UPDATED for 2009 Growing Season
Since this is such a popular article, I thought it best to make an update based off my experiences growing this plant for a second – and very different – season. This year was very rainy and cool in my garden (versus 2008 when it was very hot and dry), with only one real week of hot temperatures in August, though even that was tempered by regular thunder storms. As such, the ground cherry plants did not fair well at all. Whereas last season they were robust and invincible, producing bushels of fruit, this year they were so stunted and ravaged by Colorado potato beetle grubs that I ripped out all the plants that I purposefully sowed. As the season progressed, hundreds of volunteer plants came up, many of which I weeded out. I did leave a few once I realized the plants I’d sown were goners. These volunteer plants faired much better health-wise, but they still did not fruit well. What fruit was coming off of them was deformed, the husk clinging to the fruit and somewhat wrinkly. I found it unappealing and disappointing.
But there is hope! I grew one plant in a container on my sun-baked deck and it did well, though fruiting was not as plentiful as I expected so I think these plants do better in pairs for pollination purposes. The fruit on the deck plant was also deformed during the chilly rainy periods but once the sun got hot for a few days, I’d see normal fruit ripening once again. Beyond the heat and better drainage, there are two other distinct benefits to growing these plants in containers on solid surfaces. For starters, harvesting the fallen fruit is much easier. And secondly, there should be no mass of volunteers (i.e. weeds) next year unless the birds have picked them up and tossed them onto some soil somewhere (I didn’t notice any bird grazing though).
Please do share your own experiences with growing Physalis pruinosa below!
2008 (original post)
These plants are really tough and relatively pest-free. If you’re growing ground cherries, like I will be again next year, there are a few key cultural practices that need to be observed to keep both you and your plants happy. First, be sure to stake the plants! Actually, I think it might be more useful to create a rope “fence” around them rather than staking them. See, ground cherries like to splay open later in the season when they get heavy with fruit and/or when heavy rains hit them. A sturdy swath of string or twine surrounding them would keep the plants upright and in check while still making harvest relatively easy. Individual stakes might be dangerous (poke your eye out when bending down to pick up the fruit) and/or restrict the plants too much (you need to push the plants around a bit to find the fruit on the ground below them).
Second, I would highly recommend putting down fabric or plastic landscape mulch prior to planting as this makes harvesting the fruit that’s dropped on the ground (and it all will drop on the ground eventually) a relatively mess-free activity. Next year I believe I will also try laying a few rags or old row covers on the ground below the plants. My hopes is that in this way I can collect the fallen fruit faster by just grabbing the corners of each cloth and picking up all the fallen fruit on each piece at once instead of picking up one fruit at a time (that was fun for the first 10 minutes but quickly got old).
And finally, I won’t have as many next year. These plants are prolific producers and are still putting on new blossoms here in mid-September and forming new fruit. I’ve already collected at least two bushels and probably will get another two if the weather holds. I’d say unless you are selling the fruit or really a fan of ground cherry jam, two or three plants would be plenty for a family of four.
Speaking of ground cherry jam, I made some and find it really good. I also made a lovely pie out of them. And I have plans to try drying a big batch of them as I read online that dried ground cherries sell for $20 a pound in Portland and I want to know what all the fuss is about. Still, I think my favorite way to eat them is raw, cut up and tossed with vanilla yogurt.