Ground cherries (Physalis spp.) are versatile and delicious fruit that can be easily grown in your backyard. Their sweet and tangy flavour makes them an excellent addition to desserts, salads, and preserves. This article will provide an in-depth guide on planting, growing, harvesting, and storing ground cherries.
|Days to Grow||70-80 days|
|Square Foot Garden Spacing||1 plant per 2-3 sq. feet|
|When to Plant||6-8 weeks before last frost date|
|Yield||1-2 lbs per plant|
|Frost Tolerance||Tender (not frost-tolerant)|
|Hours of Light Needed||6+ hours per day|
|Soil Conditions||Well-draining, pH 6.0-6.8|
|Days to Maturity||70-80 days after transplanting|
1. Selecting the Right Ground Cherry Variety
There are numerous ground cherry varieties available, each with its unique characteristics. Some popular varieties include:
- Aunt Molly’s: Renowned for its sweet flavour and resistance to disease, this variety is perfect for first-time growers.
- Cossack Pineapple: Known for its pineapple-like taste, it’s an excellent choice for fruit salads and preserves.
- Golden Berry: This variety has slightly larger fruit and a tangy flavour, making it ideal for baking and cooking.
2. Preparing the Soil for Planting Ground Cherries
Ground cherries thrive in well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. To prepare the soil for planting, follow these steps:
- Choose a sunny location: Ground cherries require at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
- Test the soil pH: If necessary, amend the soil with lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.
- Add organic matter: Incorporate compost, aged manure, or other organic material to improve soil fertility and structure.
3. Planting Ground Cherries
To maximize your ground cherry harvest, follow these planting guidelines:
- Start seeds indoors: Sow seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Use seed-starting trays or small pots filled with seed-starting mix.
- Harden off seedlings: Gradually expose seedlings to outdoor conditions for 7-10 days before transplanting.
- Transplant seedlings: Plant seedlings outdoors after the danger of frost has passed, spacing them 2-3 feet apart in rows 3-4 feet apart.
- Mulch and water: Apply a layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist.
4. Caring for Ground Cherry Plants
Proper care will ensure a bountiful harvest. Follow these guidelines for healthy ground cherry plants:
- Fertilize regularly: Apply a balanced fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
- Weed control: Keep the area around the plants free of weeds, which can compete for nutrients and water.
- Pest and disease management: Inspect plants regularly for signs of pests or diseases. Use organic or chemical controls as necessary, following label instructions.
5. Harvesting Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are typically ready to harvest 70-80 days after transplanting. To harvest your ground cherries, follow these tips:
- Look for colour change: Ground cherries are ripe when their husks turn from green to tan or yellow.
- Harvest fallen fruit: Ripe ground cherries often fall to the ground. Collect these fruits daily to prevent spoilage.
- Store with husks on: Keep the husks on the fruit until you are ready to use them. This will help prolong their shelf life.
6. Storing Ground Cherries
Proper storage will ensure that your ground cherries remain fresh and delicious. Use these storage methods to maximize shelf life:
- Refrigerate: Store ground cherries in the refrigerator with their husks on in a perforated plastic bag or container. They can last for up to 3 weeks when stored this way.
- Freeze: For long-term storage, remove the husks and wash the fruit. Dry them thoroughly, then spread them out on a baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer the ground cherries to an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 12 months.
- Dehydrate: Dehydrating ground cherries is another excellent way to preserve them. Remove the husks, wash and dry the fruit, and then place them on dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at 135°F (57°C) for 8-12 hours or until the fruit is leathery and pliable. Store the dried ground cherries in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
7. Using Ground Cherries in Recipes
Ground cherries are a versatile fruit that can be used in various dishes. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
- Fresh: Enjoy ground cherries as a healthy snack or toss them into a fruit salad for added flavour and colour.
- Preserves: Make ground cherry jam, jelly, or chutney to enjoy their unique flavour throughout the year.
- Baked goods: Add ground cherries to muffins, pies, or cobblers for a delightful twist on traditional recipes.
- Savoury dishes: Combine ground cherries with other ingredients to create sweet and tangy sauces for meats, seafood, or vegetables.
8. Propagating Ground Cherries for Future Seasons
Ground cherries are easily propagated, ensuring you have a continuous supply of this delicious fruit. To propagate ground cherries, follow these steps:
- Save seeds: Collect seeds from ripe ground cherries by gently squeezing the fruit and removing the seeds. Rinse and dry the seeds, then store them in a cool, dry place until planting time.
- Germination: Sow seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, following the same process as when planting ground cherries initially.
Ground cherries are delicious and easy-to-grow fruit that can be enjoyed in various recipes or preserved for future use. By following the guidelines in this article, you’ll be well on your way to planting, growing, harvesting, and storing ground cherries in your garden. Their unique flavour and versatility make them a valuable addition to any home garden.
Seeds and planting
Links and Resources
(These are some of what I use)
These nursery bags
These Grow bags
mybackyard.ca Seeds Page
Get a Head Start on Spring: The Benefits of Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Saving Vegetable Seeds: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening Success
myBackyard.ca Planting Guide
Pollock Tomatoes (North hardy Tomato variety)
Tomatoes (Useful information on starting tomatoes from seed)
When to start planting seeds
Germination testing your seeds
Looking for sources for seeds?
Chitting your way to more potatoes
So it's before the first frost; what can I plant?
Individual seed and plant information is available in the "Gardening Shortcut Links" above under "North Hardy Plants to grow". I have successfully grown all of these, and most I grow year to year.