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How to grow gooseberries
Gooseberries plants are probably one of the easiest fruit bushes to grow and they produce an abundance of sweet gooseberry fruits over the summer. You can thin out the fruits and use them for cooking. The fruits picked later can be eaten fresh once they have swelled and are soft, but more on this further down.
They only take a couple of years to establish and will nearly always fruit in their first year and will be producing around 2.5kg of fruit per plant, per year. There are many varieties of gooseberries which produce both white, green and red fruits and which include both dessert and culinary types so we recommend planting a couple of different varieties as some are sweeter than others and it also extends the picking time.
When to plant Gooseberries
The best time to plant them is around October, when they are usually available bare root. Bare root plants are lifted from fields and usually sold by mail order nurseries between October and March, they are usually a little cheaper which is also another bonus.
You can also purchase them potted at any other time of year including summer and they will quickly establish but they will need regular watering especially when the fruit is forming..
Where and how to plant Gooseberry plants
They prefer a full sun site in moist but well-drained soil, but they will also grow in dappled shade and can be grown in pots and containers. If planting in the ground prepare the ground with well-rotted farm manure and dig in well before planting. It is also a good idea to add a hand full or fertiliser to the hole when planting as well. Only plant them to the original level they have been planted to previously. This is easy to identify with potted plants but with bare root plants look along the stem carefully to see where they were planted at in the ground previously.
Plants need to be spaced at least 5ft (150cm) apart to give them room to grow and allow air to circulate around the plants which helps prevent mildew which they can be prone to.
They grow well in pots but require regular watering, use a soil based compost and mix in slow release fertiliser.
When to prune Gooseberries
Pruning is not essential but will encourage more fruit and improve air circulation which helps prevent diseases. Pruning in winter is highly recommend and around November is usually a good time. The fruit is produced around the bottom of the previous years growth so prune back the previous years growth to 2-3 leaves.
Also remove any inward shooting growth to keep the centre of the plant open which helps makes picking easier. Also remove the main leaders by around a third.
Prune in summer around June and cut the side shoots back to around 5 leaves which will help light reach into the bush which will help ripen fruit. Pruning is summer is not essential but does help produce better fruit.
It is also a good idea to mulch around the base of plants in spring to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
They prefer moist soil so watering is essential to help produce the best fruit, water regularly especially in summer when the fruits are forming and the ground is dry. Pot grown plants will probably need watering daily.
When to pick fruit
The fruit is best thinned around mid June, the official day for this is Barnaby day which is on the 11th June. Remove around half the fruit, this helps the plant cope with the masses of fruit still left on the bush which will ripen over summer. The thinning should be used in cooking and the remaining fruit will start to swell and be slightly soft to touch and can be picked in summer and sweet fruits can be eaten fresh straight from the bush.
Gooseberry pest and diseases
They can suffer from mildew, especially in damp warm summers and should be sprayed with a fungicide which is suitable for fruit.
The two main problem with pest are sawfly caterpillars, they will totally strip a plant of all it’s leaves very quickly. Check plants around March and spray with a insecticide if needed. Again check for one that is suitable for fruits.
The only other problem is birds taking the fruit, simply cover with garden netting to protect plants.
Best Gooseberries bushes to try
Leveller – This variety produces tasty yellow fruit which are ready to harvest around July, they will grow in full sun and semi-shade and is a heavy cropper. Grows approximately 5ft x 5ft. It also has a Awarded the “RHS Award of Garden Merit”.
Whinhams Industry – Produces red fruits which are sweet in flavour and are ready for picking around June to mid-July. It is ideal for heavier soils and has also been awarded the “RHS Award of Garden Merit”.
Invicta – Another gooseberry that has been awarded the “RHS Award of Garden Merit”, this mid-season variety produces good tasting fruits and grows to around 100cm – 150cm tall and has a spreading habit. Has some resistance to mildew.
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