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Mary’s Niagara ground cherries are refreshingly sweet and tangy, with hints of pineapple flavor. The plants tend to grow low to the ground, but may be more rambunctious in warmer climates than their native Ontario. Fantastic as a summer snack, and sweet enough to become part of a dessert! This variety was introduced to the public by Experimental Farm Network, who obtained it from its namesake, Mary, who kept a fruit stand where she sold her unique ground cherries that she had been growing from her own saved seed for as long as she could remember.
Sow these seeds indoors four to six weeks before your last frost date and transplant them out in a location with full sun after all danger of frost has passed. Fruits will begin to mature in about 70 days. You can tell fruits are ripe when they are golden colored and detach from the plant easily. They often fall on the ground. It’s a good idea to grow these plants on landscape fabric to make collecting clean, ripe fruit easier.
|after last frost
|Direct Seed Spacing
|Soil Temp. Range
|Days to Sprout
|Days to Harvest
|70 from transplant
Start your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before you intend to transplant them outside. Sow seeds a ¼” deep in your favorite seed starting mix. Husk Cherry seeds will appreciate warmth to germinate, so a seedling heat mat will help, or the top of your refrigerator or clothes dryer may work for you. You should see germination within 5-8 days.
As part of the Solanaceae family, ground cherries are frost-sensitive plants. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the ground is sufficiently warmed before planting them outdoors. Here in Western NC, that is around Mother’s Day.
Use grow lights for 12-16 hours a day to keep your seedlings healthy and prevent “leggy” plants. Harden off your seedlings before planting outdoors, and choose a spot with fertile, well-drained soil with at least 8 hours a day of bright, direct sunlight per day. Plant seedlings deep, as you would with tomatoes, leaving about three sets of leaves above ground.
Husk Cherries will also do well in containers. Because of their tendency to sprawl even when staked, many folks prefer to grow in containers to control their spacing better. Choose a container with at least 12” depth, and remember containers will need to be watered more often because they will dry out quickly.
Ground Cherries will produce fruit non-stop until frost kills the plants. Often, the fruit will fall off of the plant before they are ripe. You can just pick up the fallen fruit and let them continue to ripen inside their husk. The husk will take on a straw-colored, papery look when they are ready, and the fruits themselves will be yellow to orange in color depending on the variety you’re growing. To make harvesting easier, place a layer of straw beneath the plant to catch the fallen fruit. Or, if you used black landscape cloth to pre-warm the soil, leave it in place and that can keep the fallen fruit up off the ground and easy to pick up.
To eat them, peel off the husk. If you aren’t going to eat the fruit right away, it’s best to leave the husk on and store them at room temperature on your kitchen counter.
Husk/Ground Cherry, Physalis spp.
Pollination, insect; Life Cycle, annual; Isolation Distance, 800 feet
Husk Cherries have perfect flowers, but are self-incompatible and require cross-pollination by insects in order to set seed. At least 4 plants should be planted to ensure viable seeds. Husk Cherry seeds can be harvested much like tomato seeds. Just squeeze the seeds into a container, or you can also put the fruits in a blender with equal parts water and pulsing on low until the fruit is mashed. Allowing the seeds to then settle will have the seeds sinking to the bottom and the wet chaff floating to the top, which can then be poured off and the seeds spread out to dry. Fermentation is not necessary.