How to grow gooseberries?

How to Grow Gooseberries in Your Garden or in Pots

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Gooseberries are super easy to grow and can thrive in almost any kind of soil as long as they have lots of sun. They can be grown as bushes or trained against a wall or fence to save space. Alternatively, you can also grow gooseberries in pots or containers. Today we’ll show you how to grow gooseberries in your garden as well as how to grow them in pots or containers. Gooseberries are part of the berry family and they have a sweet and tarte taste that kids especially love!

How to Grow Gooseberries

Planting Gooseberries:

  • Before planting, mulch the area with organic matter such as garden compost or bark chips.
  • Plat bare-rooted gooseberries between late autumn and early spring.
  • Select good quality, 2 or 3 year old bushes and space each bush 4-5 feet apart.
  • Space gooseberry cordons 12-15 inches apart. Plant each cordon tied to a 5 1/2 foot bamboo cane that is secured to horizontal wires spaced 2ft and 4ft apart.

Caring for Gooseberry Plants:

  • For potted gooseberries, check the soil frequently and don’t let it dry out. Water regularly.
  • For outdoor gooseberries, water once every 14 days.
  • In late winter, feed with a balanced granular fertilizer at 100g per square meter.

Harvesting Gooseberries:

  • Gooseberries are usually ready to pick starting in early July.
  • Be sure to protect them with gauce netting, otherwise birds will pick them right off.
  • Pick green, under-ripe fruits for making jams, pies, tarts, and sauces, in June. Take off every other fruit, leaving the remainder to ripen into July.

So now that you know how to grow gooseberries, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to planting!

Happy Planting!

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Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa)

Forget the hard, green bullets you often buy in shops for cooking with, dessert gooseberries have rich, sweet, and juicy flavours. Gooseberries are easy to grow and can often be pretty much left to their own devices.

But a little care and attention and some annual pruning will produce bumper crops of tasty fruit.

How to grow gooseberries

Cultivation

Gooseberries aren’t too fussy about situation. They love a sunny position, but will also grow and fruit very well in shade and other awkward positions in the garden. They will also tolerate a more exposed position than most other soft fruit.

They need a moist, but free-draining soil that doesn’t become waterlogged in winter. It will pay dividends to improve the structure of all soils by adding lots of organic matter, such as compost or soil improver. This is particularly the case with clay soils, where it will improve drainage, and on light sandy soils, where it will increase its moisture-holding capacity.

Gooseberry varieties

Gooseberries are divided into cooking and dessert varieties, although most are dual purpose and all taste sweeter when left to fully ripen on the plant. The fruit is also available in four different colours – green, red, white and yellow. The following are all good dessert varieties, except Careless, which needs cooking.

Fruit colour Good varieties
Green Careless, Invicta
Red Pax, Rokula, Whinham’s Industry
White Langley Gage
Yellow Bedford Yellow, Golden Drop, Leveller

Invicta and Rokula have some resistance to American gooseberry mildew disease.

Planting gooseberries

Plant bare-root gooseberry bushes in winter. November or December are best, although it can be done right up to the end of February, whenever the soil isn’t frozen solid or waterlogged. Container-grown bushes can be planted at just about any time of year.

Gooseberry bushes should be planted around 1.5m apart (5ft). They fruit on older wood and on the base of young wood, and can even be trained into cordons and fans against walls or fences if space is tight.

Dig a hole 60x60cm (2x2ft) and 30cm (1ft) deep. Add a layer of organic matter into the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the gooseberry bush in the planting hole at the same depth as they were originally growing, so that the old soil mark is at soil level.

Now mix in more soil improver to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Add a general granular plant food and water in well. Finally, add a 5cm (2in) deep mulch of well rotted garden compost, bark or other bulky organic material around the root area.

Container growing

Gooseberries grow and crop perfectly well in a large pot or other container. You will need a pot of at least 30-38cm (12-15in) in diameter, filled with a good quality potting compost. Obviously, plants in containers will need regular watering and feeding throughout the growing season to ensure good results and a large crop.

How to care for gooseberries

Water the newly planted bushes during the first year if the weather is dry. In subsequent years, watering when the fruit is swelling may be needed if the soil is not already moist.

For maximum crops, feed each year in March with a suitable granular plant food, and top up the mulch to retain soil moisture at the roots.

Prune annually between late autumn and late winter, cutting back new growth to two buds and main shoots (leaders) by one-third. Pruning new growth to 5 leaves in summer will also encourage a bigger crop the following year.

Covering plants with netting will protect the fruit from birds and may also help prevent damage from gooseberry sawfly caterpillars.

Harvesting

A few weeks before they are ripe, remove alternate fruit and use them for cooking. Leave the remaining fruit to ripen on the plant, but don’t leave them until they become too soft. The fruit tastes delicious straight from the bush, but it can also be frozen. You can expect a yield of about 5kg (11lb) from each gooseberry bush.

Flowering season(s)

Spring

Foliage season(s)

Spring, Summer

Sunlight

Partial shade, Full sun

Soil type

Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy

Soil pH

Neutral

Soil moisture

Moist but well-drained

Ultimate height

Up to 1.8m (6ft)

Ultimate spread

Up to 1.5m (5ft)

Time to ultimate height

5-10 years

The fruit is produced on 1 year old wood so light annual pruning after fruiting is recommended and removal of old wood to thin out every 3-4 years. Remove lowest outside branches as they drop and take root. The fruit is green at full size and ripens to a red/purple or light green depending on the variety. In Australia the varieties are generally limited to:

  • Green Giant: large, yellow-green fruit. most suited to production of green fruit, but is also acceptable as a dessert variety.
  • Roaring Lion: small, red fruit.
  • Farmers’ Glory: medium sized, red, later than Roaring Lion; largest available red-fruited form. Most recommended for home gardens due to good yields.
  • Yorkshire Champion: medium sized, green-yellow fruit.
  • Captivator was introduced to Australia due to its thornless habit. Unfortunately its yield is unacceptably low.

Gooseberries like winter chilling like most soft fruit /berries to facilitate flower/bud development and growth.
We feed the plants at the end of winter with organic fertiliser pellets and mushroom compost. A little lime can be sprinkled before mulching if the soil is too acid.
The gooseberry varieties available now are all susceptible to American Gooseberry mildew, Symptoms occur firstly on new foliage in spring. Initially, emerging leaves appear a lime-green rather than the normal deep green colour. Affected leaves fail to fully expand, and develop a white powdered appearance. Clear off all leaves and burn. Do not compost.

HOW TO GROWGOOSEBERRIES

WHERE TO GROW GOOSEBERRIES

The most important condition to get correct with gooseberries is the soil condition, this is more important than the actual position they are planted in. Gooseberries do best in a well drained soil which has lots of natural nutrients. The soil must also retain moisture without becoming water-logged.

If these conditions do not exist naturally in your garden then create them in the area you plan to grow your gooseberry bush(es). Both light soils and very heavy soils will both be greatly improved by the addition of lots of well rotted organic material. Dig this into the soil well before planting.

As far as the site is concerned, gooseberries prefer an open and sunny site which is protected from strong winds. Although gooseberries do not like the heat of a sunny summer’s day, they do most of their growing and fruit production well before mid summer and therefore need lots of cool sunshine. A partially shaded site will still do well however, so don’t be put off if you can’t provide the ideal location.

Gooseberry bushes are extremely hardy plants, hardier than apple trees for instance. If a late frost occurs when the flowers have formed, don’t worry too much. Even when a frost occurs during the flowering period your gooseberry bush is unlikely to affected.

Gooseberry bushes are self-fertile which means you don’t need to plant two or more gooseberry plants together for a good crop. One plant on its own will produce a good a crop. However, note that gooseberry plants produce much higher crops if insects have access to the plants so don’t net your plants before the fruit has set.

HOW TO BUY GOOSEBERRY BUSHES

Gooseberry bushes can be bought either as bare-rooted plants (available online and through some garden centres) or as potted plants. If you are buying bare-rooted gooseberries then they are sold from late autumn to late spring.

Outside of this period, potted gooseberry bushes are available all year round. The main advantage of bare-rooted plants is their significantly lower cost compared to potted plants. Our recommended online supplier (based on quality, price, reliability) is Crocus, their informative page for growing and buying gooseberries can be found here.

A cheaper method of increasing your stock of gooseberry plants is to take cuttings. If you don’t already have a plant, head down to your local allotment on a sunny day in early autumn and ask around if anyone will let you take a 20cm cutting from their plant. In most cases you will be well received! Click here for our expert article on taking gooseberry cuttings.

RECOMMENDED GOOSEBERRY VARIETIES

It’s well worth researching the different varieties of gooseberry bushes available in the UK because they do span a significant cropping period, some are much sweeter than others and there are red and green varieties. for our definitive guide to the different gooseberry varieties.

WHEN AND HOW TO PLANT GOOSEBERRIES

The best time to plant gooseberry bushes is in the late autumn / winter time. It is possible to plant pot grown bushes at any time of the year although you will need to water them whenever conditions are dry for the first six months or so.

Most gooseberry plants are sold grown on a single main stem. Take a look at the lowest 8cm / 3in of the stem and if it has any straggling stems or suckers then prune these off.

Choose a sunny position to plant your gooseberry bush. They grow early in the year when sunshine is at a premium. Gooseberry bushes should be planted at the same depth as they were growing when dug up. Don’t plant them any deeper because this will only encourage suckers to grow. The main stem will have a clear soil line showing how deep to plant them.

Dig out a hole deep and wide enough to take the roots. Spread the roots into hole and then cover firmly with soil. Don’t compact the top soil too much, this would only encourage puddles to form on the soil surface. Sprinkle a couple of handfuls of blood fish and bone on the immediately surrounding soil and fork in with a trowel. If the soil is dry at all then water.

If you are planting more than one gooseberry bush then space them about 1.3m / 4ft 8in apart in each direction.

CARING FOR GOOSEBERRIES

In early spring each year apply a mulch of organic matter around the plant(s), 5cm / 2in deep (not touching the main stem) is ideal. This will reduce the need for weeding, retain water in the soil and provide a small amount of nutrients. At the same time sprinkle a couple of handfuls of blood, fish and bone around the plant and work into the soil surface.

Gooseberries need a small amount of nitrogen but too much will cause quick but weak growth making the plant an easy target for pests and disease. They do benefit however from a good regular source of potassium. The ideal solution is to feed the plants monthly from early spring up to around harvest time with liquid tomato feed – see the container instructions for dilution rates.

If birds are common in your area then they will love your gooseberries! You have three choices where birds are a problem:

Buy a fruit cage which will provide total and permanent protection for many of your fruit plants. They last for decades and although expensive they do the job to perfection. for our in depth article on fruit cages in the UK. The article examines the pros and cons of each model and provides a price comparison.
Build your own fruit cage. Not quite as long-lasting as a custom built fruit cage but a huge amount cheaper. The diy skills required are minimal when you have an overall plan.
Cover affected fruit plants with netting each year. A cheap and cheerful solution which is easy to do but has to be done each year.

WHEN TO PICK YOUR GOOSEBERRIES

Fully ripe gooseberries are normally ready for picking about late June to early July 2015 in average areas of the UK. Leave them much longer than this and they will start to deteriorate. The harvest time is variable though and much depends on the weather in the previous few months and also the variety of gooseberry. The best way to tell if a gooseberry is ready to pick is to gently squeeze it between your fingers. The berry should have a little “give” in the flesh if it’s ripe. If it feels hard then it’s probably not ripe and if it feels squashy it’s probably over ripe.

The second way to tell is a gooseberry is ripe and ready to pick is to taste it. A desert variety should taste slightly tart but also have some background sweetness to it. The taste test needs some experience so always taste a gooseberry or two whilst harvesting so you will be able to judge a ripe or unripe one next year.

A few gooseberries are reddish in colour, our favourite Hinnonmaki Red is a good example of a red gooseberry. They begin to go red as the season progresses and then turn a ruby red colour – that’s the point when they are ready to pick.

If you plan to make gooseberry jam or sauce then the more bitter taste of the slightly smaller gooseberries are the ones to pick first. For making pies and other sweets harvest only those gooseberries which have reached full size. If, as is likely, your bush has thorns then there’s no way round it, the task has to be done slowly and carefully!

HOW AND WHEN TO PRUNE GOOSEBERRIES

Gooseberry bushes are best pruned when they are dormant in winter, midwinter is the best time for this job. Choose a day when the weather is forecast to be dry in order to reduce the risk of fungal infections.

Gooseberries are formed on branches which grew in the previous and older years. However, branches older than three or four years old will become unproductive so these are best pruned out. There are three simple rules for successfully pruning a gooseberry bush.

PRUNE OUT OLD WOOD
Take a look at your gooseberry and you will see that some branches look older than others, they are thicker, more gnarled and have less buds compared to more recent branches. Cut out these older branches. At the same time shorten any longer branches by about a third just to keep the bush in shape.

PRUNE OUT LOW OR CROSSING BRANCHES
To reduce the chance of fungal diseases and pests prune back all branches and twigs which are near the ground. The reason for doing this is to stop pests from jumping onto branches from the soil. It will also significantly reduce the chance of fungal diseases. When rain falls and splashes on the soil it can transfer fungal diseases from the soil to the plant, pruning low growing branches reduces the chances of this happening.

Crossing branches will wear the surfaces of each other and provide sites for pests and disease to enter. Cut out all crossing branches to prevent this.

KEEP THE CENTRE OF THE PLANT REASONABLY CLEAR
Prune away some of the branches growing into the centre of the bush. When the leaves form this will allow good air circulation, again assisting in the prevention of fungal diseases.

Overall, gooseberry bushes benefit from quite harsh pruning especially if the task has been forgotten in previous years. Over-pruning is possible but unlikely, even then the plant will quickly recover. See our video below on how we pruned our gooseberry bush in mid winter.

PRUNE GOOSEBERRY BUSH TO A STANDARD

Standard gooseberry bushes (sometimes known as lollipops) are easier to grow than many think although it does take a couple of years at least to get the shape correct. Even a short one with a clear stem of 40cm (15in) or so makes a very attractive and unusual plant and picking the berries is so much easier.

Click the picture to enlarge it.

To create the standard shape choose one stem which is relatively central and which is also growing upright. Remove all the other stems but do not prune anything on the selected stem. Place a stake in the ground near the selected stem and gently tie it to the stake. The idea is to encourage the stem to grow vertically. The ties will need to be adjusted occasionally to keep the stem as upright as possible and at the same time to stop them cutting into the stem as it grows thicker. Remove any side shoots but leave the topmost three – these will eventually form the head of the standard.

As the stem grows over the next couple of years remove any more side shoots which appear but always leave the top three alone, When the stem is tall enough pinch out the top shoot of the selected stem. This will encourage the plant to bush out and the head of the standard will begin to form. You will now effectively have a gooseberry bush on a stick which can be pruned as normal. These look equally impressive in the ground or a container. A year or so after the standard shape has formed the main stem will be thick enough to allow you to remove the stake.

GROWING GOOSEBERRY BUSHES IN CONTAINERS

Gooseberry bushes grow as well in containers as they do in the open ground, just ensure that they are watered frequently (especially when the fruit is forming) and fed with an organic feed such as blood fish and bone and the occasional feed of a fertiliser high in potash, liquid tomato feeds are ideal for this purpose.

The container should be about 45cm / 18in plus and the same depth. Fill the pot with a half and half mixture of standard potting compost and a John Innes type loam. Plant as described above for a gooseberry bush in the open.

Care and feeding of bushes grown in containers is the same as described in the rest of this article although they will require more frequent watering. A light mulch on the top of the soil will go a long way to retaining the correct amount of moisture.

PESTS AND DISEASES OF GOOSEBERRIES

There are two main causes of failure with gooseberry bushes, the Gooseberry Sawfly and mildew, principally American Gooseberry Mildew. If birds, particularly blue tits and great tits, are in your garden then you may have a third cause of failure!

GOOSEBERRY SAWFLY

The caterpillar stage of the sawfly is the one which does the damage. They are easily identified as having a green body with black spots and totally black head. Identification of this particular caterpillar is not needed though because any caterpillars on your gooseberry plant are a threat.

First, an understanding of the lifecycle of the Gooseberry Sawfly will help in preventing them.
STAGE 1
Larvae overwinter in the top soil around the gooseberry plants.

STAGE 2
The warmth of spring wakes up the larvae and gooseberry sawflies emerge. These are about 1cm / ¼in long, the females being mainly yellow and the males mainly black.

STAGE 3
The males and females mate and the females then lay eggs on the leaves of the gooseberry bush. This is your first chance to intervene in their life cycle!

The eggs are laid towards the end of spring, most likely in May. The exact timing depends on the weather in your area. The eggs are 1mm wide and long, light green and will be laid along the veins of the leaves.

Annoyingly, the eggs are laid on the underside of the leaves making them difficult to see. They also tend to be laid on leaves low down the bush and near the centre. If you have pruned your gooseberry bush correctly (see above in this article), the centre of the bush will be easy to get to. Examine leaves in this area as often as you possibly can (daily is best) and if you see any eggs simply squash them gently with your fingers. This is the most effective time to fight the gooseberry sawfly because large numbers can be killed before they do any damage.

STAGE 4
After a couple of weeks caterpillar like creatures will emerge from the eggs. These are the critters which do all the damage. They look like green caterpillars with black spots and a black head and are 1 to 2cm long. If you see any caterpillars at all on your gooseberry leaves either pick them off or squash them. Quick action is required because they are quite capable of eating all the foliage within a week.

STAGE 5
Any caterpillars which escape your attention will fall to the ground after they have defoliated your gooseberry plant and then begin the whole cycle again. This can occur up to three times in a year depending on weather conditions.

You will have gathered from the above description that the best way to deal with the gooseberry sawfly is to manually pick them off / squash them as eggs first and then as fully grown caterpillars. Two other methods for dealing with these pests are chemical sprays and and nematodes.

First, our opinion, neither method works well at all and chemical sprays always run the risk of damaging you and wild life. Why don’t they work? Because they are only effective if applied at exactly the correct time. Apply them too early and they fail entirely, apply them too late and the damage is done. Also, the gooseberry sawfly has three separate life cycles in a year so the nematodes / chemicals need to be applied three times in a year to be really effective.

The effect of an attack by gooseberry sawfly is to remove all the foliage from your plant, the fruits themselves are not eaten by the flies. However, a plant with no leaves is seriously weakened and not capable of producing mature fruit. It will also be weakened significantly when it begins growth next year.

AMERICAN GOOSEBERRY MILDEW

Any mildew can affect gooseberry bushes but American Mildew is the worst. Forget chemical treatments, they promise the earth but don’t deliver.

The signs are a white powder coating, at first on new shoots which may also cause the leaves to curl up and distort. If left to its own devices the white coating will spread to all branches and affect the fruit as well.

Cure is really prevention. The first step is to prune the bush correctly, especially clearing out the central part of the plant to allow good air circulation. If your plant is affected then prune out the worst branches and burn them. Don’t apply any fertiliser for a while, especially don’t apply a nitrogen based fertiliser such as Growmore. This type of fertiliser will encourage new leafy growth which is the most affected by mildew.

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