Gooseberry ribes grossularia is an ideal fruit for the small garden!
They are easy to grow, they are self-fertile, so you only need one bush to produce fruit.
They can withstand harsher conditions (both temperature and wind) than many other fruits, thus making them the ideal choice for cooler areas.
Gooseberries are deciduous shrubs, growing to 900-1200mm (3-4ft) high and up to 1800mm (6ft) wide.
With proper attention gooseberries can be grown in containers, and are suitable for training as a standard.
They prefer a location where they get the morning sun, partial-shade in the afternoon and buoyant air circulation at all times.
Avoid frost pockets.
Gooseberries tolerate a wide range of soils, except those that are waterlogged.
They will grow better and produce better fruit in medium to heavy soils, which retain moisture.
Plants stressed for water are susceptible to mildew.
Sandy soils are less suitable because they dry out too fast, a thick mulch of organic material can help to alleviate this situation.
They do not require very fertile soil, when too fertile, the plant/s can produce too much weak green growth at the expense of fruit.
Week 12 and 40:
Plant out 1.5m (5ft) between rows and 1.2m (4ft) between plants if growing as bushes, and 300mm (1ft) between plants if growing as cordons.
The best time to plant is October when the soil is still warm, this allows the root system to establish itself quickly before the rest of the plant begins to put on new spring growth.
If planting out bare-rooted bushes spread their roots out in the hole and covering with good soil and compost.
Ensure that the plants are planted to the same depth as they were in the nursery (this will be indicated by the soil mark on the stem)
Keep plants well watered until established, and cover the soil around them (but not touching the plant) with a 50-75 mm (2"-3") thick mulch of compost or bark.
If growing in containers the basic planting procedure is the same.
Containers should be well crocked to ensure good drainage and the should be filled with a soil based compost similar to JI3.
Apply fungicide at flower bud stage onwards, to prevent mildew.
Apply Sulphate of potash at a rate of 20gms (¾ oz) per sq metre, then apply a 50-75 mm (2"-3") thick mulch of compost or bark.
Do not allow the mulch to touch the plant/s.
Deter infestations of Gooseberry sawfly larvae (maggots) by spraying the plants with a suitable pesticide after flowering.
Alternatively, rub the larvae off by hand when they are small, or wash them off with a strong jet of water.
Cover bushes with netting during to prevent bird damage.
Ensure it is weighted down at the base to prevent the birds getting underneath.
Fruit Net Protection
Circa Week 22/23:
Start thinning gooseberries removing about half the crop.
The fruits from this first harvest can be used for cooking.
This will give a longer cropping season and leaves the remainder more room to grow to a larger size.
Never let plants go short of water when the fruits are swelling and ripening.
Heavy watering after a drought can cause fruits to split and rot.
The second harvest can be done a few weeks later when the fruit is ripe.
Check for Gooseberry sawfly, and spray with a suitable pesticide if necessary.
An application of a systemic fungicide will help to combat mildew infections.
Remove any suckers springing up from the roots, and prune back side-shoots to leave five pairs of leaves.
Don’t neglect gooseberries after fruiting for they can come under sudden attack from pests and diseases.
Up to four broods of sawfly larvae (caterpillars) can hatch in a year, so continue spraying with suitable products.
Treat powdery mildew infections with a systemic fungicide.
Other jobs that can be tackled now include removing any suckers growing out from the roots or main stem.
Summer prune by shortening all side-shoots made this year back to five leaves to allow in more light and air to centre of plants.
Gooseberries may be increased by means of hard wood cuttings inserted into the ground.
Select sturdy prunings of ripened (firm) current years growth 300-400mm (12”-15”) long.
Trim the top, just above a leaf bud and bottom below a leaf bud and rub off all but the top three or four buds at the top.
Insert 150mm (6”) apart in a sand lined slit or trench so that the lowest bud is positioned 50mm (2”) above soil level, leaving two buds above soil level.
To assist the rooting process dip the cutting in a rooting powder or gel.
Inserting cuttings through black plastic sheeting will also help.
Circa Week 36>:
Prepare bed for new plants by digging in as much organic material as possible.
Week 44 or altenatively circa week 10 the following year;
Prune out dead or diseased stems, and any shoots that are growing into the centre of the bush to form a goblet shape and keep the centre of the bush open.
This will form a balanced branch structure and make harvesting easier; it will also improve air circulation through the bush thus reducing the risk of mildew.
Cut back shoots of two-year old gooseberries by about a half, pruning them back to a suitable bud.
Cut back to an inside (upper) bud if the variety has a drooping habit, or to an outside (lower) bud for erect growers.
Slightly older bushes can be treated similarly, but here the laterals (side shoots) may also need shorting back to about 75mm (3”).
Established bushes may benefit from having weak shoots and a proportion of older branches pruned out to avoid congestion.