plant is related to the tomato plant. It actually reminds me more of a tomatillo because the fruit is produced inside a husk.
Like tomatoes, ground cherries have the ability to sprout roots all over the bottom portion of the stem. Therefore, you must plant the crop far enough into the soil that multiple roots may form, and the plant has the opportunity to develop a strong root system.
Plant ground cherry seeds ¼ inch beneath the soil. If you’re transplanting seedlings, ensure they’re planted two to three inches into the soil. Once the seedling is in the ground, press the soil firmly around the base of the plant to provide stability as it grows.
If your ground cherry plants are grown at the right depth in the right type of soil, they should have everything they need to grow well in your garden space.
3. Provide Ground Cherries With the Right Amount of Sunlight
We have discussed when you should plant ground cherries and some of the growing conditions this plant needs.
It’s time to discuss another growing condition . . . light. Ground cherries should be grown in an area where they’ll receive full sunlight.
In general, this equates to six to eight hours of sunlight. The exception is if you’re growing ground cherries in an area where the afternoon sun can be brutal.
This plant generally grows best in planting zones four through eight. If you live on the higher end of these planting zones, you may want to plant ground cherries where they’ll receive afternoon shade.
Ground cherries grow best between 55-degrees Fahrenheit and 85-degrees Fahrenheit. Once the temperatures exceed 85-degrees Fahrenheit, the plant tends to stop producing.
As long as it’s provided protection from scorching temperatures, it should survive and continue to produce once the temperatures decrease again.
Be sure to grow ground cherries in an appropriate location for your planting zone as this will help you receive the bountiful harvest everyone hopes for when planting something new.
4. Provide Adequate Growing Space for Ground Cherries
As stated earlier, ground cherries grow in a shrub-like form. Therefore, they need adequate spacing to prosper.
Ground cherries require around three feet of space between each plant. If you’re concerned about how much space you have, or maybe you can’t provide some of the growing conditions mentioned above, you’re in luck.
Ground cherries are great candidates for a variety of gardening methods. You can grow them in raised beds, large containers (as long as they’re a gallon or larger), or in traditional garden plots.
If spacing is still a concern, you can grow ground cherries vertically. Instead of letting them sprawl out, place a trellis behind them. This way, you can train them to grow up the trellis as they become larger.
This should keep your garden area neat and tidy as the plants mature. It should also ensure these plants don’t take over your growing area which should make for a better gardening experience.
5. Use Proper Watering Techniques When Growing Ground Cherries
Ground cherries don’t want to be left in an overly saturated state. However, they do love even moisture.
Therefore, it’s important to water your plants regularly. You can use the deep watering method to encourage strong plants while also striking a balance with moisture.
Water your plants for longer periods of time, fewer days of the week. This will ensure the water reaches the roots of the plant during the watering session.
It should also saturate the ground around the plants. This is vital because as the days pass, the plants will dig their roots deeper into the ground to find more water.
You’ll know it’s time to apply more water by using the finger test. Stick your finger into the soil around your plant.
When the soil is dry to your first knuckle, you’ll know it’s time to apply more water. It’s also wise to mulch around your plants. This will help retain moisture as well.
Take these pointers into consideration when watering ground cherries. This could simplify the growing process.
6. Harvest Ground Cherries Correctly
We have covered quite a few tips on growing ground cherries. Basically, if you plant them in the appropriate growing conditions, at the right time and depth, and water adequately, these plants should grow well.
However, none of this does any good if you aren’t sure how or when to harvest ground cherries. As I mentioned earlier, ground cherries remind me of tomatillos.
They grow inside a husk, so you might assume once the fruit has formed within the husk that it’s ready to pick.
This would be incorrect and could leave you feeling disheartened. In fact, ground cherries are named this because you harvest them by picking them up from the ground.
Until the fruit has turned a deep golden yellow, the husk is thin, and it’s on the ground, it isn’t ready. Be mindful that you pick up fruit before it becomes too soft. If left, this will lead to reseeding which is an issue we’ll discuss later in this article.
After you harvest them from the ground, bring them indoors and store them in an onion sack in a cool location.
This will allow air to flow around the ground cherries. If you leave the husk on the fruit and store them as suggested, they can last up to three months.
Understanding how to harvest and store ground cherries is one of the most important tips to enjoying the fruits of your labor.
7. Keep an Eye Out for Pests and Diseases When Growing Ground Cherries
Keep an eye out for pests and diseases when growing this crop. We know that ground cherries are related to tomatoes.
For this reason, they’re also susceptible to some of the same pests. Be on the lookout for cutworms, hornworms, flea beetles, and white flies. All of these pests can be treated with an insecticide.
You should also look for fungal issues. If ground cherries are planted where the soil doesn’t drain well, or they’re planted too closely together, this can lead to fungal problems.
Be sure to plant ground cherries in well-draining soil where they’ll receive plenty of sunlight. This is important because cold, wet soil is the perfect breeding ground for fungal issues. Also, be sure there’s plenty of room for air to flow around the foliage of your plants.
By taking these steps, you could help deter some of the things which might threaten the health of your plants and your harvest.
8. Clean Up Your Garden When Growing Ground Cherries
Our last tip for growing ground cherries is to ensure you clean up your garden before closing it down for the season.
If you don’t, ground cherries will easily reseed as the leftover fruit remains on the ground and softens.
Leaving ground cherries to reseed, at the end of the season, could prove problematic when you go to plant the next year’s garden. In short, take the time to clean up your growing area to avoid being overrun in volunteer ground cherry plants the next year.
This concludes our tips for growing ground cherries. If you weren’t familiar with this plant before now, hopefully this information has built your confidence and you’ll consider growing ground cherries in the near future.
If you’re in need of a fast-growing fruit, with minimal problems, ground cherries could be the plant for you.