Gooseberries are sharp and acidic – the fruit is generally tart in May but will ripen more sweetly by July.
According to Stanislaw Pluta (2018), cultivated types of gooseberries are divided into two major groups, European (Ribes grossularia var. uva-crispa) and American (Ribes hirtellum).
Those that are native to northern Europe, thrive in chillier weather and have been a feature of British gardens since the 1600s. (RHS, The Garden, June 2016, pp.73-75).
As a general rule gooseberry:
- grow best in free-draining but moisture-retentive soil (can tolerate alkaline soil better than most fruit) – but there is variability between cultivars
- can tolerate some shade and cold
- likes a spot with good air movement, which helps keep mildew & gooseberry sawfly at bay
- plant bushes 5-6 feet apart (or 1 1/2 feet apart for cordon trained gooseberries)
- mulch & top-dress each spring with potassium-rich fertiliser; ** make sure to avoid using nitrogen-rich fertilisers as these result in soft growth that will be vulnerable to mildew and sawfly
- wildlife: gooseberry are RHS recommended as an excellent nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects.
People recommend different approaches to netting. One view is that birds enjoy ripe gooseberries but net plants as late as possible because the birds also help control bugs. Another view is that plants should be protected from birds by netting as soon as spring growth appears, as some birds such as bullfinches like to eat the developing buds. (We go for the net as soon as the flowers appear approach after several years of bird-ravaged crops)
Growing gooseberries as bushes (as opposed to cordon) is easiest. Gooseberries are formed on branches which grew in the previous and older years. However, branches older than three or four years old will become unproductive, so these are best pruned out.
Prune after its first growing season in autumn/ winter. Choose a day when the weather is forecast to be dry in order to reduce the risk of fungal infections.
In winter shorten leaders by a third and cut back laterals (side branches) to two buds. Remove branches growing in the centre of bushes to create an open ‘vase’ shape. Prune again in summer – reduce all new growth sideshoots except the main growing stems to five leaves.
There are three simple rules for successfully pruning a gooseberry bush.
- PRUNE OUT OLD WOOD: Cut out older, thicker, gnarled banches. Shorten longer branches by a third.
- PRUNE OUT LOW OR CROSSING BRANCHES: To reduce the chance of fungal diseases and pests, prune back all branches near the ground. Cut out all crossing branches to prevent this.
- KEEP THE CENTRE OF THE PLANT REASONABLY CLEAR: Prune away some of the branches growing into the centre of the bush. When the leaves form this will allow good air circulation, again assisting in the prevention of fungal diseases.
Overall, gooseberry bushes benefit from quite harsh pruning. Over-pruning is possible but unlikely, even then the plant will quickly recover.
Pests & Diseases: Gooseberry are susceptible to gooseberry sawfly larvae and mildew problems. Inspect bushes regularly from April for the caterpillar-like larvae of sawfly. Squash on sight. Good air circulation is key to avoiding mildew problems.
Harvesting & Preservation: Carefully harvest the gooseberries as when ripe they can easily burst.
Fruit can be bottled for use over winter, by selecting fresh firm fruit. Wash them, top & tail, and pack into sterile jars and bottle in syrup.
If you are making jams, pies or tarts its best to pick slightly under-ripe gooseberries around June. Leave the rest to ripen which can be picked around late July when they are swollen and sweet.
Hinnomaki Red Gooseberry is said to be a truly an outstanding variety from Finland, with superb flavour, high yields and beautiful red coloured fruit that has tangy skin and sweet flesh.
Plants grow upright and are mildew resistant. The sweet berries are good for eating, desserts and preserves.
Hinnomaki Red are self-fertile. Plant between February-June or September/ October in full sun or partial shade.
Plant in evenly moist soil, in a spot with good air circulation. They grow 3 to 4 feet high (1 metre) with a spread of 4.5 feet (1.5 metres) and are best planted 5 feet apart.
Hinnomaki are easy to grow, tolerate most soil types, and work nicely as hedging, with lobed leaves that turn red in the fall.
- Feed regularly through the growing season with fish, blood & bone fertiliser.
They fruit between June and August and will set fruit one to two years after first planting.
- Prune in winter, removing old, damaged branches. Approximately a third of the oldest wood can be removed to encourage new growth.
- We planted two slips of Hinnomaki Red Gooseberry into the allotment on 2 June 2018.
- Summer of 2019 they set fruit which began to ripen, but all the fruit were eaten by the birds!
- April 2020 we transplanted the gooseberry planted with the raspberries into a plastic pot and installed with the other potted gooseberry into a new raised bed with plastic pea netting to protect against the birds. Plants in flower by 13 April 2020.
The photograph above shows the potted gooseberry (with company with the potted blueberry and potted white currant bush) under fine-gauze netting and Felicity Fiacre in the background (late June 2022).
Matthew donated a couple of gooseberry bushes summer 2019 and we planted them in the back patch. They are setting fruit and look to be green gooseberries, 1 June 2021.