Learn About Chinese Lanterns
How to Sow
Chinese Lantern, also known as Physalis Alkekengi, may be grown from seed - sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden.
Sowing Chinese Lantern Seeds Indoors
- Sow indoors 6 weeks before the last frost.
- Sow ¼ inch deep in seed-starting formula.
- Keep the soil moist at 70-75 degrees F.
- Seedlings emerge in 15-21 days.
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells in your garden, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young Chinese Lantern plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for about a week. Be sure to protect these plants from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the Chinese Lantern's plant structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Transplanting Chinese Lanterns in the Garden
- Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic, well-drained soil.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
- The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
- Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
- Dig a hole for each plant, approximately 24 inches apart large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
- Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
- Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
Sowing Chinese Lanterns Directly in the Garden
- Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic, well-drained soil.
- Sow seeds thinly in sunny outdoor cold frame or seedbed in spring after danger of frost. Sow seeds from fall to spring in the Deep South, Gulf, and Pacific Coast.
- Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
- Sow thinly ¼ inch deep.
- Keep moist.
- Seedlings will emerge in 15-21 days depending on soil and weather conditions.
How to Grow
How to Grow Chinese Lanterns
- Keep weeds under control during the Chinese Lantern growing season. Weeds compete with your plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent the germination of their seeds.
- Mulches can also be used to help retain soil moisture and maintain an even temperature throughout the soil. For perennials, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Careful watering is essential in getting perennials off to a good start. Water thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Soil should be damp at about 1 inch below the soil surface. You can check this by sticking your finger in the soil. Water early in the morning to give all leaves enough time to dry. One inch of rain or watering per week is recommended for most perennial plants. You can check to see if you need to add water by using a rain gauge.
- Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
- After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
- If plants become leggy, cut them back for a fresh start. Cut Chinese Lantern plants to the ground at the end of the season.
Chinese Lantern Growing Tips
- Chinese Lantern plants may spread vigorously, consider this when you site the plants.
- Wait until the seed pods turn a vivid orange shade and harvest for dried arrangements. Cut the stems and remove the leaves, leaving the pods. Stand them upright in a dry, airy location. Once dry they will retain their color and shape for years.
How to Plant and Grow Perennials
Common Pests and Problems
Common Disease Problems for Chinese Lanterns
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to grey centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Black Rot: This bacterial disease thrives in warm and humid conditions and attacks the leaves. Yellow-orange V shaped lesions occur on the edges of the leaves and eventually dry out and the leaves fall. Burpee Recommends: Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Virus (Various causes): Young plants may have a yellowish tone and become stunted. Fruit is usually not affected in outward appearance, but it may be smaller and scarcer. Burpee Recommends: Remove and destroy affected plants. Control flea beetles which can spread the disease.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Cutworms: These insects cut off the seedlings at the soil level. Burpee Recommends: Place a paper cup collar (use a coffee cup with the bottom cut out) around the base of the plant. They are usually mostly a problem with young seedlings. You can also control by handpicking and controlling weeds, where they lay their eggs.
Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.
Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.
Whitefly: These are small white flying insects that often rise up in a cloud when plants are disturbed or brushed against. Burpee Recommends: They are difficult to control without chemicals. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.
Chinese Lantern FAQs
Can I grow Chinese lantern in a container? Yes, they are fine for containers.
Can I grow Chinese lantern indoors? We do not recommend growing these indoors.
How should I prune my plant? Prune only dead wood, or prune back leggy growth to refresh the plant.
Do I need to divide my plants? Divide in spring if plants become overcrowded.
How do they spread? The plants have rhizomes that spread underground. This can be avoided if you grow them in a container, or a container sunk in the garden.