Chinese Lanterns are a wonderful addition to the fall garden bed. They add color while growing or cutting and drying for fall decor.
As kids we called them Chinese Lanterns. They are also known as Ground Cherries or Strawberry Ground Cherries. In Latin there are two varieties grown as ornamentals for cutting. These are Physalis francheti which has large, deep red pods, and Physalis alkekengi which bears smaller deep orange pods. Chinese Lantern is a member of the potato family. Other varies are edible forms like tomatillos.
Where To Find Chinese Lanterns
Some local nurseries do carry Chinese Lanterns. Your best source though will be through mail order catalogs or online nurseries that will ship roots or seeds. If you have a neighbor that grows them, ask for a section of root. If you have purchased stems for decoration, save the "cherry" seeds to plant in spring.
How To Plant Your Chinese Lanterns
Chinese Lanterns are perennial and grow an elaborate underground root system that puts up new shoots every 6" or so. It is best to grow Chinese Lanterns in very large pots with covered drainage holes that are sunk up to the rim into the fall garden bed soil. A plastic storage container works great. You can alternatively create a mini raised bed at least 18" high to contain the root system. If you use a planter, you can grow them as annuals or transfer them to a plastic pot to sink in the ground before a hard freeze to use the following year.
Chinese Lanterns like full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Full shade will keep lanterns from forming. They attain a height of 24." In soil, each plant will spread itself to 3 or 4 feet each year. Once you have located a spot, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball. Amend the soil with compost, peat moss, or organic matter to create good drainage and add nutrients. Plant at the same height it is in the pot. Water thoroughly to promote good root development.
Care And Maintenance Of Your Chinese Lanterns
Shoots will appear in mid to late spring. Little white flowers will appear in mid summer along each stem. These flowers will become green lanterns that turn orange in August or September.
Flea beetles may attack the leaves leaving little holes everywhere. Only be concerned if your Chinese Lanterns are growing near your prized roses or vegetable garden. Leaves are not of interest when growing Chinese Lanterns.
Your Chinese Lanterns will tolerate drought once they have become established. A good weekly watering will help the lanterns develop fully once they begin to appear.
Once lanterns have formed, the stems start to bend downwards with the weight. You may wish to stake them. Winds will damage lanterns if allowed to sway back and forth.
If you want to control the size of your patch, yearly in spring or fall, dig up your plants and roots and thin. Dry out excess roots before adding to the compost pile or you'll have a whole new patch. Do the same to pots or containers.
What To Do With Your Chinese Lanterns
You can just let your lanterns color your fall garden bed. However, they make excellent cut stems for table centerpieces or dried flower arrangements or to add to a rustic vine wreath.
Cut your Chinese Lantern stems as soon as maximum color is achieved. The lanterns closer to the top of stems may still be green. Cut off leaves to show off lanterns. To dry, lay stems flat to harden up in the upright position. To add to a wreath, weave into or wire onto the wreath when cut. It will dry to shape. Already dried stems will break easily.
With a little control maintenance, Chinese Lanterns are a wonderful addition to the fall garden bed and provide you with fall decorating material for many years to come.