Gooseberries are delicious and easy-to-grow soft fruit, with a choice of varieties for eating or cooking. They prefer a sunny spot and can be trained against wall to save space, making them ideal for smaller gardens. They can even be grown in containers.
Jobs to do now
- Plant now in moisture-retentive, well-drained soil
- Space 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart and cordons 30-38cm (12-15in) apart
- Prune existing bushes
Month by month
Gooseberry plants generally need little attention, apart from pruning, watering in dry spells and feeding in spring to boost harvests.
Watering is seldom required but in very dry spells water every 14 days. Container-grown gooseberries often struggle in dry conditions, so carefully monitor their watering.
In early spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter one and a half handfuls per square metre/yard around the base.
Avoid feeding with too much nitrogen, because this can encourage sappy growth, which is prone to gooseberry mildew.
Mulch the root area with organic matter, such as garden compost or bark chips, to conserve soil moisture.
Pruning and training
To ensure good crops of large fruits and to keep plants in good shape, prune right from the start.
See our guide to pruning gooseberries.
In year one
Bushes: in early spring of the first year after planting, select five main stems and prune them back to 15–20cm (6–8in), removing all other stems at the base.
Cordons: on planting, prune back the tip by a quarter, cutting to just above a bud. Remove all side-shoots that are 15cm (6in) from the ground or below, plus any suckers. Cut back all young side-shoots to one or two buds.
Year two onwards: bushes
In mid-June to July, shorten the current season’s growth back to five leaves, except for those branches needed to extend the main framework. This pruning should not remove fruit, as fruit develops mainly on the older wood, not the current season’s growth.
In winter, remove any dead wood and low-lying shoots. Then spur prune all side-shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward-facing bud. Repeat this each year as maintenance pruning.
Year two onwards: cordons
From early June to mid-July, cut all young side-shoots to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane as it extends.
In late autumn or winter, after leaf fall, prune back the same side-shoots to one or two buds. Cut back the tip by one-third.
Once the cordon reaches 1.7m (5½ft) in height (the top of the supports), cut back the tip to five leaves from last year’s growth in summer, and then back to one to three buds from last year’s growth in winter.
The head is pruned in the same way as for a bush. Standards must be staked to keep them stable.
See our guide to fan-training.
You can propagate gooseberries by taking hardwood cuttings about 30cm (1ft) long. Use prunings taken from young plants. Older plants may carry disease, so it’s best not propagate from them.
Gooseberries can be grown as bushes or trained into various space-saving or ornamental shapes. These include upright cordons and fans grown against a support, such as a wall or fence. Cordons, in particular, can be planted closer together, allowing you to grow several different varieties in a small space.
They can also be grown as standards – shaped like a lollipop, with a bushy head on a tall stem. These are usually bought ready-trained, using grafted or budded plants that have a clear ‘trunk’ of 1–1.2m (3½–4ft) high.
Gooseberries often fruit prolifically once well established, and trained varieties make attractive additions to any garden.
Buying new plants
Gooseberries can be bought as bare-root plants (without any soil around the roots) or in containers.
Bare-root plants are only available while they are dormant, from late autumn to early spring, usually by mail order from fruit nurseries. Potted plants are available for most of the year and are widely sold in garden centres as well as by online retailers.
If buying in person, select two- to three-year-old bushes with a well-balanced head of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10–15cm (4–6in). Cordons should have a good spreading root system.
There is a wide choice of varieties, with red, green or yellow fruits, that ripen from mid- to late summer. Some are more vigorous than others or offer better mildew resistance. Dessert varieties are sweet and delicious eaten raw, while culinary varieties are for cooking, to make into puddings, pies and jams.
When choosing varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
Where to plant
Gooseberries tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer moist, well-drained soil. They crop best and produce sweeter fruits in a sunny position, but will tolerate light shade.
They can be planted in the ground or in large containers of soil-based compost.
How to plant
Plant bare-root gooseberries between late autumn and early spring, and container-grown plants at any time, avoiding waterlogged, parched or frozen soil.
Bushes: space 1.2–1.5m (4–5ft) apart.
Cordons: space 30–38cm (12–15in) apart.
See our advice on planting trees and shrubs for soil preparation and planting techniques.
Cordon plants need support, which should be put in place before or at planting time. This is usually a system of horizontal wires, spaced 60cm (2ft) and 1.2m (4ft) apart and attached to posts, or a wall or fence. Also insert a 1.7m (5½ft) bamboo cane to support the main stem.
Birds love gooseberries, so protect ripening fruits with fine-gauge netting.
In June, when the fruits are still green and under-ripe, pick every other fruit and use for making jam, pies, tarts and sauces. Leave the remainder to swell into ripe, sweet berries to harvest in July and August.
Pick fully ripened berries carefully as they’re soft and likely to burst. Excess fruit can be put into polythene bags and frozen.
Several pests can affect gooseberries, including aphids, capsid bug, woolly vine or currant scale and gooseberry sawfly. The fruit fly spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is likely to become an increasing problem.
Use netting to prevent bullfinches damaging the buds in winter and to protect ripening fruit from birds in summer.
Also keep watch for diseases such as American gooseberry mildew, grey mould (Botrytis) and coral spot.
Protect from late frost at flowering time by covering plants at night with horticultural fleece.
This mildew causes a powdery grey and white fungus on leaves and stems. The mildew may also appear on fruit, causing problems with ripening.
Cut out any infected stems or leaves you see straight away and destroy. This mildew is worse if bushes are planted close together giving poor air circulation, so space bushes out when planting.
Pale green, caterpillar-like larvae cause rapid and severe defoliation of plants, often reducing bushes to bare stems by harvest time. Damage starts in mid to late spring, but there can be three generations of the pest a year, so problems can continue through the summer.
Inspect plants carefully from mid-spring onwards, examining the undersides of leaves and especially the centre of the bush. Remove larvae by hand.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
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