When it comes to doing a home garden in a small land holding, you have to always be looking to get the best return for the space used and also factor in time involved.
Where does that end up? Usually, it is fruit. It is fruit that is the magical winner. While bananas are cheap, the blueberries or strawberries can get expensive.
If you want to add fruit you have a couple of good options. Ground cherries are a simple and easy addition as there is a slight time delay on many of the other sweets.
Ground cherries are tasty and grow with a husk on the outside. The flavor reminds of a strawberry and citrus flavor or something tropical. The kind I grow also has a heavy pineapple flavor.
I first tried ground cherries after ordering a pack from Baker Creek seeds. Since then they have always been a favorite of mine.
Since the ground cherries are related to tomatoes and tomatillos, they are about as challenging to grow as a tomato or a tomatillo and have similar growth habits.
The plants can get large. They also grow sort of spready out or sprawling make a lot of yellow berries. This is a major advantage if you want fruit the same year you plant.
Fruit trees and many other fruit plants take a while to get production going at times.
Tips for How to Grow Ground Cherries
Start the seeds indoors
Ground cherries are frost sensitive. I’m in zone 4b and they grow so well in the garden. The problem is those last minute cold snaps. When started indoors you can get an 8 week jump or so on getting the plants going.
This year I didn’t get everything in the ground until May 27th.
Try different varieties
Just like tomatoes grow differently in the garden based on type, the ground cherries also vary. Flavor, size, and how well they do may come down to what does best for your particular garden.
Some variety options include:
- Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry Yellow Husk
- Goldenberry Goldie
- Ground Cherry Cossack
- Pineapple Ground Cherry– This is the one I have
- Yantar Ground Cherry
Plant ground cherries at the right time
Ground cherries like it warm just like tomatoes. It is advised to plant them out 2 weeks after danger of frost.
They need warm temperatures and a lot of sun. If growing in a location where it is dry or hot, they may need some shade.
The fruit will keep coming off of them as long as water and temperatures are optimal.
Ground cherries need rich soil with good drainage
For a tinystead ground cherries fit right in when installing the raised beds or containers. The ground cherries are hungry plants that need very nutritious soil so compost, bone meal, or worm castings are great soil additions.
The soil should be amended and pH balanced.
To grow well in a bed or container the plant needs a container around 8-9 inches in depth. Used good quality potting soil rich in nutrient but water drains away. They key here is not to let the ground cherries dry out either.
Ground cherries will need regular watering to grow. they will not hold blossoms nor set fruit if conditions are too dry. The plant will conserve energy and water.
Growing ground cherries in containers that are self-watering is pretty useful.
Ground cherry plants need to be planted deeply
Just like tomatoes and tomatillos, ground cherries need a lot of space for deep roots to pull up nutrients and moisture. It helps to remove leaves along the bottom of the plant, and plant ground cherry transplants deeply. It should be buried and you just leave a few leaves above the ground.
All of the bottom plant will set more roots.
Ground cherries need space
Ground cherry are known for sprawling and spreading and growing out wide. It helps to give each plant a 2×2 planting space, or 4 squares in terms of the square foot gardening method.
I like to train as much of my garden vertically as possible. The hard part with many solanums is they are more brittle when the plants are older so they need to be actively trained when branches are still young and pliable.
Let ground cherries harvest by falling off
A mistake with ground cherries is trying to harvest them before they are ripe. Ripe ground cherries will ripen to a deep yellow or dark yellow and the husks become like crinkly paper.
Then the fruits will fall off. It helps to gather the fruit that is fallen and allow to ripe further if need be to get the best flavor from the group. The fruit needs to be gathered a lot or you will end up reseeding the soil.
Another neat thing about ground cherries is they have a decent storage life compared to many fruits. Sometimes they will last 2-3 months but otherwise they can be turned into various recipes.
Storage temp should be kept around the low 50’s for best store time.