Last year (2022) was the first time I tried out Ground Cherry plants, grown from seed, and I rather enjoyed the sweet fruit produced on the plant from summer till autumn.
They were easy to grow, but the seeds can be slow to germinate, and it is recommended to use a heat mat to start the seeds, which I did.
The packets for the type I grew, called Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry, indicates you should start the seeds 3 to 8 weeks indoors before your last spring frost.
The document above is one I put together last year, using some photos from the web when I was letting people know I had seed packets available. The photos below are from my own photos as I grew this plant on my deck last year.
Flower and Fruit
This is a great photo of the flowers and fruit forming. The flowers were tiny (like the size of a dime coin) and somewhat pretty with the dark edges. The fruit grew to about the size of a larger blueberry or smaller marble on my plants. I expected them to be bigger, but they were not. However, they were very tasty and made a nice snack, and there was always plenty of a supply dropping from the plant when they were ready.
Plant Size and Shape
Even though this plant is a relative of tomatoes, it seems more like a distant relative – the leaf shape is different, and the growing habit is more of an upright to sprawling bushy look – so it has spreading out habit. I noticed the plants grown in my cousin’s community garden plot spread out lower than the plant I grew on my deck in a 15-gallon fabric grow bag. The plant was about 24″ high and wide. And it prefers full sun conditions like tomatoes do to grow best.
Fruit is Ready when Falls to the Ground
The husked fruit starts to drop to the ground, and that is when you know they are ready. This makes it a great exercise plants, bend down, reach up! I found the fact I grew it on the deck to be handy. I didn’t have search around below and it was obvious where the fruit landed. However, my cousin’s plants in a garden had some straw below the plants, so it was difficult for them to locate the ripe fruit. After a while, I knew when the fruits were about to drop by the look of them and timing and would pick some from the plants before they fell off. The papery husks are removed before eating. The flavor is like a citrusy pineapple flavor (at least it was to me).
With the chair in this photo, it gives you an idea of the size of the plant. I didn’t really need to stake it. The branches did not flop over. A chipmunk discovered the fruit later in the season and I let him have his fill because I had eaten plenty of the fruit over the course of the summer, into early fall. It was one of the last plants I disassembled from my deck once the season was over. It lasted a very long time.
I noticed some holes in the leaves and discovered the culprit. This insect carries poop on his back – yup, as a camouflage. I cannot remember the name of it, but I know I looked it up last summer. I also sprayed something (again, can’t recall) but I also just tolerated the little buggers. They were tricky to find. They didn’t ruin the fruit, so it wasn’t too difficult to tolerate the weird looking insects.
Easy to Grow and Produces Fruit for a Long Time
This plant was very easy to grow. The fruit is very sweet, and I ate them as a snack when I would be outside watering plants, or whatever. They may be used in jams and such. I have tasted larger sized ground cherries from a farm once, they were about the size of cherry tomatoes, so I was surprised these were much smaller, marble sized. They have a seedy consistency inside as well, but I loved the flavor. It was an unusual plant as well as an unusual flavor. The packet indicates the fruit is ready 70 days from transplant. I still have some seed packets available if anyone nearby is interested ($5/pack). Each packet contains 50 seeds. I think they are worth growing. Kids like them too – since they are lower to the ground, they are easy for kids to pick up while out in the garden with you.
The botanical name for Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry is Physalis pruinosa.
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Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
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