Tomatillos vs Ground Cherries: A Delicious Addition to Your Garden

I love having plants with edible treats in my garden and once upon a time I was lost in the Tomatillos vs Ground Cherries maze of which one is different.

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Tomatillos or Ground Cherries?

These fruits are wrapped in papery husk that make them just appear just like tiny lanterns. Great for decoration with a bonus of a round tomato-like berry inside. 

Did you know that tomatillos and ground cherries are cousins in the nightshade family?

These tangy and sweet fruits are perfect for making salsa, jam, pie, and more.

These versatile fruits – tomatillos – are particularly sought after for creating the delightful and tangy salsa verde. 

In this article, I’ll offer you my personal experience with Tomatillos vs Ground Cherries, as well as tips on growing and caring for them in short (in case you get intrigued into planting them).

Tomatillos vs Ground Cherries: The 4 Differences

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Left: Ground Cherries – Right: Tomatillos

To be honest, I thought they were the same kind with different names in different regions. Turns out they aren’t.

It was a game of dice for me to really grasp the traits that set them apart (I thought they were just the same fruits at different stages of development.) Again, they are not.

Putting the two tomato siblings together for comparison – Tomatillos vs Ground Cherries – here are what I find worth noting between them:

Size

Size is the number one feature that helps you distinguish the two the easiest. Tomatillos can be as small as a cherry, but they can also be as big as a real tomato.

Whereas with ground cherries … it’s cherry, so it’s really just the size of a nickel.

Colors

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Left: Tomatillos – Right: Ground Cherries

Tomatillos are generally green even as they ripen, with the husk turning from green to brown as it gets older.

You may see some parts of the fruit turning pale white or green-ish yellow, sometimes its even purple, but there will never be any significant orange hue. 

In contrast, Ground Cherries will turn peach-like in color from inside out, including the husk once it ripens.

This is what I find so fascinating about ground cherries, they look so adoringly lovely when they are old enough to eat.

Appearance

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Tomatillos

I personally see that tomatillos stick up to its tomato “heritage” in its appearance better than ground cherries.

The husk enwraps it tighter and rounder, whereas you’d see a heart like dome that embraces an orange cherry inside with ground cherries. 

Sometimes you can spot tomatillos with somewhat tiny pumpkin-like features with small ribs. This won’t be the case for ground cherries.

Taste

Both fruits are tomato-like, but ground cherries have “cherries” in its name for a reason. It is more sweet.

On the other hand, I’d praise tomatillos for having crisper texture and firmness, which make them exceptionally tasty to be part of a salsa recipe.

For ground cherries, they are perfect treats to pick and eat like fruits.

Of course it does not lack that tangy and sour taste of a tomato, but the sweetness makes a big difference.

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Ground Cherries

How To Grow Tomatillos and Ground Cherries: A Brief Guide

Luckily for us, identical as they are, essentials in caring for them are not very much different. Tomatillos and ground cherries are sun-loving plants that need a lot of light and warmth to grow well.

When using the area to grow them, aim for a spot that gets plenty of sunshine throughout the day.

Remember that they need at least 7 hours of direct sunlight every day to really thrive healthily.

Additionally, try fertile soil that meets these requirements: balanced pH level, drains well, nutrients rich and fluffy.

They won’t turn down composted mature (they love it!), so I suggest you spread it at least 2-3 inches thick over the planting area and mix it well with the top 4-6 inches of soil.

Don’t forget to add an all-purpose granular fertilizer and lime to each planting hole.

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Inside ground cherries

Planting

To kickstart the growth of your tomatillos and ground cherries, you can start seeds indoors from mid-February through March, about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date.

Sow the seeds around 1/4 inch deep and cover them with a fine layer of soil. Providing bottom heat can help speed up the sprouting process.

Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, transplant them into 4-inch pots.

Two weeks before the desired transplanting date, make sure to harden off your seedlings for a smoother transition.

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Inside a Tomatillo

Soil

Tomatillos thrive in warm, dry weather, making May through June the ideal time for outdoor planting when the soil reaches 65°F.

To warm the soil, you can cover the planting area with 1-2 inches of compost, plastic mulch, or a cold frame.

It’s essential to protect new plants with a cold frame, cloche, or similar product until temperatures consistently become warmer (usually around mid-May to June).

Space out the plants 2-3 feet apart in rows that are also 2-3 feet apart.

When planting, water the new plants with liquid seaweed or B1 to give them a healthy start.

Moist

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Tomatillos

Keep your new beds well-weeded and slightly moist.

For the first 3-4 weeks, you can cover the new plantings with a floating row cover to prevent flea beetles and other insects.

Consider using plastic or organic mulches to heat the soil, retain moisture, and prevent blight.

Tomatillo plants can grow up to 3-4 feet tall, so it may be helpful to stake, cage, or prune them to support the weight of the fruit.

On the other hand, ground cherries reach about 18 inches tall and 2-3 feet wide, typically not requiring additional support.

Water Requirements

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Ground Cherries

The amount of water your plants need will depend on the soil and weather conditions.

While tomatillos and ground cherries are drought-tolerant, they yield best with a steady supply of moisture.

Ideally, aim for a weekly slow, deep watering of 2-3 gallons.

This consistent water supply can help prevent blossom end rot, a common issue.

Drip irrigation is highly recommended as it provides even moisture and reduces the risk of disease.

Fertilizing

Both tomatillos and ground cherries are medium to heavy feeders, meaning they benefit from regular feeding.

It’s advisable to apply a mild liquid fertilizer every two weeks once the fruits start appearing.

Alternatively, you can side dress the plants with composted manure once the flowers appear.

Harvesting & Storage

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Ground Cherries

When it comes to harvesting, keep an eye out for signs of ripeness. Tomatillos are ready to be picked when the husks are full and turn brown.

Meanwhile, fully ripe ground cherries fall to the ground and can still be harvested before they start to rot. 

With Tomatillos, you can keep them around up to a full month at 45°F fruit whole.

For me, I’d like to parboil and puree them before putting them into the freezer (because I love making sauce from it). 

On the other hand, ground cherries are especially tasty when dried, so I would recommend you try it out, or perhaps turn them into jams for breakfast.

If not, you can still put them fruit-whole in an airtight container and these fellows and remain for up to three months in your fridge (surprise!).

Believe me, they can still be edible after a few months forgotten at room temperature. 

tomatillos vs ground cherries
Tomatillos

Pests and Diseases

To maintain healthy plants, it’s important to implement good gardening practices that prevent pests and diseases. Consider crop rotation, drip irrigation, proper planting timing, floating row covers, and removing plants entirely once the harvest is done.

Here are some common issues and their controls:

  • Aphids: The most prevalent pest on tomatillos, aphids cause curled, deformed, and yellow leaves. Combat them with methods such as insecticidal soap.
  • Cutworms: These pests can mow down new transplants overnight. Organic controls like Spinosad or Sluggo Plus can be effective.
  • Snails and slugs: They leave large holes in leaves or eat new transplants during nighttime. Control them by using slug baits or beer traps.
  • Flea beetles: These beetles chew tiny holes in the leaves. Use floating row covers until the plants are 8 inches tall, and consider dusting with diatomaceous earth or spraying with pyrethrin.
tomatillos vs ground cherries
Salsa from tomatillos
  • Spider mites: They cause white pin-sized dots or yellowing leaves. Look for tiny red mites on the undersides of the leaves and webbing along the main veins. Insecticidal soap, predatory mites, Mite X, and pyrethrins are effective controls.
  • Early blight: This fungal disease appears as dark brown spots surrounded by yellow. Reduce the spread by using plastic mulch, avoiding overhead irrigation, and picking off infected areas. Spraying with copper or Serenade can also help.
  • Tobacco mosaic virus: Infected plants show yellow, mottled, and deformed leaves. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this virus. Remove and destroy infected plants.
  • Late blight: Common in cool, wet conditions, late blight appears as dark spots on leaves and stems that grow rapidly. Plastic mulch and avoiding overhead irrigation can reduce its spread. Copper and Serenade are helpful in slowing down the fungus.
  • Verticillium wilt: This disease causes yellowing leaves on one side of a stem. Cross-sections of infected stems near the base show interior discoloration. Unfortunately, there is no cure, so remove and destroy infected plants. Consider replanting in a new area.
  • Blossom end rot: Brown spots on the end of the fruit indicate this issue, which is caused by a lack of calcium or water stress. Prevent it by adding lime to the soil before planting and providing consistent moisture. Calcium sprays can help too.

By following these guidelines and implementing proper care, you can grow healthy tomatillos and ground cherries in your garden.

Enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting these unique fruits and adding them to your favorite recipes for a burst of incredible flavor.