How to grow Gooseberries

How to grow Gooseberries - Introduction

  • The gooseberry bush has thorny, arching branches giving the plant a height and breadth of 1 to 1.6 metres (3 to 5 feet). 
  • Flower buds are born laterally on one-year-old wood and on short spurs of older wood. 
  • Each bud opens to yield from one to four flowers, depending on cultivar. 
  • The flowers are self-fertile, and pollinated by wind and insects, but usually not honeybees. 

How to grow Gooseberries - Site and Soil

  • Gooseberries like morning sun, afternoon part-shade and buoyant air circulation. 
  • They are most productive in full sunlight but the leaves sunburn easily under Mediterranean conditions. 
  • They can be grown in the high shade of fruit trees or on the north side of buildings. 
  • American gooseberry are much more sun tolerant. Plants collapse quickly when soil or air temperature exceeds 30°C (85°F).
  • The good air movement helps to reduce disease problems. 

  • Gooseberry plants are less finicky about soil acidity than most other small fruits, and tolerate a wide range of soils, except those that are waterlogged. 
  • Where summers are hot, bushes will grow better and produce better fruit in heavier soils, which retain more moisture and stay cooler. 
  • A thick mulch of some organic material also helps keep the soil cool. 
  • Sandy soils are less suitable for gooseberries because they dry out too fast.

How to grow Gooseberries - Soil Preparation

  • Prepare the soil in advance of planting, gooseberry bushes will be productive for up to 20 years, so a little effort at this stage will satisfy their needs for well-drained, medium type soil. 
  • Dig a hole of about 1m (3 ft) round, incorporate as much organic material as possible.
  • Do the digging in August to give the soil time to settle by October . 
  • Where more than one bush is being planted, allow 1.6m (5ft) between bushes.

How to grow Gooseberries - Planting

  • The best time to plant is October; the soil is still warm, and this allows the roots to establish themselves quickly before the rest of the plant begins to put on new spring growth.
  • Any time up to February is satisfactory, as long as the soil is not frozen or water-logged.
  • At planting time in October, dig out a 60cm (2ft) hole in the centre of the previously dug area. 
  • Plant the canes slightly deeper than they were growing previously (look for soil mark on stem).
  • Place the bush in the hole, spread out the roots evenly and replace the soil, firming it down with your foot.
  • Be sure to water the bush well and regularly for several weeks if the weather is dry.

How to grow Gooseberries - Pruning

  • A gooseberry bush becomes tangled and unhealthy without pruning. 
  • Winter pruning helps to form a balanced branch structure and keeps the centre of the bush open to make picking easier. 
  • Mildew disease is also reduced if air circulation is encouraged.
  • Thorns make harvest tedious, so pruning is done to open up the bush and make picking easier. 
  • If plagued by birds, delay pruning until the buds have started to grow in April. 
  • Thick growth helps to keep the birds away and you can be sure of pruning back to a living bud.
  • Fruits form on old wood and around the base of last year's growth, therefore prune back the previous year's growth to two buds.
  • Keep the centre of the bush clear of most growth by cutting out any weak or dead branches. 
  • On the outside of the bush, young growth should be left untouched, older and longer side shoots should be cut back to within 2cm (1 inch) of their base. 
  • The aim is to achieve a wine glass shape with the centre of the bush reasonably clear of growth.

How to grow Gooseberries - Care & Cultivation

  • Gooseberry bushes need the soil to be kept moist, especially when the fruit is being formed. 
  • In dry periods during June to August, water them to keep the soil moist. 
  • Put a layer of organic material to act as a mulch around (but not touching) the main stem each Spring. 
  • Gooseberries have a high requirement for potassium and a moderate need for nitrogen, although excessive amounts of nitrogen promote disease, especially mildew. 
  • A handful of Sulphate of Ammonia strikes a good balance between growth and weed tolerance.
  • The symptom of potassium deficiency is scorching of leaf margins. 
  • Deficiency can be avoided with an annual dressing of a potassium rich fertilizer. 
  • Gooseberry plants also have a fairly high requirement for magnesium, so if the soil is very acidic and needs lime, use dolomitic limestone, which supplies magnesium as well as calcium.

How to grow Gooseberries - Pests & Diseases

  • Look out for gooseberry sawfly from late spring onwards. 
  • Check leaves regularly for caterpillar damage and control by hand. 
  • If this is proving hard, spray bushes regularly with an insecticide. 

  • Always try to grow varieties resistant to mildew.

  • If you aren't growing your gooseberries in a fruit cage, cover bushes with netting during June and July to keep off birds. 
  • Ensure it's weighted down at the base to prevent blackbirds getting underneath.
  • Hungry bullfinches feed on the gooseberry buds in winter, so use netting to keep them at bay. 

  • In 1905 the whole European crop of gooseberries was wiped out by a mildew disease accidentally introduced from America.
  • The plant was reintroduced by crossing with mildew-resistant American gooseberries. 

How to grow Gooseberries - Harvesting

  • Average yield from one gooseberry bush is between eight and ten pounds of fruit. 
  • Gooseberries used for culinary purposes such as tarts, etc. are usually picked underripe. 
  • For dessert purposes, however, the fruit must be fully ripe.
  • Wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting the fruit to protect hands and arms from the sharp thorns.
  • Most varieties of Gooseberry bush produce both cooking and eating gooseberries - those for cooking being harvested earlier than those for eating. 
  • In order to encourage the best berries, pick about 10% of the fruit in mid-May time when they are pea-sized, these can be used for cooking. This will also encourage the remaining fruits to become larger.
  • When the gooseberries look ready for harvest in July time, first pick those fruits which are shaded at the bottom and in the middle of the bush - these will be the first to stop improving. 
  • Leave the fruits on the outer edges of the bush to be picked a week or so later.
  • How to grow Gooseberries - Kitchen Notes

    • Gooseberry is one of the few fruits commonly picked full-size but underripe, at which stage it is used for cooking into jams, pies and many varieties are excellent eaten fresh. 
    • The flavour of the gooseberry is considered more like grapes. 

    How to grow Gooseberries - Storage & Preservation

    • Firm cooking gooseberries will keep (unwashed) in the fridge for a week or two and they also freeze well. 
    • Softer dessert gooseberries are less durable: keep refrigerated and eat within two or three days.

    How to grow Gooseberries - Propagation

    • The ease with which gooseberries propagate from cuttings depends on the cultivar. 
    • Generally, American cultivars are easier to root than are European cultivars. 

    Hardwood Cuttings

    • Take hardwood cutting in early autumn, even before all the leaves have dropped. 
    • The presence of a few leaves actually enhances rooting. 
    • Make the cuttings about a foot long, but do not include tip growth, dip the base in hormone powder and pot in ordinary soil. 
    • Keep in part shade for the first year. 


    • Tip layering is a surer method of propagation, though a single bush furnishes far fewer layers than cuttings.
    • If intended for training as standards or cordons, strip all buds off, cutting below the soil line. 


    • Seeds require moist stratification, just above freezing, for three to four months. 
    • The plants commence bearing in 5 years from seed and 2 years from cuttings.