How to grow gooseberries. Ranging from huge, juicy, red dessert fruit to tiny, sparkling, golden drops of sweetness, gooseberries are a great, easy to grow choice. This section also includes worcesterberries (small, purple gooseberries with resistance to gooseberry mildew) and jostaberries (a gooseberry/blackcurrant cross).
Gooseberry Site and soil
Although tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, gooseberries prefer moisture-retentive, well-drained soil. Avoid very shallow, dry soils as this can cause problems with American gooseberry mildew.
Gooseberries are a hardy fruit and do particularly well in cool areas, where the fruit slowly ripens on the bush while its flavour develops and matures. Despite very early flowering, they are reasonably resilient to harsh frosts, although planting in a frost pocket can reduce yields. They can tolerate some shade and will successfully fruit on a north-facing wall.
Gooseberries can be grown as bushes – sometimes called open-centre goblets. They have a short leg (trunk) of 10–15cm (4–6in) and then four or five permanent branches, which carry the fruiting sideshoots and spurs. Expect a crop of 2.5–5.5kg (6–12lb).
They can also be grown as standards, growing them on a long leg of 1m (3ft) with a round head at the top. Because it is top heavy, support standards just below the head with two posts.
Gooseberries can be trained as a fan against a fence or wall. Cordons are the best method of growing in small spaces. Expect a crop of 1–1.5kg (2–3lb) from a cordon. Stretch two wires – one at 50cm (20in) and one at 1.3m (41⁄2ft) – between two posts and tie vertical canes to the wire where each gooseberry is going to be planted.
Prior to planting, add well-rotted manure to the soil, and add a balanced granular fertiliser to poor, nutrient-deficient soils at a rate of 100g per sq m (3oz per sq yd).
The best time to plant gooseberries is in late autumn. Container-grown gooseberries can be planted at any time, although autumn is still best.
Set gooseberry bushes 1.5m (5ft) apart, while jostaberries and worcesterberries need 2.1m (7ft) spacing. Plant single, vertical cordons 30cm (12in) apart.
Keep the area around the plants free from weeds. In late winter, mulch around the base of the stems with well-rotted manure, making sure it is kept away from the stems. Support bushes with canes and twine wrapped around the outside of the plants to prevent heavily laden branches snapping and flopping onto the ground.
Remove suckers as they appear throughout the summer. Carefully tear them off by hand if possible since gooseberries can regenerate from pruning cuts.
Water regularly during dry periods. Container-grown gooseberries often struggle in dry conditions, so carefully monitor their watering.
In late winter, feed with a thin mulch of well rotted manure. Avoid feeding the plants with too much nitrogen because this can encourage sappy growth, which is prone to gooseberry mildew.
Bush plants: In early spring of the first year after planting, select five main stems and prune them back to 15-20cm (6-8in), removing all other stems from the base.
Cordons: On planting, prune back the tip by a quarter, cutting to just above a bud. Remove all sideshoots that are 15cm (6in) from the ground or below, plus any suckers. Cut back all young side shoots to one or two buds.
Year two onwards: bush plants
1. In mid-June to July, shorten the current season’s growth back to five leaves, except for those branches needed to extend the main framework. This pruning should not remove fruit, as fruit develops mainly on the older wood, not the current season’s growth.
2. In winter, spur prune all side shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward facing bud.
3. Repeat steps 2 and 3 each year as maintenance pruning.
Year two onwards: cordons
1. From early June to mid-July, cut all young side shoots to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane as it extends.
2. In late autumn or winter, after leaf fall, prune back the same side shoots to one or two buds. Cut back the tip by one-third.
3. Once the cordon reaches 1.7m (5½ft) in height (the top of the supports), cut back the tip to five leaves from last year’s growth in the summer, and then back to one-three buds from last year’s growth in winter.
The head is pruned in the same way as a bush plant. Standards must be staked to keep them stable.
Harvest gooseberries in two main pickings. A few weeks before the gooseberries are fully ripe, pick every other gooseberry and use in pies, tarts, sauces etc. Leave the remaining fruit to ripen until the flavours have fully matured. If time permits, do this second picking gradually over a few days, harvesting as and when the fruits are wanted.
Gooseberries taste delicious when eaten fresh off the bush. They must be eaten within a few days of picking, because they do not remain fresh for long. They can be stored in a fridge for about two weeks. The fruit can also be frozen, juiced, cooked, or made into delicious-tasting jam.
Gooseberry bushes can be attacked by squirrels, moth caterpillars, and birds (especially bullfinches), which eat the buds before they have broken into leaf and also eat the ripe fruit. They are also prone to leaf spot and fungal leaf spots, as well as these more specific problems.
American gooseberry mildew: This mildew causes the leaves and stems to appear with a covering of powdery, grey and white fungus. The mildew can also appear on the fruit, causing problems with ripening. Dust with sulphur or spray with Systhane fungicide. Gooseberry varieties such as ‘Greenfinch’, ‘Hinnonmäki Gul’, ‘Hinnonmäki Röd’, ‘Invicta’, and ‘Martlet’ provide some resistance to American gooseberry mildew.
Capsid bugs: These are small, pale green, sap-sucking insects destroy plant cells.
Eutypa dieback: Caused by Eutypa lata, this fungus causes branches to die back and occasionally kills the whole plant. Fruits shrivel up and the leaves turn brown and fall off. Remove and destroy any infected wood.
Gooseberry sawfly: An attack of gooseberry sawfly larvae can strip a plant of leaves in days.
Potash deficiency: Gooseberries regularly suffer from potash deficiency, which shows up as a brownish edge around the leaf. Apply sulphate of potash at 15g per sq m (0.56oz per sq yd) in late winter.