Growing Gooseberries in Your Garden – a wonderfully alliterative title for a practical gardening blog, don’t you think?
Gooseberries are an excellent fruit to grow in your garden or allotment. Referred to as a perennial fruit, this means not that the fruit is there all year round, but that it is a fruit that grows on a perennial deciduous bush.
Depending on the variety and the weather, gooseberries ripen between May – August in the UK. they are tolerant of many soil and sun / shade conditions making them an adaptable fruit bush.
For some more on the British gooseberry, botanically Ribes uva-crispa, Ribes grossularia, also check out Plews blog Gooseberries – some Questions and Answers
But read on below for tips on growing gooseberries in your garden or allotment.
Growing Gooseberries – which variety is best?
Gooseberries are self-fertile, which means you only need one bush in order to have fruit. However, they do seem to crop more heavily if pollinating insects are allowed access to the small flowers. So it is best to net them once the fruit buds form rather than before.
The culinary gooseberry can be used for cooking, pies, crumbles, ice-cream; making preserves (gooseberry jam!) and wine making. A gooseberry variety which is classified as dessert means that it can be eaten raw when ripe; straight from the bush, just as you would with raspberries. If you’ve only tasted a tart, unripe shop bought gooseberry the sweet, syrupiness of some dessert gooseberries will be a real eye opener. Dual purpose varieties can be used for both culinary and dessert purposes.
A vigorous gooseberry which produces firm, smooth green fruit. Harvest from June to July.
A British bred variety which has smooth skinned green fruit – for those who are less keen on hairy fruits. Brilliant for jam making. Harvest from July to August.
A hybrid variety that has the advantage of being nearly spine free when mature for easy picking of its sweet dessert fruits. Harvest from July to August.
This is the gooseberry for you if you have a sweet tooth! Large red fruits on a vigorous nearly spine free bush. Harvest from June to July.
Dual purpose Gooseberries
If you only have space for one or two gooseberry bushes growing dual purpose varieties gives you the greatest flexibility.
Available in red, green and yellow varieties. Hardy. Harvest in July.
And for the northern areas of UK rather than the southern end, this is an excellent Northumberland bred mid-season gooseberry. Pick it green for cooking or a mature dark red for eating raw.
Growing Gooseberries – bushes, cordons, half standards, fans
Gooseberries are probably best recognised as bushes growing up to 4-foot-high on short stems. Left to its own devices, a gooseberry bush can be rather straggly. If you’re starting from fresh, with a new plant then you can keep the bush to a neater shape. See section below for pruning.
Alternatively, it is possible to grow gooseberries as single stem cordons and double cordons, such as you may have heard me mention for apples and pear trees. Not a common form in which to find this fruit, but useful where you have a fence or can erect a low trellis for support. It can be a good way to grow fruit in a small space and in ornamental edible gardens, interspersed with small shrubs perhaps. Personally I feel it could be a more widely used form as it’s so adaptable.
A fan trained gooseberry is less of a space saver, taking up a good 5 – 6 width on a wall. Very decorative, especially with red fruited varieties. I would choose this for an underused north facing wall in the southerly parts of the UK, where other fruits would be less suited.
A half standard fruit tree has a straight stem for approximately 2 feet before the plant bushes out. This makes a decorative small tree, ideal for an ornamental kitchen garden. On a practical note, it frees up soil space at the base, allowing for other fruit, herbs or companion plants to be grown. As well as the space saving aspect, the fruit is at a more accessible height for those who find bending down a problem. Standard gooseberries have a taller stem and definitely need staking.
I have seen dwarf varieties of gooseberry on offer, specifically for growing in containers on patios and balconies. Note – these are likely to be ordinary bushes sold as patio varieties. As gooseberries can be grown in large pots anyway, be sure not to pay a premium for a ‘dwarf’ variety!
Planting Gooseberries – bare root or container grown?
Which suits your situation better?
Bare root fruit trees and bushes are available during the dormant season and ‘take’ well. As has been discussed elsewhere in Plews Potting Shed, bare root plants are cheaper to purchase and offer a wider range of varieties. They may take longer to bear a good crop as generally speaking the plants are younger than container grown ones.
Some forms of gooseberry may only be available as bare root. There is a good selection of specialist fruit nurseries so this is not an issue.
If you would like your first harvest sooner, possibly because you only plan to be in that house and garden for a short time, then container grown plants are a better choice.
The price difference between bare root gooseberries and container grown fruit is minimal when you’re buying one or two plants. However, if, for example, I’ve designed you a garden orchard bare root may be the more affordable option.
Whichever type you buy, the gooseberries should be planted at the same depth as which they were growing. This will prevent suckers.
Dig a hole deep enough and wide enough to take the roots. Ensure a good, free draining, nutrition rich soil. If necessary, dig in and around the planting hole incorporating organic matter before planting. Add some mycorrhizal fungi such as Rootgrow in the base of the hole. If bare rooted, spread the roots out. If container grown, loosen the roots to encourage outward growth. Backfill the hole, firming the soil. Water well.
Depending on the season and the weather, water daily for a couple of weeks and then weekly until established.
Growing Gooseberries – general care
Whilst growing gooseberries is not a constant round of chores, there are some occasional, seasonaltasks that need to be carried out in order to get the best crop. Growing gooseberries can provide you with 4kg of fruit from a single mature bush – so worth a little effort!
Apply mulch each year. Some gardeners prefer to do this in autumn to keep the roots protected from a heavy frost. Others will mulch in early spring to feed the plant as it comes back into growth.
Watering until plants are established is necessary. In later years, watering at fruit set and before harvest is recommended. At other times be led by the weather and the look of your gooseberry plant. Wall and fence trained gooseberries may be in a rain shadow. In which case they will need more watering than a gooseberry bush in open ground.
Pests include sawfly, Nematus ribesii, which feeds exclusively on the Ribes family of redcurrants and gooseberries. These pale green caterpillars with black spots can decimate the leaves of a whole bush. Whilst that year’s crop may not be affected, the following year’s will be seriously reduced.
Holes in the leaves low down in the bush are the first sign, and enable action to be taken. If only a few caterpillars are noticed, removal by hand (wear gloves) may be enough.
Diseases are less common as modern varieties are bred with increased resistance. American gooseberry mildew, a more recent introduction, can be a nuisance however. This initially causes a white coating on the leaves, with burnt tips. Sodium bicarbonate, an organic remedy, can be used, but prevention is better than cure. A healthy plant is better able to resist both pests and diseases.
Growing Gooseberries – Pruning
Gooseberries fruit on the growth put on in previous years. The method for pruning bush and standard forms is basically the same. Cordons and fans require a different technique and timing.
I will be giving you a specific fruit pruning blog, so these are bullet points
- Prune out old wood, usually more than 4 years old as this is less productive
- Remove any dead, diseased or dying stems
- Prune to an open goblet shape to encourage light and air
- On young plants, cut back new growth
As above, plus
Remove any incipient growth on the straight stem
Standards and half standards will need a regular pruning schedule so the topknot doesn’t break off with the weight of the fruit.
Single and double Cordon Gooseberries
Cut the side shoots back to five buds / leaves
Shorten the previous year’s growth on the main stem back by about a quarter to encourage side shoots
For all the information I’ve shared above, growing gooseberries in your garden is not a complicated exercise. Like all perennial fruit there are certain tasks at certain times of the year. But for long periods you can just sit around and enjoy your garden; visit friends, go to the cinema…
If you’d like an easy maintenance edible garden of your own, personal professional advice helps you to get it right and save you money. Funnily enough, I know someone who could help you with that, so do get in touch.
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