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Fruit Growing

How to prune Gooseberry Bushes and Currants

Felco 200 loppers pruning gooseberry

How to prune gooseberry bushes

How to prune gooseberry bushes and currant bushes. Pruning fruit bushes can seem complicated but is, in fact, very simple. Many people are nervous about the process so leave fruit unpruned which will result in progressively lower yields as the plant ages. The thing you need to remember is no matter how badly you prune you will not ruin your fruit plant beyond repair and can still get it back to top condition over a season or two. After a few seasons you will become an expert at what to prune out and what to leave and will enjoy caring for your fruit even more. Even if you only do the most basic maintenance and cut out any 4 year old branches you will vastly increase the productivity of the gooseberry bush or currant bush.

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I have laid some basic pruning techniques below starting with the most important.  Are you ready? Let’s get going…..

Felco bypass secateursFirstly, get yourself a good pair of bypass secateurs. You want to be able to make a nice clean cut without crushing or tearing wood to encourage a quick healing process. We recommend the Swiss made ‘Felco’ range. In this article I use their no.4 secateurs and their no.200 expert loppers both of which are excellent tools very well suited for this job.

When to prune – Fruit bushes are pruned when they are dormant, in the Northern Hemisphere this is between October and early March. It is best to prune just before the plants come out of dormancy which allows them to heal quickly with the vigourous new growth of Spring. In the case of gooseberry bushes it is a good idea to delay until the buds are just beginning to open. This is because the spines on an unpruned bush will help deter bullfinches who like to eat the buds.

Shaping a gooseberry bushThe shape of the bush – The ideal shape of a pruned fruit bush is a goblet shape with an open centre. Evenly spaced branches should face away from the middle of the bush and not compete with each other for available sunlight. We want as much light as possible to reach and ripen the fruit.

Step 1 – Cut out any branches that are 4 years or older. As we have said, the best fruit, both in quantity and flavour, is produced on 2 and 3 year old wood. 1 year old branches don’t produce fruit and as they age past 3 years their productivity will decline. In simple terms no part of your fruit bush should ever be over 4 years old, the complete structure is constantly being renewed by annual pruning. Gooseberries and red or white currants are pruned in the same way. Blackcurrants are pruned in a similar way but fruit on 1 and 2 year old wood.

Felco 200 loppers pruning gooseberryAt any yearly pruning session only remove approx 1/3 of the total number of branches. Remove the entire branch right down to its base. Removing the complete branch will cause new branches to grow from the base of the bush. Trimming branches between buds or side shoots will result in vigourous growth of small branches that will thicken the bush and block out valuable sunlight.

Look for any large branches that are crowding the center of the bush and remove them completely. If the bush is an open shape already select the oldest branches. You should be able to identify old branches as they are darker in colour and are likely to have peeling bark. Again cut right back to the point of origin. You are better to use a good set of loppers for this task as mature branches can be too thick to allow a clean cut with a secateurs.

Step 2 – Remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood. As with the 4 year old wood it is better to remove entire branches or side shoots. If you are cutting out a small branch do so at the point it meets its parent branch.

Dead wood is easy to spot as it will be brittle and will have no buds. Damaged wood tends to happen where 2 branches are rubbing, you may see rough bark or areas where bark has rubbed away altogether. Diseased wood will have rough, raised areas of broken bark.

Pruning inward growing branches gooseberryStep 3 – Remove any branches growing into the center of the bush. We want our nice open goblet shape so cut away any branches growing towards the inside of the bush and blocking out light. The other advantages of this open habit is it gives good ventilation which reduces the chances of mildew and also makes the bushes much easier to harvest.

Step 4 – Remove any suckers , these are single, upriht shoots growing out of the soil from around the main stem. They are cut back to the point where they emerge from the soil. We are also looking for branches that are growing on top of each other as the lower branch will be in shadow and won’t produce the best fruit. It is usually best to remove the lower one as higher fruit is easier to pick but this will also be dictated by the age of the branches. Retain the younger of the two.

Pruning new wood gooseberry bushStep 5 – Lastly, if we need to, we can adjust the size of fruit the bush produces. If your bushes are yielding lots of small berries and you want bigger fruit you can cut back the side shoots to 2 buds from the start of last year’s growth. If you are pruning black currants avoid this step as fruit is also produced on 1 year old wood so we don’t want to remove any of it.

You can identify last years growth by the change in colour from wood that has grown the previous year; 1 year old wood tends to be a light grey colour while the older bark is more brown. Cut back to 2 buds above the this join making sure to cut just above an outward facing bud so the resulting growth grows away from the center of the bush.

Pruning cut gooseberry bushMake your cut just above and at a slant away from the bud you have selected. A slanted cut away from the bud channels water away and avoids rotting the bud. Cut too close to the bud (literally at the point where it emerges from the bark) and it will die, leave too much wood above the bud and it will die back leading to possible infection.

The last job after pruning is to improve the soil around the bush and give a slow release feed for the season ahead. Clear any weeds around the base and add a generous spread of well rotted farmyard manure. It is also a good idea to keep the area around your bushes weed and grass free. This can be easily achieved by applying a shallow mulch of lawn clippings. Avoid deep mulches as they exclude oxygen from the soil and can suffocate surface roots.

If you would like to see a video of me pruning a gooseberry bush in my garden please click on the play button below, I hope you find it helpful.

 

51 comments
  1. Bob

    What a clear and descriptive delivery, perfectly explained in simple steps. We like the second pruning as a recap too; this boosts our ever-failing confidence. Many thanks for this constructive advice.

  2. Eleanor Ward

    Oops! Cut off all side shoots to two buds last year instead of only new growth to two buds, I wondered why there isn’t as much fruit as last year. Inherited three old gooseberry bushes on an allotment.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Eleanor
      Don’t worry, your gooseberry will be back to fruiting next year. From now on remove approx a third of branches right down to the base each year to keep in full productivity.
      I hope this helps
      Andrew

  3. Martha

    Thank you for great information on gooseberries. I think I will have to replace the bushes I have.
    They are much older than 4 years old they bore fruit years ago but mildew attacked them.

    Thank you so much.

    Martha

    1. Andrew

      Hi Martha
      I wouldn’t be so quick to take out your bushes completely. I would advise cutting back a third of the bush to the base in early spring. It will produce new shoots which should fruit the following year. Continue with this method every year until all the very old fruit has been removed. I hope this helps. Andrew

  4. Michael Rollinson

    Hi, I have a very old gooseberry bush which has never been touched for years, could you tell me what is the best thing to do with it please?.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Michael
      You can bring a gooseberry bush back into good fruiting condition pretty easily, they are very hardy plants. The basic method is to remove a third of the branches every year for the next 3 years. After this time all the wood on the bush will be 3 years old or younger. This Autumn remove any of the wood crowding the center of the bush right back to the base of the plant.
      I hope this helps.
      Andrew

  5. Anne Doyle

    Very helpful advice, clear and concise. More helpful than many of the videos I’ve seen on the net which left me feeling confused and apprehensive of attempting to prune the fruit bushes. Thanks.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Elaine

      Gooseberries are tough so it is very likely it will survive. Are you saying you have been given a gooseberry in a pot? Have you planted it in the ground? I will need a little more info to answer your question accurately.

      Andrew

  6. Kiran Ranchod

    Thank you for your excellent step by step guide to pruning. You make it look so easy. Watching your video has given me the confidence to tackle this job without fear of killing off our bushes. Thank you very much.

    1. Andrew

      Hi kiran
      Great! I am glad you found the article and the video useful. I need to find the time to shoot more videos! Thanks for watching. Andrew

  7. Paula

    Hi I have a 1-year old & a 2-year old gooseberry bush that I planted in places I now don’t want them to be. How do I move them safely please? I’d like to start a gooseberry bed & they are in totally the wrong place. Neither have had barely any fruit & when I’ve moved them I’ll do the pruning as you have recommended. When & how should I move them please?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Paula. Gooseberry bushes are one of the toughest plants in the garden, whatever you do with them they will keep growing. My son ran over one of my bushes with the lawnmower when it was a 2 year old plant and chopped the whole thing down to a stump, it shrugged it off and kept growing.

      To move your bushes dig a planting hole in your new position approx 30cm wide and 20cm deep, break up the sides of the hole with the spade so it doesn’t have a smooth wall. Dig up your gooseberries by removing the same size ‘plug’ of soil by digging around and under the plant. Re-plant in the new hole and water in. If you want to be extra kind you could sprinkle a handful of blood, fish and bone into the planting hole to help the roots get established.

      I hope this helps, this is the Rolls-Royce of treatment but, as I said, pretty much whatever you do your bushes will grow. Andrew

  8. lesley edwards

    I, like others found, your advice much clearler than any other I have read on line. thankyou!!

    I grow redcurrant and blackcurrants and despite having bushes for several years now still,annually, manage to get confused over which grows on old and which on newer wood thus turning me into a ditherer re pruning them!!

    Last year I didnt know when to stop with the blackcurrants…so didn’t and ran out of bush eventually!! Given what you say as to blackcurrants fruiting on one year old branches I should have a good crop this year??! Now I am off to prune my redcurrants by chopping out the wood that is over 4 and under 2years old-right?! My only question is-if I keep removing the 1 year growth how willl I ever get any that is 2-3 years? or do I just remove 1/3 of under 1 year growth??

    thanks again

    1. Andrew

      Hi Lesley. Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found the article helpful. I will check and correct if the text is unclear, you remove any wood that is over 4 years old, DO NOT remove any younger wood. The one year old wood doesn’t produce fruit but it needs to be retained as it will be fruiting 2 year old wood the next year. I hope this makes sense, as I said, I will amend the text if it’s confusing.
      I hope this helps
      Andrew

  9. Carole Chassagnard

    I’m just going to start pruning various currants and perhaps gooseberries, too. I found your explanations much clearer than in the other videos I’ve watched. Here in Normandy the ground is so good that everything grows rampantly and owing to health problems (and original planting too closely) my gooseberry bushes are completely out of hand. However, it seems that I can slosh them and still have heaps of fruit! My only real problem is what to do with so much fruit: gooseberries, red, white and black currants, raspberries…! Incidentally, can you explain why my fig tree, which fruited in 1998 (its 3rd year, approx), for about 4months, last year which was lovely and hot we got almost no fruit at all? A few small figs fell off. It didn’t dry out, though it is against a south-facing wall.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Carole. Nice to hear from you, it sounds like you are blessed with soil and climate, I am rather envious with my North Westerly garden! I expect your fig tree is struggling to get enough moisture, fruit drop in hot weather would point to this. I would consider putting in a basic irrigation system around the tree which I would be confident will sole the problem, a heavy mulch around the root zone to conserve moisture will also help. I hope this helps. Andrew

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mary Clare. Great, it will pay dividends in the long run. Both gooseberries and currants as extremely hardy so whatever you do to them they will be fine! Thanks for reading! Andrew

  10. Dave

    Gooseberries(especially the renowned Hinnonmaki group, Captivator etc) like blackcurrants do bear some fruit on 1 year old wood- meaning new growth this year will bear some fruit on the lower portion of the shoot/stem the following season!

    Gooseberries need approximately 800-1000 hours of winter chill((Glendale and Pixwell)need even less as they can be grown successfully in zone 10a) and will grown in zones 2 to 8!

  11. Undutchable

    Thank you for your easy to follow advice. I now know why only one stem on my redcurrant is fruiting this year after my perhaps too enthusiastic pruning in October…I’m looking forward to a bumper crop in 2021. Patience is a virtue 🙂

  12. Eva-Maria

    I don’t know if I should cut more than 4 years old gooseberries, blueberries, currants old sticks that still look ok. Or must cut if three years old?
    My black currants root split and broken. One side loses. Should cut off half toot with big many stick. I will lose half. It went on for the last few years. I was not sure to cut broken one in the root? My dad did wonderful jobs for years. Now I have to take care. I hope my dad would look me down and appreciate me to try my best. So, I need to cut root? Can I have half-broken root again? Or too late now?
    I live in the Western of Massachusetts.
    I could line to get some help. I need a calendar month for prunes because I was not sure when. Based on different zones. In winter? No way or is it’s supposed to do. They are why I am not sure. Something in basic and easy for me suppose to take care of the plants
    When should I prune? Springtime in April? Depends on Weather? All gooseberries, currants, Blueberries. Grapevines. I think it dead now. Should I throw grape vines back in my wood? Some blueberries sticks?
    Raspberries stick back in front of my wood? Or must in the trash? I don’t do the burning.
    Cherry trees are out of control. Now one huge split center vertical. Should I cut the cherry tree down.? I could like to send you the photos. How? I attach this comment?
    plus worse part is hazelnuts. Huge. I can’t cut those. They are very strong and bigger and bigger and taller. They can hurt next to blueberries! Can I cut the top of the tree when I can reach the flat top? How can I cut top of the tree when I can reach the flat top? Do you have information step by step calendar for the fruits plants properly thru out the year?
    When can I dig and move the raspberry plant in the proper plant? Not spread to walk area path? Because I walk and step on it. Can’t see with grass. Can I move it around to be with other raspberries? Thanks for patient with me.

    I don’t go anywhere since March due to Cov19.

  13. Pam Ward

    Hi Andrew, My blackcurrant bushes are producing plenty of fruit, but there is a lot of top leaf growth above them on each stem. Should I nip these out so that they can ripen more easily, or leave them be? Many thanks.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Pam
      Leave them be, the plant needs it’s leaves to make sugars for growth, also pruning at this time of year not a good idea as you will stimulate new growth at the expense of the fruit.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mike. You could technically grow gooseberries in tubs provided they are big enough but they will better in open ground. If growing in a tub I would suggest a min diameter of 50cm.

  14. Jennifer

    Hello Andrew, thankyou for providing such detailed instructions, as I tend to be a “scalper” with hedges, shrubs etc and the total opposite with fruit bushes. The fact being I have 6 year old blackcurrant and gooseberry that have NEVER been pruned. Luckily I found your article-as I was about to scalp!

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