How To Grow - Gooseberries

Gooseberries produce an abundance of fruit for their size and will tolerate partial shade – perfect for the small garden! They are also one of the earliest fruits, giving you the chance to make gooseberry jam and many desserts - such as a gooseberry fool. We’ve put together this guide for easy gooseberry growing.

When And Where

Plant out your gooseberries in the autumn, and choose a sunny, sheltered location. They can however tolerate shady and relatively cool conditions. Soil should be fertile, well-drained and moist. In bad soil conditions the plants won’t thrive. Prepare the ground by forking it over, removing weeds and stones. Dig a planting hole suitable for the root growth on the plants you have, and fork in some rotted manure or compost at the bottom, combined with granules or pellets of general purpose fertiliser. Gooseberries are also good for container planting.

How to plant

The size of the planting hole should be around three times the diameter of the roots but no deeper than the roots. Spread the roots of bare-rooted gooseberry bushes out in the prepared planting hole, and then cover these with soil. Avoid air pockets by placing soil between and around the roots. Firm the soil down and water in. Gooseberry bushes should be spaced at just over a metre apart, enabling picking access; cordons can be spaced at between 35 and 45 cm. Keep well watered until the plants are well established; use a mulch of bark or compost around the plants.

To plant a gooseberry bush in a container, fill the base of the pot with a layer of stones to allow drainage. A terracotta pot around 35 cm deep is ideal. Cover the stones with compost, and place the roots of the bush down so that the soil mark on the stem is at the height of the rim of the pot. Water in, and firm down the soil. Use a liquid fertiliser to feed once a week.

Harvesting

In late May to early June the first harvest should be ready – remove around half the crop, giving a longer cropping season ahead while leaving room for the remaining fruit to grow larger. This early harvest can be used for cooking; a few weeks after the initial harvest, further crops can be picked.

Put netting over your gooseberries when fruiting to prevent your crop from becoming bird food. Weight the netting at the edges to stop birds from getting underneath. You may find it necessary to keep the netting on through the winter when some birds (such as bullfinches) feed on gooseberry buds.

Through the year

Pruning and training your gooseberries will help you to obtain the best crops. Pruning in winter should aim to form a balanced branch structure while also helping to keep the centre of the bush open – this enables picking without prickling. Cut back leading shoots by a third; prune back shoots pointed towards the centre of the bush. In the summer you can prune back side shoots to five leaves, encouraging fruiting spurs to develop.

Train single-stemmed cordons against walls or onto canes, tying the leading shoot tip into the support. As with bushes, during the summer prune side shoots back to five leaves. When winter comes, shorten the main tip by a quarter, and shorten side shoots to three buds, encouraging new fruit spurs next year.

Handy tips

Check the leaves of your gooseberries for signs of caterpillars and pick these off by hand. Use insecticide if this isn’t working or if there are too many pests. Steady watering when the fruits are developing will produce the best results; erratic watering, or heavy watering after a dry period may cause splitting and rotting in the fruit. When harvesting, protect yourself from the thorns by wearing gloves and long sleeves!


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