How to Grow Physalis

Physalis alkekengi
Red Chinese lantern, Physalis alkekengi

Physalis–commonly called ground cherry or Chinese lantern–is a rhizomatous perennial that bears inconspicuous yellow flowers that are followed by spherical red, yellow, or purple berries that are enclosed in decorative, paper lantern-like calyces.

Physalis alkekengi known as Chinese lantern is a perennial cultivated for its decorative flowers. Physalis ixocarpa is an annual commonly known as tomatillo; it is cultivated for its husk-covered fruit that is often used in salsas and curries.

Physalis has triangular to diamond-shaped leaves to 5 inches long. Physalis are bushy often sprawling plants. Perennial Physalis can is hardy to Zone 3 but will die back to the ground after the first freeze.

Physalis is a genus of about 80 species of busy annuals and perennials native to the Americas.

Get to Know

  • Plant type: Rhizomatous perennial
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 8-11
  • Hardiness: Not frost hardy
  • Height and width: 24 to 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide
  • Foliage: Rounded, arrow-shaped leaves
  • Flowers: Bell-shaped flowers with star-shaped mouths appear singly, sometimes in small clusters
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Uses: Border, vegetable garden
  • Common name: Chinese latern, Japanese lantern, tomatillo, ground cherry
  • Botanical name: Physalis
  • Family name: Solanaceae
  • Origin: Americas
Physalis alkekengi

Where to Plant Physalis

  • Plant Physalis in full sun.
  • Plant Physalis in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Plants spread quickly by rhizomes and can become invasive.

When to Plant Physalis

  • Set container-grown Physalis in the garden after the last spring frost.

Planting and Spacing Physalis

  • Space Physalis 24 to 36 inches apart.

How to Water and Feed Physalis

  • Water Physalis to keep the soil evening moist. Water during dry weather to keep plants growing evenly.
  • Fertilize Physalis with an all-purpose, organic fertilizer in spring.
Tomatillo, Physalis ixocarpa

Physalis Care

  • Cut stems for drying as the calyces begin to color.
  • Contact with Physalis foliage can cause skin irritation.

Physalis Pests and Diseases

  • Physalis can be attacked by rust, white smut, and Cercospora leaf spot.
  • Caterpillars can attack Physalis.

Physalis Propagation

  • Sow seed of perennials in containers in a cold frame in spring.
  • Sow seed of annuals in the garden in midspring.
  • Divide perennials in spring.

Physalis Varieties to Grow

  • Physalis alkekengi, Chinese lantern, Japanese lantern. Rhizomatous perenial grows to 30 inches tall and 36 inches wid; nodding bell-shaped cream-colored flower with star-shaped mouths; flowers appear from leaf axils in midsummer; bright orange-scarlet berries follow flowers; triangular-ovate shaped leaves.
  • P. ixocarpa, tomatillo. Frost-tender annual; bears small yellow flowers with purple markings followed by small, green fruits enclose in a yellow-purple bladder-like calyx; fruits are grown in vegetbable gardens; dark to midgreen compound leaves.


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