How to Grow a Gooseberry Plant

Gooseberries

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Gooseberries, which make delectable pies, jams, and jellies, are seldomly available fresh. If you like the tart berries, you might want to consider growing your own. Because gooseberries are self-fertile, you only need one plant. The short, tough, thorny shrubs are long-lived so you will have gooseberries for years to come. 

The two main species of gooseberries are European gooseberries and American gooseberries and there are several cultivars of each. All varieties ripen between late June and mid-July.

Warning

You might not be able to plant gooseberries in your location. A law introduced in 1926 and still in effect in some US states prohibits the cultivation of members of the Ribes genus, which includes gooseberries as well as black, red, and white currants because of white pine blister rust.

 Common name  Gooseberry
 Botanical Name Ribes uva-crispa (European gooseberry), Ribes hirtellum (American gooseberry)
 Family Grossulariaceae
 Plant Type Fruit
 Mature Size  3-6 ft. tall, 3-6 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure  Full sun, partial shade
 Soil Type   Loamy, sandy, well-drained
 Soil pH   Neutral to Acidic (5.5 to 6.5)
 Bloom Time  Spring
 Flower Color  Pink, yellow, greenish-white
 Hardiness Zones  3-7, USA
 Native Area  Europe, North America

How to Plant Gooseberries

Nurseries usually sell gooseberries as bare root plants for early spring planting. Amend the soil with organic matter as needed and plant the gooseberries as soon as they arrive and before they leaf out. Plant them about one inch deeper than they were planted at the nursery (you can see the old soil line on the canes). Gently tamper down the soil around the plants and cut the canes back to 6 to 10 inches above the soil line. Space the plants at least three feet apart. Water them deeply at least gooseberries during the first growing season and until established, more frequently in the absence of rain and in hot weather.

Gooseberry Care

Gooseberries are low maintenance. However, because of their thorns, harvesting can be challenging. Always wear protective gear: long gloves, long sleeves, and pants. 

Trellising or staking help when the canes flop over, which happens especially when they are loaded with berries. 

Gooseberry plant with thorns

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Light

Gooseberries can be grown in full sun as well as partial shade. In warmer climates. they need protection from the hot midday or afternoon sun. A location that is shaded by a building, fence, or tree is ideal.

Soil

Gooseberries can grow in a wide range of soils but well-drained sandy loam rich in organic matter is best. Sandy soil that gets hot and dry from the summer sun and heavy clay soil with poor drainage is not suitable. 

Add a two- to three-inch layer of mulch in a three-foot diameter around the base of the plant to keep the soil cool and moist. 

Water

Once established, the plants only need to be watered in the absence of weekly rainfall. Water the plants slowly and deeply, preferably using drip irrigation. 

Temperature and Humidity

Gooseberries need a cool climate with at least 40 days of winter chill between 35 and 45 degrees F. They don’t do well in extreme summer heat.

Late spring frost can damage the flowers and decimate the harvest. Avoid planting gooseberries in low-lying frost pockets. 

In humid weather, gooseberries are especially prone to disease. This makes good air circulation all the more important, both within a plant as well as between plants.

Fertilizer

In early spring, before the growing season starts, spread one quarter to half a pound of a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in a circle around each plant and lightly work it into the soil. Gooseberries are also high nitrogen feeders so adding composted manure in addition to synthetic fertilizer is beneficial. 

Types of Gooseberries

The fruit of American gooseberries are smaller than European gooseberries and the American species is more disease resistant. The European gooseberries are often described as having more flavor but that of course is a question of personal taste. 

When choosing a gooseberry variety, take into consideration what you want to do with the berries. For pies and jams, where you use the whole berries, you should remove the tiny stem ends and blossom ends, which is a time-consuming and tedious job and large berries are more convenient. If you primarily extract the juice, such as for jelly, you can use the berries untrimmed, and size does not matter. 

Popular cultivars of the American gooseberry are ‘Hinnonmaki Red’ with dark red fruit, ‘Hinnonmaki Yellow’ with green fruit, and ‘Pixwell’ with berries that turn deep purple when ripe.

‘Captivator’, a hybrid between European and American gooseberries, is almost thornless with red fruit.

A popular variety of the European gooseberry is ‘Invicta’ with very large, greenish yellow berries. 

Not all gooseberry varieties turn red or purple when ripe

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Pruning

Gooseberries bear fruit on one-, two-, and three-year-old canes. The goal of pruning is to have three to four strong canes of each age on the plant and let an equal number of new canes grow every summer. 

In the winter while the plant is dormant, cut out all older canes, which you can easily recognize by their darker color, Also remove any broken, misshapen, or diseased canes. Annual pruning keeps the plant productive and also ensures good air circulation. 

If you accidentally cut out too many canes, or the wrong ones, don’t worry, a gooseberries are vigorous growers and forgiving and with proper care, they will bounce back the next year. 

Propagating Gooseberry Plants

You can also easily propagate gooseberries by tip layering. Bury the tip of a cane in the soil and secure it with a rock. Once it has grown some strong roots, which can take up to one year, you can sever it from the mother plant and transplant it in a new location. 

Common Pests & Plant Diseases 

Gooseberries can be affected by powdery mildew, anthracnose, leaf spot, currant worm, and gooseberry fruitworm. Your first line of defense is choosing disease- and pest-resistant varieties and providing good air circulation.

FAQ
  • Why are gooseberries illegal?

    Gooseberries are banned in certain states due to the white pine blister rust (see Warning box for details).

  • Do you need to grow two gooseberry bushes to get fruit?

    You only need one plant to get fruit, as gooseberries are self-fertile.

  • How long does it take for a gooseberry bush to bear fruit?

    It takes one to three years for the plants to produce berries.