It's a fruit of many names: Ground cherry, cape gooseberry, goldenberry, husk cherry, husk tomato, Peruvian ground cherry, poha berry, and pineapple ground cherry. Whew! It seems the only thing everyone can agree on is the fact this tangy-but-sweet berry is a delight to eat. But once you plant ground cherries, you'll also love them because of how easy they are to grow. Ironically, your neighbors will think you're a gardening guru, growing the most interesting of fruits, because they start out as pretty, yellowish flowers with dark centers, and transform into golden-orange fruits with protective papery husks. They're a real conversation starter!
The plant grows beautifully in sunny raised beds, in-ground gardens, or a container on your patio or balcony. Ready to give growing them a try?
Quick Guide to Growing Ground Cherries
- The berries look like a cross between a cherry tomato and a tomatillo, and are related to both—they're all part of the nightshade family.
Plant after the last chance of frost, once spring has warmed the soil.
- Space plants 24 inches apart in full sun, although they'll tolerate some afternoon shade in hot climates.
- Mix compost or other organic matter into the soil of in-ground gardens.
- Ground cherries sprout roots along the stem, so plant deep.
- Water immediately after planting, then 1 inch per week throughout the growing season.
- Give ground cherries the nutrients they need to thrive with a continuous-release plant food.
- Spread mulch to help keep the soil moist and fruit clean as it falls.
- Add a tomato cage to support the sprawling plant and maximize garden space.
- Harvest the fruit once the husk is dry and papery (remove the husks before eating).
- Store ground cherries in a mesh bag in their husks, in a cool spot, for up to 2 weeks.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Plant ground cherries in a garden that gets full sun. They may drop their flowers if temperatures soar above 90 °F, so a little shade in the hottest part of the day will help keep them happy. Ground cherries prefer well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH, ranging from 6.0 to 6.8. Start them off right by using a lightweight, well-draining, and nutrient-rich soil designed for your garden type, like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Raised Bed Mix or Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix, or improve the existing soil of an in-ground bed by mixing compost or Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All-Purpose In-Ground Soil into the top 6 inches. This will help your native soil retain moisture, while also aiding in drainage. No matter where you grow, add a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch around the plant to deter weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Mulch also helps keep the fruit clean when it ripens and drops.
Once you've improved the soil, it's time to plant! Grow Bonnie Plants' pineapple ground cherries to help get a bigger harvest, faster. Dig a deep hole large enough to accommodate the plant's root ball. Just like tomatoes, ground cherry plants grow roots along their stems, so plant deep enough to encourage a strong root system. Remove the ground cherry plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball if it's tight. Place the plant in the hole with the top of the root ball several inches below the soil line, leaving about 3 sets of leaves above-ground. (Pinch off any leaves below the soil line.) Fill the hole with soil, and press down firmly to support the plant while also helping to remove any air pockets. Water thoroughly to settle it in. If you're growing several ground cherry plants, space them about 24 inches apart for better air circulation. Consider adding a tomato cage to support this sprawling plant.
Ground cherries need about an inch of water per week throughout the growing season. The best way to know if you need to water ground cherry plants is to stick your finger into the soil about an inch down near the base of the plant. If it's moist—no need to water. If it's dry, time to give it a drink!
Ground cherry plants produce hundreds of fruits during the season, so make sure you keep these high-yielding plants well-fed. In garden beds, use a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules throughout the growing season (see label directions for timing.) Simply pull back the mulch, mix the plant food into the top few inches of soil around the base of the plant, and replace the mulch before watering well. For a convenient way to feed container-grown ground cherries, use a water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition according to the label directions throughout the growing season.
Ground cherries grow easily. In fact, the annual plant self-seeds from fallen fruit, and you'll often find them growing in the wild, thanks to wildlife scattering the seeds. If you find your garden bed has become overrun with ground cherry seedlings, simply pull them out or snip the seedlings to ground-level.
Make sure to plant ground cherries after the danger of frost passes in spring. To extend your harvest time in fall, a low tunnel or row cover may give your plants some protection from early cold spells. Ground cherry plants grow about 3 to 4 feet high, and if not supported, will sprawl rather than grow upright. A tomato cage will help keep the plant vertical for better air circulation and prevent the plant's leaves from resting on the ground, where they can encounter soil-borne diseases. A layer of mulch and drip irrigation, rather than overhead watering, also keeps soil from splashing onto the plant, helping the plant stay strong.
Unlike their tomato relatives, ground cherries aren't highly susceptible to bacterial, fungal, or viral diseases. However, tomato hornworms, cutworms, whiteflies, and flea beetles enjoy snacking on ground cherry plants. Prevention is your best bet: Add a layer of sharp eggshells around the plant's base to help prevent cutworms, or place a plant collar around the base of the stem. Inspect your plant often, and take action right away if you spot a pest. You can pick off hornworms and cutworms by hand and drop them into a bucket of sudsy water. Spray flea beetles and whiteflies with an insecticidal soap to get rid of them.
Harvest and Storage
Harvesting ground cherries is simple—just collect them from the ground! The husk turns from green to papery-brown as the fruit matures; when it's ripe, the fruit simply drops off the plant. (You can give the plant a gentle shake, too.) Gather the fallen fruits, remove the husk, and enjoy. If you just can't wait to taste their complex, pineapple-like goodness, open 1 or 2 up to see if they're ripe. The fruit typically matures in 60 days, but if the husk is green, the fruit is not ready and you shouldn't eat it. Unripe ground cherries contain toxins.
Ground cherries stay fresh for up to 2 weeks if stored in a cool space (around 50 °F). Leave the fruits in their husks and store them in a mesh bag. Freezing them is an easy way to eat them all year. Remove the husks, and then wash and dry the fruit. Spread the ground cherries onto a baking sheet in a single layer, and place that in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe bag, remove the air, seal, and place back in the freezer. You can also dehydrate ground cherries—they taste great in trail mix, as oatmeal flavoring, or in baked goods.
How to Use Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are as delicious as they are beneficial: They're packed with vitamins A, C, B-1, B-2, and B-3. Add them to salads—a ground cherry, beet, and feta combination works well—chop them up for a salsa or chutney, cook them in a sauce, or add them to a tropical smoothie. The possibilities for this versatile fruit know no bounds when it comes to culinary creations.