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Growing tomatillos and ground cherries in home gardens

Quick facts

  • Start ground cherry seed indoors two weeks earlier than tomato seed.
  • Start tomatillo seed two weeks later than tomato seed.
  • Tomatillo and ground cherry plants can stand drought and heat.
  • Pick tomatillos when the fruit fills the husk, but while they are still green and firm.
  • Pick ground cherries when the husks are dry, and the fruit begins to drop from the plant.

Fruits hidden in leafy husks 

Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa, P. philadelphica) and ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa, P. pubescens, P. grisea, P. peruviana) are relatives of tomatoes. Leafy husks contain their fleshy, juicy fruits. These husks become dry and papery when the fruit is ripe.

Tomatillos are quite firm, compared to tomatoes. They have a tart flavor. Cooks usually chop or blend them into sauces and salsas.

There are yellow, green and purple varieties. The fruits are typically less than two inches wide. Inside the papery husk, a sticky film covers the fruit that you must wash off before use. Tomatillo plants can grow to be quite big and take up more space than tomato plants.

In the same genus as tomatillos are a number of similar but different domestic species of ground cherries. They produce fruit that is small and sweet, and eaten raw, cooked or dried. The fruit is yellow to gold, and about the size of a small cherry tomato. An old-fashioned garden plant, ground cherry plants are shorter than 30 inches, and may sprawl rather than grow upright.

Soil fertility

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Selecting plants

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Planting

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How to keep your tomatillos and ground cherries healthy and productive

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Jill MacKenzie

Reviewed in 2018

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