If you would like to add more fruit to your garden, learning how to grow ground cherries is a simple way to do it. Although most modern gardeners have never heard of them, ground cherries are a delicious husked fruit with a unique flavor similar to a cross between pineapple, strawberries, and citrus with a tropical undertone. This tasty fruit is also known as cape gooseberries, husk tomatoes, or sweet tomatillos.
I first tried ground cherries at the Pike Place Market in Seattle and was hooked. They are so good!
Ground cherries are a relative of tomatoes and tomatillos, and share similar growing characteristics. Large, sprawling plants produce dozens of small, yellow berries in a papery husk. Learn how to grow ground cherries with these 10 tips.
10 Tips for How to Grow Ground Cherries
1. Start ground cherry seeds indoors
Ground cherries grow well in zones 4 and higher, but are very frost-sensitive and do best started indoors. Start seeds for ground cherries indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Seeds may be slow to germinate; be patient. Harden off transplants before planting outdoors.
2. Try different varieties of ground cherries
Pineapple: Cherry-sized fruit; low growing; pineapple flavor; 75 days from transplant to harvest.
Goldie: ½” to ¾” fruit; sweet and prolific; 75 days from transplant to harvest.
Aunt Molly’s: ½” to ¾” fruit; good choice for preserves; 70 days from transplant to harvest.
New Hanover: Known for good flavor; sweet and fruity; 65-75 days from transplant to harvest.
3. Plant ground cherries at the right time
You can follow the same planting schedule for ground cherries as you do for tomatoes and tomatillos. Ground cherries prefer warm soil. Plant about 2 weeks after your last average frost date.
Ground cherries need warm temperatures and plenty of sun. In hot summer areas like the low desert of Arizona, afternoon shade is preferred.
When growing ground cherries in the low desert of Arizona (and other hot summer climates), they will produce fruit until temperatures get very hot in the summer. If plants survive the summer, as temperatures cool they will begin producing again.
4. Choose an area to grow ground cherries with good drainage and rich soil
Raised beds and containers are an excellent choice for growing ground cherries. Ground cherries are heavy feeders and require rich soil. Amend soil with several inches of compost before planting. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer if needed.
6. Give ground cherries plenty of space
Ground cherry plants are sprawling and grow wide. Allow 2 – 3 feet between each plant.
Ground cherries can be grown vertically. The branches are brittle and do best trained vertically while young. Staking, or using a tomato cage or other type of trellis, will keep branches up off the ground.
7. Don't let ground cherries dry out
Ground cherries need regular water to grow well. If ground cherries dry out, they will drop blossoms rather than setting fruit. Mulching plants helps retain moisture.
Container-grown ground cherries grow well in a self-watering container or with an olla to provide additional water.
8. Let ground cherries harvest themselves
When ground cherries are ripe, they will fall from the plant to the ground. Fruit on the plant is not ripe yet. Ripening fruit turns from green to golden yellow, and finally a warm apricot gold, and the husks become dry and papery. Gather fallen fruit. Allow fallen fruit to ripen further at room temperature (if necessary)with the husks on for the best flavor.
Harvest ground cherries frequently. Ground cherries left on the ground will often reseed.
9. Store ground cherries properly for the longest storage life
Ground cherries have a longer storage life than many other fruits. Leave husks intact and store in a mesh bag in a cool location (about 50 degrees). When stored this way, ground cherries often last for about 3 months.