Last updated on January 27th, 2022
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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 information on this is 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 that produce both white, green and red fruits and which include both dessert and culinary types, so we highly recommend planting a couple of different varieties because 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 to purchase as well which is another added 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, however, they will also grow in dappled shade and can be grown in pots and containers. If you are planting them in the ground prepare the area with well-rotted farm manure and dig in well before planting. It is also a good idea to add a handful of 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 at what point they were planted 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. This helps to prevent mildew, which they can be prone to.
They grow well in pots but require regular watering, use soil-based compost and mix in slow-release fertiliser.
When to prune Gooseberries
Pruning is not essential but will encourage more fruit to improve air circulation that helps prevent diseases. Pruning in winter is highly recommended 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 year’s growth to 2-3 leaves.
Also, remove any inward shooting growth to keep the centre of the plant open, this will help make picking the fruits easier. We also suggest you remove the main leaders by around a third as well.
Prune in summer (around June) and cut the side shoots back to around 5 leaves because this will help light reach into the bush which will help ripen fruit. Pruning in summer is not essential but does help produce a better crop of 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 of June. Remove around half the fruit, this helps the plant cope with the masses of fruit still left on the bush that 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 that is suitable for fruit.
The two main problems with pests are sawfly caterpillars and they will totally strip a plant of all its leaves very quickly. Check plants around March and spray with an insecticide if necessary. Again check for one that is suitable for fruits.
The only other problem is the birds taking the fruit. Simply cover with garden netting to protect your plants.
Best Gooseberries bushes to try
Leveller – This variety produces tasty yellow fruit which is ready to harvest around July, they will grow in full sun and semi-shade and are a heavy cropper. Grows approximately 5ft x 5ft. It also has been awarded the “RHS Award of Garden Merit”.
Whinhams Industry – Produces red fruits that 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, grows to around 100cm-150cm tall and has a spreading habit. Has some resistance to mildew.
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