Easy as 1, 2 ,3 – planting, caring for and propagating physalis


It looks good and tastes delicious, but unfortunately is rather expensive too. It is cheaper to grow physalis yourself. And, of course, more fun too if you are able to pick the fruit yourself rather than simply buying it from the nearest supermarket.

Physalis – a truly special plant

The physalis is an extraordinary plant in many respects. For a start, it has its own packaging: The cherry-sized fruit is encased in a dome made of lots of thin, green leaves that become light-brown and paper-like as the fruit ripens. This has the effect of making them look almost like small Chinese lanterns. The physalis is also related to the tomato — and wherever tomatoes grow, the physalis will also thrive. It is known by many names, including the Cape gooseberry and the Peruvian ground cherry. Its correct botanical name, however, is Physalis peruviana.

All of these names reveal where the plant comes from: the nightshade plant originates in the Andes in Peru and Chile, but is also cultivated in South Africa — hence the name "Cape gooseberry". It can now also be found in places such as Australia, the USA, India and southern France. And in European gardens. After all, as mentioned earlier, wherever tomatoes are found so too can physalis be planted, nurtured and propagated.

Hardy, however, they are not, so they are often considered to be a one-year plant — although they can actually survive as long as ten years. Regardless of what age they reach, at the start of their career as an exotic highlight the main concern is their cultivation. And you have two options here.

Option 1: Planting physalis from seeds

You can buy the seeds in shops or even get them from the fruit itself. To do that, break open the fruit and remove the seeds using tweezers or a toothpick. Then clean and dry out the seeds. When growing the plant, you should start as early on in the year as possible, ideally February.

Use small nursery pots when sowing the seeds and fill the pots with normal potting soil. When doing this, there may be the odd seed that you have not covered with (much) soil. The main thing is that you keep it moist — but not too moist. Ideally, use a spray bottle to water the seeds.

Then place the pots somewhere that is at room temperature and not too bright, for example an east-facing window in your home. All that is left to do now is wait until the seedlings dare to show themselves. This may take just a couple of days, but could even take weeks. When you reach the middle of May, it is time to move the plants to the garden or balcony. If you want to successfully propagate your physalis there, you should plant them at a distance of around 80 cm apart from each other. Alternatively, you can plant them in a pot with a capacity of 10 litres.

Option 2: Planting physalis from cuttings

This option is recommended if you live in a cooler region because physalis are known to take longer to ripen in a natural environment in these conditions and it could end up getting a little (too) tight timewise for this to happen. If you opt for cuttings instead of seeds, however, you gain valuable time. This is because you don't have to wait for the seeds to sprout. To use cuttings, though, you will need to already have an old plant from last season with shoots.

These shoots should ideally be taken from the leaf axil and be approximately 10 cm in length. Cut these shoots from the shrub in the autumn with a diagonal cut that is as long as possible. This increases the cutting area, facilitating the subsequent uptake of water and nutrients.

Then plant each of the shoots you have cut in a plant pot with normal potting soil. Place these pots in a light location during the cold winter months and water them regularly. If all this works, then the cuttings will grow roots and you will be able to plant them mid-May.

Mastering the art of overwintering physalis

If you want to enjoy your physalis for longer than a year, you should move the plants into pots before the frost season starts or plant them in pots from the outset. Then place the pots somewhere light with a consistent temperature of around 10–15°C. You can also cut the plants back to approximately one-third to encourage new shoots to grow in spring.


Caring for and enjoying physalis

The physalis also likes it warm and bright outside. Most importantly, this plant has a real thirst and should not be allowed to dry out. You must water it if necessary. It is less demanding when it comes to being fed nutrients — it does not usually need fertiliser. On the contrary: if you overdo it with the fertiliser, the physalis will waste its energy on growing new shoots — at the expense of growing fruit.

Under optimum, i.e. mild, conditions, you can expect to harvest the fruit towards the end of the summer (August) at the earliest, or even later than that. You will know when it is the right time to pick the fruit as the shell will turn orange. Please note: They rarely ripen after they have been picked so should not be added to the fruit basket too soon.

The sweet-and-sour fruits, rich with vitamins, can simply be enjoyed raw and will keep for up to two weeks. Thanks to their interesting exterior, they also look good and are ideal as decoration.