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  How To Grow Gooseberries

PLANT TYPE: Perennial
ZONE / HARDINESS: Hardy to zone 3
MATURE PLANT SIZE: Up to 60 inches high
LIGHT: Full Sun
SOIL TYPE: Well-drained, fertile soil
KNOWN PESTS: Gooseberry fruitworm & currantworm
KNOWN DISEASES: Leafspot & american gooseberry mildew - can be very agressive


The gooseberry bush has thorny, arching branches giving the plant a height and breadth of three to five feet. Flower buds are born laterally on one-year-old wood and on short spurs of older wood. Each bud opens to yield from one to four flowers, depending on cultivar. The flowers are self-fertile, and pollinated by wind and insects, but usually not honeybees.

A gooseberry bush becomes tangled and unhealthy without pruning. Good management means keeping the centre open to air and sunlight, leaving a few, regularly-spaced, main branches.

In winter, prune out dead or diseased stems, and any crossing the centre. Cut back to a young shoot. Thin overcrowded areas and prune drooping stems to an upright sideshoot. Shorten new growth by half to maintain an acceptable size.

Choose a sunny location that has good air movement to reduce disease problems. Gooseberries can be long lived so be sure to prepare the soil well before planting. Add compost or well-rotted manure to the hole before planting. Plant the canes slightly deeper than they were growing previously (look for soil mark on stem). Plants should be spaced 3 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Prune back to 2 buds so as to encourage vigorous growth. It is important to have 2-4 inches of mulch around the plants as they like cool, moist soil. Straw, bark, or grass clippings all work well. Plants should be pruned in late winter or early spring when the plant is dormant. Gooseberries bear fruit primarily on 2 and 3 year old wood, so equal numbers of 1, 2 and 3 year old shoots should be maintained to ensure a constant renewal of fruiting wood.


The ease with which gooseberries propagate from cuttings depends on the cultivar. Generally, American cultivars are easier to propagate than are European cultivars.

Take hardwood cuttings in fall. The presence of a few leaves actually enhances rooting, so cuttings can be taken in the fall before all the leaves have fallen. The presence of leaves does require extra precautions to prevent dessication. Make the cuttings about a foot long, but do not include tip growth.

For bushes to be grown on legs, remove all except the top four or five buds so that no shoots grow from near or below the ground on the resultant bushes. Alternatively, since the presence of buds enhances rooting, it may be advisable to leave all the buds on a cutting. Later, when you lift the plants for transplanting, pull (do not cut) off all the bottom shoots and buds.

Tip layering and mound layering are more reliable methods of propagation, but a single bush furnishes far fewer tip layers than cuttings and mound layering sacrifices the crop that season. With either type of layer, roots form where the stems are in the soil and the small plants will be ready for transplanting either by the first fall or, with difficult to root cultivars, the following fall.


Gooseberries thrive in cool, well-drained, fertile soils. In warmer regions, bushes will grow better and produce better fruit in heavier soils, which retain more moisture and keep cooler. An organic mulch is beneficial, both to protect the shallow roots and to keep the soil cool and moist. The bush will thrive in full sun or in partial shade. In warmer summer areas, plant the bushes in partial shade or on a north-facing slope.

A gooseberry bush has a moderate need for nitrogen - excessive amounts promote disease, especially mildew - and a high requirement for potassium. The symptom of potassium deficiency is scorching of leaf margins. Deficiency can be avoided with an annual dressing of a half-ounce of actual potassium per square yard. Gooseberry plants also have a fairly high requirement for magnesium, so when liming the soil, use dolomitic limestone, which adds magnesium as well as calcium.

Plant gooseberry bushes four to six feet apart. The precise distance depends on the vigor of the cultivar and the richness of the soil. Do not plant the bushes close to one another as a continuous hedge, or the arching, spiny branches of adjacent bushes will interlace, making pruning and picking difficult. Since gooseberry plants leaf out early, set bare root plants in the ground either in the fall or as early as possible in late winter or early spring.


Gooseberries usually are grown one of two ways: on a permanent, short "leg," which is a trunk about six inches long; or as a stool, where the bush in continually renewed with new shoots arising at or near ground level. The advantage of the leg is that it holds the branches up off the ground, keeping fruits clean, and facilitating weed control, picking, and spraying. There is risk of losing the whole plant should that single leg be damaged. Stooled plants live longer and bear more (though smaller) fruit.

No matter how the bushes are trained, all wood on which fruit is directly born should be less than four-years-old. Also, the shape of the bush should be consistent with the planting site. For instance, in sunnier, warmer areas, the many long branches of a stooled plant provide leaf cover to protect fruits from sunscald.

If you choose to grow a plant on a short "leg," begin training the plant by pruning during the winter after the plant's first growing season. Cut off all but three or four vigorous branches pointing upward and outward. Then head these branches back to six inches in order to stiffen them and induce further branching. The following winter, similarly head those secondary branches that grew the previous season - there should be a half-dozen to a dozen of these, and they will be the plant's permanent "leaders."

In subsequent years, head back the leaders each winter by about a quarter of the amount they grew the previous season, more where growth was weak and less where growth was vigorous. Fruiting and age will slow leaders' growth, so that eventually all that they will need will be a light tipping or nothing at all. Each of these leaders will be more or less permanent, though after a number of years, a leader might need to be replaced with a new, vigorous, young shoot. Keep on the lookout for, and snap off, any branches that form along or below the six-inch leg.

Off these leaders will grow lateral branches, which can be left to fruit along their whole length, or shortened to make fewer, but larger, fruits. At the very least, cut away any laterals that are crossing, drooping, or otherwise misplaced. Another approach is to shorten all laterals in early July to about five inches, and then during the winter to cut them further back, to about two inches. This close pruning has the benefit of cutting away some mildewed branch tips, and keeping the bush open to air, sun, and sprays. Such plants also are easier to pick.

To grow a gooseberry instead as a stooled plant, begin by cutting away all but about four of the previous season's shoots during the winter following a plant's first season in the ground. Do the same after the second winter, so that the bush then has four one-year-old and four two-year-old shoots. Following the third winter's pruning, the bush will have four each of one, two, and three-year-old shoots.

In the fourth and subsequent winters, cut away all four-year-old shoots and all but about four of the shoots that grew up from ground level the previous season. The bush then has four each of one-, two-, and three-year-old shoots. Except for lanky shoots, which need shortening, all pruning of stooled plants is done by cutting away branches at ground level. An excessive number of canes may lead to reduced fruit size and quality and increased susceptibility to powdery mildew.


Gooseberry is one of the few fruits commonly picked full-size but underripe, at which stage it is used for cooking into jams, pies and many varieties are excellent eaten fresh. The flavor of the gooseberry is considered more like grapes.


In the past, it was illegal to grow gooseberries in many states. Some northern states still restrict cultivation of gooseberries. Check with your local garden shop if you are not sure.

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