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.
- 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.