How To Plant & Grow Gooseberries

Planting Gooseberries

One of the best fruit bushes for new gardeners to grow is Gooseberry.

They produce delicious fruit, they are hardy and quite easy to grow, just like red currants. Even if you live in a cooler climate, you should give growing gooseberries a try. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about how to plant and grow these beautiful fruit bushes.

What are Gooseberries?

Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa and syn. Ribes grossularia) are fruit-bearing bushes from the Ribes genus, closely related to red currants. 

They are native to Europe and northern Africa, but the plant is naturalized across North America.

How Big Do They Grow?

The gooseberry bush can grow up to 1.5 m (5 ft) in height and spread. Depending on the cultivar, the colour of fruit can be green, red, purple, yellow or white. They are hardy plants that flourish in cool climates. 

Gooseberries naturally grow as bushes, but they can be trained in fan-shape, tree-shape or as a single stem cordon. They can be successfully grown in containers. All cultivars of gooseberries are self-pollinated.

Check Local Laws Before Planting Gooseberries

Before planting gooseberries, make sure that the plant is not prohibited in your region. 

Gooseberries are prohibited in some areas in the U.S. because they can serve as a host to White Pine Blister Rust which can cause severe damage to pine trees.

How to Plant Gooseberries

Gooseberry Flower
Gooseberry Flower

Gooseberries are most commonly supplied as a bare root plant. This means the gooseberry is supplied as a short amount of stem and the root system without any soil, occasionally just some packing material.

These bare-root plants are available when gooseberries are dormant over the winter so you should aim to source and plant them from early winter into early spring.

Bare-root bushes need to be planted during the plant’s dormant period. If you live in a region where the ground freezes solid, you’ll probably have to wait until early spring until the ground warms up.

Planting A Bare Root Gooseberry

Dig a planting hole and add well-rotted compost or manure to the excavated soil. 

Place the bare-root gooseberry into the hole and cover the roots with the previously prepared mix of soil and organic matter. 

Water the plant to set the soil further and add a finishing layer of organic mulch. The organic matter will feed your plant, retain moisture and help suppress weeds.

Propagating Gooseberries

Gooseberries are usually propagated through hardwood cuttings from late autumn to early spring. 

Select a healthy-looking branch of one-year-old growth and cut it just below the bud so you’ll have a 20 cm (7-8 in) cutting. 

Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone and push the cutting in the soil so that 5-6 buds are underneath the soil.

With a little time and care the cutting will develop a root system and begin to grow into a new bush.

How Far Apart To Plant Gooseberries

If you’re planting more than one gooseberry, the space between the bushes should be around 120-150 cm (4-5 ft). 

If you’re planning to grow them as cordons, you can plant them much closer – 45 cm (18 in). 

Where to Plant Gooseberries

Gooseberries prefer bright position but won’t thrive in dry, hot places. They need slightly cooler growing conditions, so be sure to give them shade during hot summer days. Don’t plant them in poorly drained areas.

How to Care for Gooseberries

Gooseberries are low-maintenance plants and can get by with just a little care and attention. Pruning is a good thing to focus on but apart from that, keeping the plant watered during dry spells is all that is required.

Soil and Water Requirements

Watering Gooseberries

Gooseberries grow in almost any type of soil, but they grow best in rich, well-drained soil. They love plenty of organic matter.

If the soil doesn’t drain well, the established gooseberries will need very little additional watering, if you grow gooseberries in containers you must water them regularly. The same goes for any gooseberry plant during hot summer days.

Fertilisation and Pre-Season Preparation

Gooseberries require a high level of potassium and regular feeding once a year. Apply organic, balanced fertilizer at the end of each winter. That will give plants a good start for the upcoming season. 

When the season is over, you should prepare the plant for the winter. Remove any weeds surrounding the plant and cover the soil with a 3 cm layer of mulch. You can use garden compost, straw, lawn rakings, bark chippings or any other organic material.

How to Prune Gooseberry Bushes

Annual pruning of gooseberry bushes is essential if you want to keep them compacted and healthy.  Always use sharp and clean secateurs to make clean cuts that won’t be prone to disease.

Prune them regularly to establish the desired shape and give the bush good air circulation and a good amount of light. 

Removing any excess branches or crossing branches which will discourage disease and pest infestation. It will also ensure good fruit yield.

When To Prune Gooseberries

Pruning should be done in winter or early spring when plants are dormant. Since gooseberries produce the most of its fruit on 2 or 3-year-old branches, you will need to cut down any branches older than this.

In the first year after planting, you will need to cut new shoots in half. Be sure to cut the stems to an outwardly facing bud. 

The following winter cut the leading branches by the half. 

From the third year, you will need to continually prune gooseberry bushes to maintain a well-shaped bush and stimulate new growth. 

First, remove any dead, weak, tangled or diseased branches. Next, cut any branches that grow close to the ground and dig up any root suckers.

The last year’s growth should be cut up to half. Remove any side stems by a couple of buds to maintain a goblet-shaped bush.

When To Pick Gooseberries

Picking Gooseberries

You can start picking gooseberry fruit from early summer onward. You can use underripe fruit in the early summer and cook them with the addition of sugar. They can be used in jams, sauces, compotes, pies, etc. 

If you leave gooseberries to fully ripen, these later fruits can be enjoyed sweet and fresh. Fruits can grow a bit larger if you skip first picking and leave them to grow.

Pick fruits gently and use gloves while picking if the bush has large thorns. If you’d like to grow a variety that’s easier on the hand, go for the ‘Captivator’ cultivar – it’s almost completely thornless and it bears red fruit.

Although they taste best right after the picking, gooseberries can rest in a refrigerator for several days. If you’d like to enjoy these summer fruits when the season is over you can freeze them.

Common Problems with Gooseberries

The most common problems that strike gooseberries are powdery mildew and gooseberry sawfly. 

They are also prone to leaf spot and capsid bugs. You can choose cultivars that are resistant to these diseases, such as ‘Greenfinch’, ‘Hinnonmäki Gul’, ‘Hinnonmäki Röd’, ‘Invicta’, and ‘Martlet’.

Check your plants regularly for early signs of infestation. The sooner you start treating the disease, the better. In most cases, these pests don’t cause severe damage, but if left untreated, they can cause serious problems.

One of the biggest enemies of gooseberries are birds. They feed on gooseberry’s buds and ripe fruit. Installing a protective mesh can keep birds away.

Recommended Varieties

Early: ‘Golden Drop’ (yellow), ‘May Duke’ (red), ‘Rokula’ (red)

Mid-summer: ‘Bedford Red’ (red), ‘Careless’ (white), ‘Greenfinch’ (green), ‘Keepsake’ (green), ‘Leveller’ (yellow), ‘Invicta’ (green), ‘Whitesmith’ (white), ‘Langley Gage’ (white), ‘Whinham’s Industry’ (red)

Late: ‘Lancer’ syn. ‘Howard’s Lancer’ (green), ‘Captivator’ (red), ‘London’ (red), ‘Lord Derby’ (red), ‘Hinonmaki Rod’ (red), ‘White Lion’ (white), ‘Lanchasire Lad’ (red)

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