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Tiny tomatillo-like fruits are oddly sweet and savory at the same time.

Growing and Harvesting Ground Cherries

It’s always great to discover you can grow something in  your climate that you didn’t think was possible before. This is true of ground cherries for me. Until this spring, they were a mystery to me, relegated to northern climates, or so I thought. Then a friend sent seeds from Canada and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see how they would do in a completely different latitude.

Ground cherries, otherwise known as Physalis, are in the nightshade family and are most like the tomatillo. They flower and fruit the same way, but the result is a smaller fruit tucked inside that papery lantern-shaped sheath. The flavor is tomato-like, crossed with pineapple and mango or peach. It’s hard to describe. You just have to try it and judge for yourself.

Ground cherries grow in a shrub-like shape and flower like tiny tomatillos
Ground cherries grow in a shrub-like shape and flower like tiny tomatillos

We started seeds indoors in early spring and planted out in a stone urn for the season. The plants took off with regular watering (every other day in our dry weather) and occasional fertilizing with compost and compost tea. Soon we had flowers and fruit…

Lanterns appear and fruit develops inside. Pods turn brown/cream as they mature.
Lanterns appear and fruit develops inside. Pods turn brown/cream as they mature.

Watering needs increased as the weather warmed. Our stone pot dried out the soil more quickly than growing in the ground would have done. We had to read up to know when to harvest. Basically, they’re called ground cherries for a reason – let them fall to the ground, then pick them up and put them in a bowl to finish ripening indoors. That’s it!

Ground cherries drop to the ground when ready to pick. Easy peasy.
Ground cherries drop to the ground when ready to pick. Easy peasy.

The cherries will still be a little green when they fall, so leaving them in a bowl for a few days (or about a week) will give them a chance to turn yellow.

Remove the papery sheath and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Remove the papery sheath and store in the fridge until ready to use.

Now to figure out how to best utilize their unusual combination of flavors. Suggestions ranged from making green salsa to smashing them over vanilla ice cream. We tried the latter and found it delicious. Vanilla blended wonderfully with the tropical fruit elements. Here are some other ideas to try:

Ground Cherry Pineapple Crumble

Ground Cherry Preserves

Ground Cherry Salad

Every few days we pick through the bowl on the counter to find more ripe ground cherries. Every day we pick more fallen fruits off the ground outside. It’s a new ritual we never thought we’d experience. If you have the chance to experiment, try growing ground cherries in your own garden next spring. They provide a delightful surprise all summer long.

Tiny tomatillo-like fruits are oddly sweet and savory at the same time.
Tiny tomatillo-like fruits are oddly sweet and savory at the same time.

This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. Stacy

    I live in Las Vegas. Temps are nearing over 100. Our pineapple tomato plant produces the fruit in the husk and they fall off, but the fruit is a little larger than a pea and green. Is it just too hot here?

    1. Christy

      Hi Stacy, Sorry to say that temps over 90 degrees F cause tomato pollen to go sterile (blossoms drop, in this case). You can install shade cloth to try to keep the plants cooler, and give them extra water and food. But if they fall off, it’s not your fault.

  2. Sharon

    I want to clean up my garden but have a ton a ground cherries on the vines yet. Can I pull plant and hang upside down to continue ripening? Or just pull off cherries?

    1. Christy

      You can pick ground cherries before they fall on the ground, but they will need to ripen on the counter in a bowl. They are toxic if eaten when any trace of green still on them, so be sure to wait long enough. You can also pull the plant and hang it upside down over a sheet. If you live in a warm-winter climate ground cherries are perennial so if you want to have them next year, go for the first option.

      1. Sharon

        Thank you Christy. I am in northern Minnesota so I will pull and try hanging a few plants. A sheet underneath is a great idea!

  3. Sam Adam

    First time I tried a ground cherry was at a cafe in Montreal. Surprised and in love at their taste.
    I’m in Winnipeg and found Ground Cherries for the first time at Lacoste Garden Centre. I planted 2 (I thought one might be lonely) in my raised bed (chicken wire walls to keep my Jack Russell out) they are taking over the bed!! My soil is over saturated with Peat Moss, the peppers don’t like that too much but the ground Cherries sure do!
    So nice to have something tasty like this grow so well in the North, small but 100’s of them.

    1. Christy

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Sam. I feel like they are similar to nasturtiums. Plant once, have them forever. At least that’s the case in warm-winter climates. Glad to hear your peaty soil loves them.

  4. Katiemooriah

    Something is eating or taking my ground cherries as soon as they fall. I. Only getting e.pty chewed on husks . Any ideas to make this stop

    1. Christy

      I have a similar issue. It’s usually rats or opossums. I make a practice of harvesting daily to keep them from being on the ground too long. Also, you could set rat traps in the surrounding area to reduce the rat population overnight. You could try adding an elevated layer of bird netting between the plant and the soil to catch the ground cherries as they drop. It may make it harder for rats and other critters to access them. Worth a try. Keep us posted on how it goes.

    2. Cindy Hebert

      Mine have the same! Here in northern Ontario Canada its the chipmunks that are having a feast and the squirrels! Saw one running across the land yesterday with one hanging from his mouth! We are getting g none…they, on the other hand, are having the feast of their lives!

  5. Beth Johnson

    I would love to grow them,where can I get seeds?

    1. Christy

      There are many seed companies that carry ground cherries, but we’re growing a special one this year from Living Seed Company called the Golden Berry. It’s sweeter than most ground cherries. Give them a try.

    2. Doreen Lapp

      Seedsavers.org has them. I’ve grown Aunt Molly’s ground cherries for about the last 5 years. I tried Loewen’s that they have, but I think the Aunt Molly’s are the better choice for plant vigor. Both varieties have the same flavor. Out of the 6 ground cherry plants I have in the garden, 5 are Aunt Molly’s due to choosing which plants are growing the best out of what I’ve started. Most years it took a couple of weeks for my seeds to germinate, but this year the Aunt Molly’s germinated within a week. I read they are perennial, so if your winter doesn’t drop below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, they can stay in the garden.

  6. andrew shulman

    I’m having a weird problem with almost all of my ground cherry plants. The berry, while still on the plant, ends up poking through the paper. it’s hard to describe but it’s like the paper doesn’t grow with the berry and the berry just pokes through the end. Has anybody else had this happen? Any suggestion?

    1. Christy

      Hum, that’s a new one for me. Has it affected the color or flavor of the ground cherries?

        1. Christy

          That is weird. I found one other person who reported this same issue, but no solutions were offered. Is this the first year you’ve experienced this? Also, have you tried ripening them in a paper bag with an apple or something else that produces ethane?

        2. Samantha

          Did anyone ever offer a solution to this? My plant looks like it is ejecting the fruit. Like the fruit is pushing out of the husk.

          1. Theresa

            A few of mine are doing this too. My grandson says they look like a pacifier. Perfect description. I wonder what the solution is?

  7. Rose Tomko

    Last fall I was introduced to ground cherries while pumpkin picking. I loved everything about the ground cherries so wanted to plant them (newbie to organic gardening). I started the Grandma Molly’s ground cherry tomatoes indoors and planted them outdoors after 1st frost. They are doing great growing and I am now harvesting the husks that fall. However, the size of the fruit is not even 1/2 the size you show in the photo above (holding up with fingers) nor what I experienced last fall. Can you please help?

    1. Christy

      The crop is a heavy feeder, so if you’re growing them in pots, you’ll need to feed them monthly. If in the ground, may as often, depending on your soil nutrient levels. We always recommend worm castings and compost to help boost soil biology as well. Get those nutrient cyclers going to help your plant grow. Make sure to space them apart about 2 feet so they are competing for nutrients. They’ll probably re-seed and produce on their own next year if you let them. Keep amending that soil area and they will grow larger each year.

  8. LaQuita

    Hi
    My ground cherry plant wont bloom. What should I do?

    1. Christy

      Ground cherries, while easy to grow (and prolific re-seeders), are heavy feeders. That means they need to be fed throughout the growing season in order to produce fruit. If your ground cherries are in a pot, toss in some compost, worm castings and organic veggie fertilizer and see if that makes a difference.

  9. Maria

    My ground cherries were falling to the ground before ripening. I brought them inside and put them on the counter. After a few days the husks dried and turned from green to tan, but the cherry was still green. It’s now two to FOUR weeks later and the cherries STILL green. Why aren’t they turning yellow? Is there anything I can do to encourage ripening?

    1. Christy

      Hi Maria, they are supposed to fall to the ground when still a little green. If they aren’t turning yellow indoors after 4 weeks, though, they may never do that. I have a few that just refuse to turn, and instead shrivel up. Others I’ve held on to for what felt like a month or so before they started to turn. You could try putting them in a bag with an apple to see if that speeds things along. Or just wait another couple weeks and see what happens.

  10. Robert

    My ground cherries flower out, but fall off before they produce fruit. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Christy

      There are a couple reasons why that might be happening. Since ground cherries are self-pollinating, we can rule out a pollination problem. I’ve read that dry conditions can cause flowers to drop before setting fruit. They need about an inch of water per week. Probably more if in containers. I watered my containers every few days and the ground cherries were very happy. If you are keeping them well watered, then it might be a phosphorus and potassium deficiency, which are both responsible for fruiting and flowering. You might try adding a little organic veggie fertilizer or watering with kelp emulsion.

  11. John

    Once you grow ground cherries you will not need to save seeds. Or at least that is my experience. They just come up the next year from seed that has fallen. Of course, you have to be able to recognize the little plant so that you don’t pull them out as weeds. I find they will grow more upright if they are within a low fence. Otherwise they have a tendency to spread out low to the ground.

    1. Christy

      LOL, John, you’re absolutely right! I have ground cherries popping up all over the place, and the seeds made it through the cold composting process too. Now they are germinating in my raised beds, far away from where they originally grew.

  12. John

    Chipmunks really like ground cherries. We find very few on the ground that still have the cherry inside. As a result we primarily pick ground cherries with slightly yellow husks off the plant and let them finish ripening inside. Green cherries generally will not ripen.

    1. Christy

      Our squirrels never discovered our fallen ground cherries, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time. We found it took a long time for the green cherries to ripen (you’re right, some didn’t ripen at all). Those that had a tinge of yellow did ripen over several weeks, maybe a month. Has anyone tried the ethane gas trick for these? The old banana in a paper bag trick? I wonder if it would speed things up.

  13. Dave

    Where can a guy find seeds for ground cherry, or do you have to know someone from Canada? These sound pretty great! Do you have any resources for how to save seed once you grow some?

    1. Christy

      Hi Dave,
      You can find seeds from companies like Seed Savers Exchange and High Mowing Seed Company. We grew Aunt Molly’s but there are others out there. We haven’t tried saving seeds, but we imagine that since it’s in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos, we would use the same process as for those.

    2. Lori

      Greenhouses will carry the seeds. Also Canadian Tire will have small plants. You need to go fairly early as there usually only a few!

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