Guide to Growing Gooseberries

Having less to do with their name and much more to do with their juicy flavor, gooseberries are a welcome addition to any garden.

Photo by: Shutterstock/ArTDi101

Shutterstock/ArTDi101

These very hardy fruit bushes are a good choice for cold, exposed gardens. Firm, tart, and juicy, gooseberries are especially good cooked; their old-fashioned appeal is becoming more widely appreciated.

How to Grow

Gooseberries require a moist, fertile soil and will tolerate some shade. Commonly grown as freestanding bushes, they are either planted as “stool” bushes or on a short 6 inches (15 cm) stem, called a “leg.” Where required, they can also be trained as stepovers, cordons, and standards, or as fans on north-facing walls. Bare root shrubs should be planted in the winter; container-grown can be planted at any time of year if well watered. Dig well-rotted organic matter into the planting hole. Space bushes 4 feet (1.2 m) apart and cordons 14 inches (35 cm) apart. Thin the fruit from the early summer, removing alternate berries, which can be used in cooking. This encourages full-sized fruit, which can be harvested once ripe from midsummer onward. Net young fruit to protect it from birds. Be careful when harvesting since the bushes have long, sharp thorns.

Water plants well during dry spells, and feed in the spring with a granular fertilizer or well-rotted organic matter. Freestanding shrubs may need support with canes in the summer to prevent laden branches from collapsing or snapping. Cordon-trained plants can be grown much closer together than freestanding shrubs, which is ideal for smaller gardens.

Varieties to Try

Dessert varieties (D) can be eaten raw; culinary fruit (C) are best for cooking; dual types are suitable for both uses (C/D). Try ‘Captivator’ (C), ‘Careless’ (C/D), ‘Greenfinch’ (C), ‘Invicta’ (C/D), ‘Leveller’ (D) and ‘Whinham’s Industry’ (C/D) varieties.

Pruning

Established gooseberry bushes are pruned in the winter and summer. The main aim is to create an open, airy center and to keep older fruiting wood productive.

In the first winter after planting, choose 4–5 healthy stems, and cut them back by half to three-quarters. Remove all other stems and shoots coming from the “leg” at the bottom.

To winter-prune established shrubs, tip-prune main stems, and cut back sideshoots to 1–4 buds. The center of overgrown shrubs should be thinned by a quarter. In the summer, prune sideshoots to five leaves.

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