Ground Cherry: Aunt Molly's (Heirloom) (Physalis grisea)
Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry is a Polish heirloom that is also known as Strawberry Tomato, Cape Gooseberry, and Husk Cherry. It reaches the height of about 18” and bares 1/2-3/4” pineapple yellow fruit that are encased in husks that keep on coming from July until the first frost. This plant also drops its fruit to the ground as soon as they mature making it a very easy plant to work with. More amazing, the fruits will store for up to 3 months as long as they are kept in their husk.
Soil Preparation & Start Indoors
Harvesting & Storage
Ease of Growing: Moderate
Grown as: Annual
Days to Maturity: 60-65 (Spring/Summer)
Hardiness: Tender. Frost sensitive.
Crops: Spring Transplant
Growing Season: Short, Long
Growing Conditions: Cool, Warm, Hot. Ground cherries like the same conditions as Tomatoes, and enjoy lots of sun. They will not survive if there is a frost, but will survive in mild winters. The tops die off in cold temperatures, but the roots will continue growing.
Outdoor Growing Temp: 65°F - 90°F
Min Outdoor Soil Temp: 75°F. If it's warm enough for tomatoes to grow, it's warm enough for ground cherries.
Start Indoors: Yes
Start Outdoors: No
Light: Sun: min. 6 hours daily (Warm, Hot). Ground Cherries prefer full sun.
Water: Moderate. Tomatillos and Ground Cherries are quite drought tolerant, but for best fruit production they should be watered regularly.
Feeder: Light. Generally, Ground Cherries are independent plants and don't need a lot of attention. Give them a feed of compost tea or liquid kelp when the flowers first appear.
Suitability: Drought tolerant, High heat
Small Gardens?: Yes
Containers?: Yes. A large container (12" in diameter, or more) is best - or even a large wine barrel.
Attracts beneficial insects?: No
Forage: Rabbits. Fruit only, leaves and stocks are toxic!
Plant Height: 18"
Sow Depth: 1/4"
Produces: an 18” plant that bares countless 1/2-3/4” pineapple yellow fruit that are encased in husks.
Soil pH: 6.0-6.8, Ideal 6.3-6.5
The ideal soil is a well-drained, moisture retentive loam, with lots of organic matter.
Standard Mix, 5 pounds per 100 sq. ft., in top 6" of soil, 1 time: Incorporate standard mix into the soil along with compost in the top 6" of the soil.
- 4 parts cottonseed meal (this is high in nitrogen and relatively inexpensive)
- 2 parts colloidal phosphate or bone meal (for phosphorus)
- 2 parts wood ash or 3 parts greensand or granite dust (for potassium)
- 1 part dolomitic limestone (to balance pH and add calcium and magnesium)
- 1 part kelp meal (for trace elements)
Mix these together thoroughly. You can do this all at once, or you can store them separately and mix as needed.
Compost (Nitrogen), 2", in top 6in of soil, 1 time: Incorporate 2" of compost into the top 6" of soil before sowing or transplanting.
Soil temp for germination: 60°F to 90°F, optimal 80°F to 85°F, optimal 84°F
Total weeks to grow transplant: 8 to 9 (Spring/Summer), (Fall/Winter)
1 weeks after Last frost date: Before transplanting outside you must harden the seedlings off, so they become acclimated to somewhat less than ideal conditions.
If the weather is cool at transplanting time, you can warm up the soil with cloches or black plastic.
Cool, Warm, Hot: Ground cherries like the same conditions as Tomatoes, and enjoy lots of sun. They will not survive if there is a frost, but will survive in mild winters. The tops die off in cold temperatures, but the roots will continue growing.
When outdoor temp: 65°F to 90°F, optimal temp 70°F to 85°F
When min soil temp: 75°F. If it's warm enough for tomatoes to grow, it's warm enough for ground cherries.
Spacing: 18.0"-24.0", (1 per 2'x2') plants per sq ft. These sprawling plants can get quite large. Space 18 to 24" apart.
Water Needs: Moderate. Tomatillos and Ground Cherries are quite drought tolerant, but for best fruit production they should be watered regularly.
Fertilizer Needs: Light. Generally, Ground Cherries are independent plants and don't need a lot of attention. Give them a feed of compost tea or liquid kelp when the flowers first appear.
Watering, regularly: Water, 0.5", regularly, 2 times. Ground Cherries grow best when they receive about 1" of water each week. Watering depends on your local weather; don't water if it's raining, or water more frequently if it's dry. Just be sure to keep soil moist for the best crop, but never water to the point of sogginess. The best way to know how much moisture is in your soil is to feel 2" below the soil line. If it's dry, water.
Side Dressing, at flowering: Compost tea, foliar feeding, at flowering, every 2 weeks. When the plants set flowers, give them a good spray of compost tea. Repeat two weeks later.
Fruits ripen to a pineapple yellow.
Storage Temp: 55-65°F
Storage Length: 0-14 days
You can water bath can ground cherries when making salsa or jam.
Storage Req: Canning
Storage Temp: 60-70°F
Storage Length: 1-180 days
To get the seed, simply squeeze the pulp from the ripe fruit and mix with water. Allow to settle, and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Drain out excess water and pulp and allow seeds to dry. Store in a cool, dry place.
Seed Viability in Years: 4 - 7 years
Germination Percentage: 75%
Small berries taste like pineapple.
The Ground Cherry is most often used in jams and other sauces, but can be eaten raw or in a salad, or dried and eaten like raisins.