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.
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.
|Botanical Name||Ribes uva-crispa (European gooseberry), Ribes hirtellum (American gooseberry)|
|Mature Size||3-4 ft. tall, 3-4 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to Acidic (6.0 to 7.0)|
|Flower Color||Pink, yellow, greenish-white|
|Hardiness Zones||4-6, 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 tamp 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 during the first growing season until established, and more frequently in hot weather or the absence of rain.
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 helps keep the canes from flopping over, which happens especially when they are loaded with berries.
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.
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 are not suitable.
Add a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch in a 3 foot diameter around the base of the plant to keep the soil cool and moist.
Once established, the plants only need to be watered in the absence of weekly rainfall. Water the plants slowly and deeply.
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, so space your plants 4 to 5 feet apart and prune them annually.
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 is smaller than European gooseberries and the American species is more disease resistant. European gooseberries are often described as having more flavor. The flavor of both cultivars is often compared to muscat grapes; musty sweet when ripe and sour when unripe.
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. This can be a time-consuming and tedious job which makes large berries more convenient. If you plan to extract the juice, to make 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.
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 will 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, Gooseberries are vigorous growers and with proper care, they will bounce back the next year.
Propagating Gooseberry Plants
You can 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.
Why are gooseberries illegal?
Gooseberries are banned in several states due to white pine blister rust. The gooseberry is a secondary host to the disease which can kill white pine trees. Several other states require a permit to grow these ribes. Check with your local cooperative extension office to find out if gooseberries are allowed to be grown in your area.
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.
Gough, R.E. Growing Currants and Gooseberries in Montana. Montana State University Extension, 2010.
Ribes. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home: Currants and Gooseberries. Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Ellis, Micheal A., Horst, Leona. White Pine Blister Rust on Currants and Gooseberries. Ohio State University Extension.