Sometimes called husk cherries, ground cherries are the fruit of an annual plant easily grown from seed. They are in the same family as tomatoes. The genus Physalis includes many species, including the one that Teresa Brockman grows,
P. pruinosa. A similar species, P. peruviana, sometimes called cape gooseberry or goldenberry, is taller but may be better suited to warm, dry climates with long growing seasons. Other native Physalis species, such as P. missouriensis and
P. virginiana, are native to North and Central America, but their fruit is tiny, and the plants can be weedy pests.
HOW TO GROW To give plants a head start and begin harvesting sooner, sow seeds indoors six to eight weeks before last frost. Warm temperatures, 75–85°F, are best for germination. Transplant seedlings in a sunny location in average (not very rich) garden soil. Seed can be sown directly in the garden after the risk of frost is past. Water weekly in the absence of rain. Mulch with straw, as Teresa does, or with layers of newspaper or with planting paper. Mulching will keep weeds at a minimum, help maintain even soil moisture, and make harvesting easier.
HOW TO HARVEST Allow fruit to ripen completely and drop from the plant; harvest by collecting the fallen fruits. The fruits will ripen slightly inside the papery husk, and they can be kept refrigerated in the husk for two weeks or more. Remove the inedible husk and discard it before eating the berries fresh or cooked.
PESTS AND PROBLEMS Flea beetles may create tiny
holes in the leaves, but they will not significantly hurt the plant or fruit production. Some gardeners may have problems with Spotted-wing Drosophila (more information on page 22) or other fruit pests—inspect fruits at harvest and discard those that are damaged. Ground cherries will readily reseed and may become weedy. Complete harvesting in the growing season will reduce seedlings, and hoeing in spring will keep new seedlings under control.