How to Plant and Grow Ground Cherries

Physalis spp.

Ever wish you could plant a berry bush or fruit tree and get instant fruit? Ground cherries are the answer to your impatience!

Related to the ubiquitous garden tomato, these summer annuals can be included in your veggie garden to provide a crop of delicious, tropical-flavored fruit in just one growing season.

Ground cherries are known by a seemingly endless list of common names, including Cape gooseberry, poha berry, pichuberry, ground tomato, strawberry tomato, golden berry, Inca berry… and the list goes on!

Close up of bright orange ground cherries, with their husks open but still in tact. Green and white lettering to the centre and bottom of the frame.

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Whatever you call them, these little berries are a superfood that you can easily grow for yourself.

Let’s dig in:

What Are Ground Cherries?

Here’s a member of the nightshade family that will inspire your sweet tooth.

If the leaves and flowers look familiar, that’s because these plants are related to eggplants and tomatoes. In fact, they are sometimes referred to as “husk tomatoes.”

The plant can grow low, hugging the ground, or more upright, depending on the variety and growing conditions. They have velvety leaves, purple-veined stems, and tend to sprawl.

Close-up horizontal image of a Physalis flower, yellow with a purple interior, with buds forming around it. Soft focus background of leaves.

Ground cherry flowers are bell-shaped and white to yellow with purple centers.

Fruits grow inside of lantern-shaped husks that turn from green to tan and take on a papery texture when the berry inside is ripe.

The husks eventually break down, leaving a delicately webbed encasement around the berry.

On the right of the frame, two hands holding a bunch of freshly picked ground cherries, with papery husks, on a soft focus green background.

These delicious orange-yellow berries have a tropical taste that some describe as pineapple with a hint of vanilla, and others describe as strawberry with tomato undertones.

It’s their pronounced tart flavor that everyone will agree on.

Cultivation and History

The term “ground cherry” refers to several species of Physalis plants. While there are at least 75 species of Physalis, not all of them have edible fruit.

Close up of a ground cherry, the husk partially open, revealing the orange berry inside. Hanging from a branch, with soft focus green background.

One of the most distinctive members of this genus is Chinese lantern (P. alkekengi), a unique plant that is grown as an ornamental rather than for its berries.

Edible ground cherries may not have the showy color of Chinese lantern, but their husks enclose a foodie’s delight. While this fruit may be trending as a superfood, it has been cultivated since the 17th century, according to Karen Hager at the Roanoke Times.

One of the most common types, P. pruinosa, is native to warm, subtropical Central America like its relatives, tomatoes and tomatillos.

Another species native to Peru and Chile, P. peruviana, is commonly called Cape gooseberry or golden berry.

Close-up horizontal image of a ripe ground cherry on the branch, with its papery husk turning brown. Soft focus leafy background.

Many species of ground cherry have naturalized in North America, but the most common place that many of us will find ground cherries is in heirloom seed catalogs, rather than in our own backyards.

Propagation of Ground Cherries

Speaking of seed catalogs, are you ready to try growing your own ground cherries?

You can plant transplants directly into your prepared garden soil, start seeds indoors, or even try direct sowing.

From Seed

Most seed companies recommend starting the seeds indoors rather than direct sowing. But the ease with which these seeds grow as volunteers is proof that direct sowing is certainly an option.

A white plate, with floral design around the outside, on a wooden table, holding lots of tiny ground cherry seeds. To the left of the frame is a seed packet, and behind is a bag of soil, and some seedling pots.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

If you do choose to direct sow, plant seeds after your last frost. Loosen the soil and work in some compost. Moisten the soil then pat it down gently without compressing it.

Place your seeds on top of the soil and then cover lightly with a thin layer of soil, about a quarter of an inch. Pat soil gently.

Water after planting seeds, and then daily with a gentle spray from your watering wand until the seeds are established.

Seeds should germinate in approximately five to eight days.

Ground cherry seeds have a low germination rate, so plant more than you need. When seedlings are well established, thin them so plants have at least two square feet to spread.

From Seedlings or Transplanting

Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your last frost. You’ll find all you need to know about starting seeds indoors in our guide.

If you want to skip the seed starting business altogether, you can obtain transplants from heirloom seed companies such as Seed Savers Exchange. Or ask your local nursery!

Close-up horizontal image of ground cherry seedlings, with soil at the bottom of the frame showing the furry stalks and green leaves on a soft focus background.

When planting seedlings or transplants, wait until two to four weeks after your last average frost. Harden off before transplanting into a sunny location with well-drained soil.

Ground cherries are notorious self-seeders, so plant once and you may never need to plant them again!

How to Grow Ground Cherries

Plant seedlings or transplants in well-drained soil amended with compost. Don’t over water – they don’t like to keep their feet wet.

If you have heavy clay soil, you may want to plant them in a raised bed. In my drylands garden, they do great in a sunken row.

A ground cherry bush, with unripe fruit, in green husks, surrounded by leaves, on a soft focus background of a house and garden.

If planting in containers, make sure the roots have plenty of room. Each plant should be in a gallon-sized pot or larger.

Whether growing them in the garden or in containers, make sure you give them room to sprawl – a single plant can take up two to three square feet.

They generally do not need to be staked, though some gardeners do stake leggier plants.

Growing Tips

  • Mulch beneath the plants with straw for easier harvesting and to conserve water.
  • The plants will produce more fruit in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
Physalis berries on the ground below the plants. Green stalks surrounding the yellow to green husks of the ripe berries.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
  • Cover with a row cover if there’s a risk of frost, and to extend your growing season.
  • As always, when you plan your garden next year, make sure to rotate your nightshades to prevent nutrient depletion and the spread of disease.

Cultivars to Select

Wherever you live you will probably find a cultivar or species of ground cherry that will work for your climate.

P. pruinosa grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, while P. peruviana can be considered a perennial in Zones 10 to 12.

And there are many other edible species, including the “clammy” type (P. heterophylla, aka Rowell’s ground cherry), which is native to the US and hardy in Zones 7 to 10.

Another US native, “common ground cherry” (P. longifolia) was used by Native Americans for food.

Close-up horizontal image of two green, immature Physalis fruits, in green husks, on a soft focus leafy green background.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

A garden full of a variety of different species would be a beautiful thing! But most likely, you’ll want to start with the basics.

The most commonly available seeds are cultivars of P. pruinosa.

Aunt Molly’s

‘Aunt Molly’s’ is the classic ground cherry, the most widespread cultivar of P. pruinosa and the most common variety to buy as a transplant.

The fruit is sweet, tart, and tropical.

Ground Cherry

This open-pollinated variety of P. peruviana produces one-inch, golden fruits with a sweet, slightly tart flavor.

A close up square image of 'Ground Cherry' tomatillos freshly harvested and spilling out of a wooden basket.

‘Ground Cherry’

Seeds are available at Eden Brothers.

Mary’s Niagara

This variety of P. pruinosa is very low growing with a wider, three- to four-foot spread.

The fruits ripen earlier than other varieties, so it is good for climates with short growing seasons. It is said to have a subtle sweet flavor.

New Hanover

Some think this is better tasting than the ‘Aunt Molly’s’ cultivar. This is another sweet and fruity variety of P. pruinosa.


Also known as ‘Cossack Pineapple,’ this P. pruinosa cultivar produces fruit that tastes like – you guessed it – pineapple! The berries are fruity and sweet.

Close-up square image of a Pineapple ground cherry, a bright yellow berry, on top of a cluster of berries still in their yellow husks.


Seeds are available from Eden Brothers Nursery.

No matter where you live in the US or which cultivar you pick, you should be able to harvest fruit in one season.

Managing Pests and Disease

If you’re a laid back type of gardener, then ground cherries should be part of your repertoire.

These plants are not particularly prone to bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Although they are rarely targeted by garden critters, occasionally you may find your plants visited by some unwelcome guests.


Ground cherries may attract the same types of animals as your other tasty garden goodies – squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, possums, and deer. Luckily the ripe fruit are fairly well-hidden, so most four-legged garden intruders will not find them easily.

Close-up vertical image of an unripe ground cherry in a green husk with a yellow and purple flower above. Soft focus background is leaves and a tree branch.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Fencing will certainly help keep the bigger critters out, and floating row covers will offer even more protection.


While ground cherries aren’t particularly prone to insect problems, there are a few bugs that might find your plants as delicious as you find the fruit!


Cutworms can be a problem for young seedlings. Protect seedlings with plant collars or by sprinkling eggshells or coffee grounds around the base of young plants.

Be sure to correctly identify these guys, as they look similar to some beneficial butterflies.

Read our complete guide to cutworm control for more tips.

Tomato Hornworms

Tomato hornworms will munch on any nightshade plant, so ground cherries are definitely on the menu.

Inspect your ground cherry plants (and other nightshades) for these big, juicy caterpillars and remove them. They make excellent treats for your chickens, or can be squashed under your heel.

Learn more about combating tomato hornworms here.

Colorado Potato Beetles and Ground Cherry Leaf Beetles

These beetles are easy to spot – although they are on the small side, they look like little clowns with their bright yellow and black stripes.

If you find any on your plants, pick them off and squish them.

Find tips on colorado potato beetle control here.

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are tiny beetles that will chew holes in the leaves of your ground cherry plants. In healthy plants, this will probably only be an aesthetic concern. Plant basil nearby to repel these pests.

Read our guide on flea beetle control for more tips.

Your main strategy for keeping your ground cherry plants insect-free should be inspecting your plants regularly.

Close-up horizontal image of the leaves of a Physalis pruinosa plant. To the left of the frame, an unripe berry, in a green husk.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

And since nightshade-loving pests tend to eat any member of this plant family, keeping your tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and ground cherries separated with non-nightshades will keep those pests from smooth sailing on the free food expressway!

Harvesting Ground Cherries

Ground cherries have so many things going for them – they are tasty, easy to grow, and even easy to harvest.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest them? When the berry ripens, it falls to the ground in its protective husk – thus the name!

The berries will ripen gradually after the plants reach maturity, usually starting in July or August and up until your first frost.

Close-up vertical image of a Physalis pruinosa berry, with a papery husk around the fruit hanging from a branch, with leaves around it and a soft focus green background.

On ripe fruit, husks will be straw-colored and papery while the fruit inside will be somewhere in the yellow to orange range. Leave green-husked fruit on the plant to ripen.

Once you start noticing ripe fruit, look underneath the plant every day or so to collect any fallen berries. Mulching under your plants will make harvesting easier.

P. pruinosa fruit in their light green, papery husks shown on the surface of the soil, underneath the plant. With plant matter in the background.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Use floating row covers to extend your growing season, but when it’s time to put the garden to bed for winter, you can harvest unripe berries in their husks.

Store unripe fruit at room temperature in a single layer to ripen. Smaller fruit may not ripen fully – only eat those that are ripe, as the leaves, stems, husks, and unripe fruit may be toxic.

Three harvested ground cherries, their husks dry and almost transparent, on a green background.

As for ripe fruit, they will keep longer in a cool environment, such as a fridge, basement, or root cellar. For longer storage, just make sure to keep them unwashed and in their husks.

Ripe ground cherries can be stored for three months in the right conditions.


Another thing to love about these members of your garden is that a single plant can produce hundreds of berries.

These berries are a great source of antioxidants like vitamins A and C, as well as various B-complex vitamins. Consider preserving your harvest if you grow a bumper crop.

Before preserving, remove husks, and rinse berries. You can preserve them by making jam, dehydrating, freezing, or fermenting.

A jar with a spoon in it, containing bright orange Cape gooseberry jam, on a light colored woven background. Around the jar are fresh fruits, some with their husks still intact, others showing the orange berry.

Leave fruits whole or cut them in half for jam. Jam made with ground cherries will brighten up your winter and make exciting gifts for your foodie friends.

Find tips for making your own jams and jellies on our sister site, Foodal.

You can dehydrate ground cherries in much the same way as you would dehydrate grapes to make raisins.

Dehydrating concentrates flavors, so you can use your dehydrated harvest to flavor muffins or cookies, add them to trail mix for a burst of tartness, or sprinkle them on top of your oatmeal. Read more about dehydrating the garden’s bounty here.

A white bowl with dried Physalis fruit in it, on a wooden surface, surrounded by freshly picked fruits still in their papery husks.

The fruit can also be frozen for later use.

Place clean fruit on a baking sheet, then place the baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze for half an hour or so, then remove the baking sheet and put the flash-frozen ground cherries in a glass container with a lid. Store the container in the freezer.

Read more about the ins and outs of freezing garden produce now on Foodal.

Cooking Ideas

If you don’t eat them all in the garden, cooking the berries is a delicious way to transform them.

Cook them down into a sauce to drizzle over vanilla ice cream or plain yogurt. Or chop them up with some hot peppers, onions, and cilantro and turn them into a peppy salsa!

Close-up horizontal image of two Cape gooseberries cut in half, showing the bright yellow flesh dotted with tiny seeds, on a dark soft focus background.

When I lived in Paris, I would often see a single ground cherry placed as a garnish on top of a dessert with its papery husks folded back like wings. So pretty!

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Annual/Perennial fruiting herbaceous plant Water Needs:2 inches per week
Native to:Central AmericaMaintenance:Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone):4 and up, varies according to speciesSoil Type:Organically rich
Season:SummerSoil pH:6.0-6.8
Exposure:Full sun to light shadeSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Time to Maturity:About 70 daysCompanion Planting:Basil, cleome, cosmos, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, Aster family flowers
Spacing:2-3 feetAvoid Planting With:Other nightshades
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds)Family:Solanaceae
Height:12-24 inchesSubfamily:Solanoideae
Spread:24-36 inchesGenus:Physalis
Tolerance:Poor soilSpecies:Alkekengi, heterophylla, longifolia, peruviana, pruinosa
Common Pests:Hornworms, Colorado potato beetles, ground cherry leaf beetles, cutworms, flea beetlesCommon Disease:Alternaria leaf blight and stem cankers, anthracnose, blight, fusarium wilt, mosaic virus

A Taste of the Tropics, Fresh from Your Garden

Ground cherries will add an exciting new flavor to your veggie garden, and when you pop open that jar of ground cherry jam mid-winter, its tartness will contrast beautifully with the winter weather.

A white woven basket, with wooden handles, on a light wooden table, containing ground cherries. Some are in their husks, and others have the husks pulled back to reveal the bright orange fruit.

Do ground cherries brighten up your life as much as they do mine? If so, tell me about it in the comments.

If you want to learn more about nightshades or growing rare fruit, here are a few more guides you’re bound to need:

Photo of author
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer, holds a Certificate in Native Plant Studies from the University of North Carolina Botanical Gardens, a Landscape for Life certificate through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles.
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Miguel John
Miguel John (@guest_8161)
3 years ago

Wonderful and very helpful article. I’m about to plant my ground cherry in a container and you article was very informative. Thanks.

Aminah Amatullah
Aminah Amatullah (@guest_8208)
3 years ago

Trying my hand at growing ground cherries in a container on my deck and I’ve noticed that a number of the berries are still green but they’re outside of the paper (still green also) husk. Am I doing something wrong?
any tips are appreciated – thank you!

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_8283)
Reply to  Aminah Amatullah
3 years ago

Hi Aminah,   Thanks for your question!   So, I don’t remember ever having this problem with my own ground cherries but I did a little research and found that ground cherry husks can open prematurely due to environmental conditions, like heavy winds.   I would just leave them on the plants and wait. I bet they’ll ripen up eventually.   If they happen to fall off the plants when the berries are still green, collect them and place them indoors somewhere dry. When I collect green ground cherries in the fall, most of them eventually ripen indoors.   Good… Read more »

Jen (@guest_31581)
Reply to  Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
11 months ago

Thank you for this information. Mine, also, don’t get yellow, but stayed green. I will try to they do if I bring them in the house.
I am working on slowing replacing plants in my garden with edibles.I started with strawberries on the tree lawn. Now I have ground cherries as a hedge next to.the house.

JFM (@guest_8660)
3 years ago

Physalis pruinosa is native to Central America and adjacent regions, not the Mediterranean or East Asia. Same goes for most of that genus, including other species of ground cherry. I’m sure they’ve naturalized in those areas — they’re certainly grown throughout Europe — but they weren’t introduced until the Columbian exchange.

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_8663)
Reply to  JFM
3 years ago

Yes, there is definitely an error in the quick reference growing guide that you are right to point out! If you noticed in the body of my article I talked about where they are native to – Central America. I will make sure we get the origin in the quick reference growing guide updated asap. Thanks for letting us know about this slip up!

Michele (@guest_8661)
3 years ago

Good information; thank you. I am growing the pineapple variety this year and it is my first year growing any ground cherry. I snack on them as I go through the garden. Hopefully I will save enough to make a couple of jars of jam (I have 3 plants). So fun to grow!

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_8662)
Reply to  Michele
3 years ago

Hi Michele! Thanks for taking the time to comment and tell us about your own patch of ground cherries. Aren’t they delicious? And the jam is simply divine. I hope your harvest ends up being generous enough for a couple of jars! Happy garden snacking! ????

Noemie NJOH NJOH (@guest_9115)
3 years ago


Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_9148)
Reply to  Noemie NJOH NJOH
3 years ago

Hi Noemie,

Yes, you can grow pineapple ground cherries in a tropical climate.

They have naturalized in Hawaii where they are called “poha.”

Since you won’t get any killing winter frosts, the plants should keep growing as long as they are kept free from disease and pests!

You may want to give each plant a bit more space than I recommended in the article – I’ve read that in tropical climates these may grow to 4 feet tall with a 7 foot spread.

Hope this helps!

fard monke
fard monke (@guest_15288)
Reply to  Noemie NJOH NJOH
2 years ago

yes they will actually grow more easily

Jacqueline Gowe
Jacqueline Gowe (@guest_9185)
3 years ago

I had a wonderful experience with husk cherries the first time around. We live in Charleston, SC and no one I know grows them here so we were truly delighted with the abundant, delicious and beautiful crop. In the end we were seeing hook worms or tomato worms in ours so we just stopped picking. Now I am sorry I didn’t do more to deter the pests. I understand these plants are perennials, will they die back? May I plant a winter crop where these are planted? I have them in a raised bed so I would like to plant… Read more »

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_9199)
Reply to  Jacqueline Gowe
3 years ago

Hello Jacqueline from Charleston! I’m a big fan of your lovely town and have spent many fond moments there. Such a beautiful place! Isn’t it funny how under the radar these fruits are as a garden plant? They are so tasty! These plants are considered annuals for most of us – my info on ground cherries tells me that they are perennial only in zones 10-12. It looks like you are in zone 9a, so you’re close but if you have freezing temperatures during the winter, the plants will be killed and then they won’t come back. They are like… Read more »

Colleen (@guest_9221)
3 years ago

Can I find/plant ground cherries now or do I need to wait until spring?

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@guest_9225)
Reply to  Colleen
3 years ago

Hi Colleen,
You can find seeds now, but as far as planting them, that depends where you live!

If sowing from seed directly into your garden ground cherries would probably take at least 100 days to reach maturity. Unless you live in one of the very warm, southern areas of the US (or a similar climate), I would wait until next spring!
Hope that helps!

Benjamin Lane
Benjamin Lane (@guest_9656)
3 years ago

Hey Kristina I really enjoyed your article on ground cherries. I have been growing them for several years now in my backyard raised beds and in pots! I use them for snacking raw and for jam making, which turns out great. Have also blended with my red raspberry for a unique flavor. I give out as gifts to a lucky few and sell some with my other jams (grape, red raspberry, and ground cherry).

Benjamin Lane
Benjamin Lane (@guest_9657)
Reply to  Benjamin Lane
3 years ago

By the way forgot to mention my area is Green Point Brooklyn, N.Y.

Richard Garcia
Richard Garcia (@guest_10344)
3 years ago

I have two pineapple cherry plants growing huge with lots of cherries not ripe yet. Some of the leaves are drooping/curling downward. One leaf has turned yellow. What is the drooping and yellow a sign of? Loved your article. Very helpful.

Richard Garcia
Richard Garcia (@guest_10346)
3 years ago

And when I say drooping, it’s kind of in a stiff way. Not limp but kind of stiffly pointing downward.