Ground cherries are easy to grow and produce a bounty of sweet marble-sized berries.

How to grow ground cherries in a garden

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In my new book, Veggie Garden Remix, I talk about how to grow ground cherries in a garden. This tomato relative is also called husk cherry and has become one of our favorite crops for its ease of cultivation and bounty of marble-sized, golden fruits. Read on to learn more about this fantastic garden vegetable!

This post is an excerpt from Veggie Garden Remix by Niki Jabbour. 

Glorious ground cherries

THE FLAVOR OF a ripe ground cherry is comparable to pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. It’s an unusual combination, but one that works. Occasionally, I’ll bite into an extra-ripe berry that almost tastes like butterscotch — sublime! Their sweet flavor is what earns them the nicknames “strawberry tomato” and “Cossack pineapple.” You can eat the fruits fresh or in salads, but you can also turn them into jam, pie, cobbler, or sauce for drizzling over ice cream or cheesecake. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry them and eat them like raisins.

This is a fun and easy crop to grow, with the low, bushy plants producing hundreds of marble-size berries from midsummer until the hard autumn frost. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. They are firm fruits, even when ripe, with seeds that are so small the fruits actually seem seedless.

Learn how to grow ground cherries, a tomato relative with sweet fruits hidden in a papery husk.

Grow ground cherries in a garden for a generous harvest of the pineapple-vanilla flavored fruits.

Tricky to start, but self-sowing ever after

The first step to growing ground cherries in a garden is to get them to sprout. They are notoriously tricky to germinate, but a bit of bottom heat will boost germination rates. I sow seeds indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before my last expected spring frost, and help them along by covering the seed trays with clear plastic wrap and placing them on top of my fridge to keep warm. Germination can take 2 to 3 weeks. Once transplanted into the garden, expect the harvest to begin in 70 to 75 days.

Tuck them in a sunny site in the garden or in large pots, digging in a few inches of compost or aged manure. A steady supply of moisture will result in the highest quality fruits, so water regularly if there has been no rain. A 2-inch layer of straw or shredded leaves on the soil will prevent weeds, maintain soil moisture and keep the fallen fruits clean.

You may only to start ground cherries once, though! They are prolific self-seeders, so expect many volunteer plants to pop up the following season. You can either thin them and leave a few in place, or dig them up to share with gardening-minded family and friends. Growing them in containers on a wooden, stone, or concrete deck or patio will minimize the threat of self-seeding. As well gathering any over-ripe fruit left on the garden bed in late autumn.

Related post: Cherry tomato round up!

Growing ground cherries in a garden

To grow ground cherries in a garden, keep in mind that the plants have a relaxed growth habit, which can take up a lot of space. I use tomato cages (inserted at transplanting time) or insert three 4-foot wooden stakes around the plant and use twine to keep the growth relatively upright. If you do support your ground cherry plants, you can transplant them 2 feet apart.

Unsupported plants should be spaced at least 3 feet apart. They don’t get very tall (between 1½ and 3 feet in height), and they can also be grown in pots on a sunny deck or patio. Ground cherries pollinate themselves, so small-space gardeners can enjoy this crop, even if they have only one plant.

In this video, you’ll learn about some of the delicious ways to use ground cherries in the kitchen. 

Potential pests

Although our annual ground cherry crop is seldom bothered by pests, we do occasionally see the tiny holes in the leaves caused by flea beetles. Also watch for Colorado potato beetles or striped cucumber beetles. Combining crop rotation with a lightweight row cover placed over the seedlings at planting time will help deter most pests. Remove the cover when the plants begin to flower.

Look down for fruit

Harvesting is as simple as gathering up the fallen fruits — a favorite activity for our kids! Sometimes the fruits are still immature when they fall and need extra time to ripen from inedible green to rich, golden yellow. You could leave them on the ground for a week or two, but because the squirrels also love this treat, I pick up the fallen fruits every couple of days and bring them indoors to finishing maturing. To keep fallen fruits clean, I apply a straw mulch beneath the plants in early summer. This also helps keep the soil evenly moist, which ground cherries appreciate. To encourage ripe or almost-ripe fruits to fall, you can “tickle” or gently tousle the plant every few days.

Add ground cherries to baked goods like pies or scones, or turn them into a sweet jam.

Ground cherries can be added to scones, pies, salads, salsa, and eaten fresh from the garden. We also love to make a vanilla-ground cherry jam to spoon over fresh bread.

If you’re not going to eat your whole harvest immediately, store the small fruits, still in husks, in a refrigerator, cool basement, garage, or root cellar. Under ideal conditions, they can store from 6 weeks to 3 months. When frost threatens in autumn, cover the plants with a row cover or frost blanket to protect the crop. This can extend the season for several weeks.

We love to eat our ground cherries straight from the garden, popping the golden fruits from the husks and into our mouths. You can also bake the berries in scones, pies, tarts, and cakes, stew them with sugar and vanilla to make a sublime sauce for ice cream, or turn them into a tasty jam.

To read more from Niki about shaking up your veggie garden with new, unusual, and global crops, purchase a copy of Veggie Garden Remix via Amazon or your local bookseller.

Excerpted from Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix © by Niki Jabbour. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Get tips on how to grow ground cherries in a garden - it's fun & easy!

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28 Responses to How to grow ground cherries in a garden

  1. I discovered ground cherries at the Wellington Farmer’s Market in Prince Edward County last summer – they were the first thing to sell out every Saturday! So tasty!!!

  2. Marla says:

    I grew Ground Cherries about 5 years ago but they were still green by the end of October so the frost took them. The plants are very prolific and came back every year but I weeded them as the plants would be killed by frost before I could harvest the fruit. Did I perhaps have a variety which was too late for our season. Can someone tell me a variety that will ripen earlier for our climate in Nova Scotia.

  3. Teresa says:

    So I have to laugh because I thought these were weeds growing under my pine tree. They seem to like it there. Now I know to eat them.

  4. Holly says:

    Do you need to fertalize ground cherries when growing in containers?

  5. Becky says:

    Do these ground cherries grow on prickly vines? I’ve seen wild yellow husk-tomatoes growing on roadsides, but the plants are so stickery, I have never tried to pick and eat the fruits. I bought a bag of organic Dried Golden Berries (Physalis peruviana) at Aldi, and shall be trying to grow some this year. Their flavor is a lot more interesting and appealing than the dried Goji berries I’ve purchased!

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      Hmmm interesting.. Horse nettle is in the same family but their fruits don’t have husks.. I haven’t ever seen a ground cherry plant with prickly vines.

  6. Doris says:

    Do deer like ground cherries?

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      Hey Doris. About the same as tomatoes… not a favourite food, but if they’re hungry enough, they may take a bit of the leaves. Putting a chicken wire cage around the plants should protect them. – Niki

  7. Heidi Lipovsek says:

    Have have a ground cherry plant on my window sill and it’s done producing and is now yellow. I’m in Wisconsin and we already have a bunch of snow and the feel like temp in 2°f. So I was wondering do I cut the plant back or just leave it be. This is my first time growing a ground cherry plant.

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      Good question.. likely, it’s done and you can toss it on your compost. If you want to try to grow it as houseplant you can, but I’ve never had any luck growing them indoors. – Niki

  8. Stacy says:

    Do ground cherries grow in zone 7?

  9. sasha says:

    should I l discourage suckers and formation of side branches like on a tomato?

  10. Phillip says:

    The seeds germinated in about three weeks but the plants are near microscopic and seem really fragile. Some died after getting barley above the surface. I have them in peat cups so as not to have to disturb them during transplanting. Will they ever get strong enough to plant in pots or in the ground? Some are about 1/2″ tall but still seem very fragile! Thanks.

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      Are they getting plenty of light Phillip? The seedlings do start out quite small but they can get spindly and fall over if they don’t have enough light. Grow-lights should be just 2-3 inches from the tops of plants. If you’re using a window, it may not be offering enough light. Also, I keep a fan on in my seed-starting room to boost air circulation. It reduces damping off which is a fungal disease that kills seedlings. I’d fertilize your seedlings with a diluted organic fertilizer and give them as much light as possible. – Niki

  11. Linda says:

    I’ve got All my young plants, ground cherries too, under a grow Light with a fan going to jostle them. It helps strengthen the plants. I hope it helps – it was a game changer for me.

  12. Mary says:

    I grew them for the first time last year, three plants given to me by a friend and I had them throughout the summer into October. Groundhogs love them but after awhile got discouraged with netting.

    I’ll have to look into making jam out of it, what a great way to make use of such a prolific plant 😁

  13. Zora says:

    I live in MD (zone 6b/7a) and I’m just starting to seed them indoors. Did I start too late? The 1st frost typically doesn’t come until late October.

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      You can try… they need about 6-7 weeks of indoor growth before being moved outside. It’s too late for me in zone 6 but if you can’t find seedlings at a nursery, I say go for it! 🙂 Good luck.

  14. Emily says:

    🙂 thank you for the post. I’m growing one as well as they got so big so fast. I wonder what pot size do you use for your mature ground cherry or what size would you recommend.

    thank you

    • Niki Jabbour says:

      Bigger is better! I would suggest a pot at least 16 inches in diameter as the plants can grow several feet tall and across. Plus larger pots hold a larger volume of soil which means you don’t have to water as often. I’m all about gardening with less work :). Niki

  15. Lynda MacLellan says:

    I bought some ground cherry transplants, which are under 5” high. They have tiny blossoms. Too early! Should I pinch these off?

  16. Leslie says:

    I’m growing ground cherries for the first time this year, and have been harvesting twice a day for the past few days. (direct sown in outdoor container…they germinated quite quickly.) I just noticed tiny little holes in the leaves like you described in the article above, and I’m wondering what you all used to treat flea beetles?

  17. Mazie says:

    Like Leslie, my plants are covered with flea beetle holes. I’ve sprayed with Neem oil but with no real improvements. Next year I plan on using the row covers. Any more tips on flea beetle treatment or row covers for next years crop would be appreciated!

  18. Joy says:

    How soon should blossom appear on the ground cherry plant.

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