Forget the hard, green bullets you often buy in shops for cooking with, dessert gooseberries have rich, sweet, and juicy flavours.
Gooseberries are easy to grow and can often be pretty much left to their own devices. But a little care and attention and some annual pruning will produce bumper crops of tasty fruit. They will crop for several weeks during the summer.
There are cooking and dessert varieties available, although most are dual purpose and all taste sweeter when left to fully ripen on the plant. The fruit is also available in four different colours – green, red, white and yellow. The following are all good dessert varieties, except Careless, which needs cooking.
|Fruit colour||Suggested varieties|
|Red||Pax, Rokula, Whinham’s Industry|
|Yellow||Bedford Yellow, Golden Drop, Leveller|
Soil and position
Gooseberries need a moist, but free-draining soil that doesn’t become waterlogged in winter and will tolerate a more exposed position than most other soft fruit. They will also grow and fruit very well in shade and other awkward positions in the garden.
Although most soils are suitable for gooseberries, it will pay dividends to improve the structure of all soils with organic matter, such as Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner. This will increase air and drainage on heavy clay soils and the moisture-holding capacity of light sandy soils. Even on a good loam, added organic matter will encourage more fibrous surface roots.
Gooseberries will grow and crop perfectly well in a large pot or other container. You will need a pot of at least 30cm to 38cm (12in to 15in) in diameter, filled with a good quality potting compost. Obviously, plants in containers will need regular watering and feeding throughout the growing season to ensure good results.
Plant bare-root bushes in the winter. November or December are best, although it can be done right up to the end of March whenever the soil isn’t frozen solid or waterlogged. Container-grown bushes can be planted at just about any time of year.
Gooseberry bushes should be planted around 1.5m apart (5ft). They fruit on older wood and on the base of young wood, and can be trained into cordons and fans against walls or fences if space is tight.
Dig a hole 60cm x 60cm and 30cm deep (2ft x 2ft x 1ft). Add a layer of Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner to the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the gooseberry bush in the planting hole so that the old soil mark is at soil level.
Now mix in more soil improver to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Work into the soil surface a couple of handfuls of Miracle-Gro Gro Your Own Vegetable & Fruit Plant Food. Water well and add a mulch layer 5cm (2in) deep of well rotted garden compost, bark or Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner around the root area.
Water the newly planted bushes during the first season if the weather is dry. In subsequent years, watering when the fruits are swelling may be needed if the soil is not already moist.
For maximum crops, feed each year in March with Miracle-Gro Gro Your Own Vegetable & Fruit Plant Food. To retain moisture at the roots, add a mulch layer of Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner around the base of the plants each year.
Prune annually between late autumn and late winter, cutting back new growth to two buds and leaders on bushes back by one-third. Pruning new growth to five leaves in summer will also encourage a bigger crop the following year.
Covering plants with netting will protect the fruit from birds and may also help prevent damage by gooseberry sawfly caterpillars.
A few weeks before they are ripe, remove alternate fruit and use them for cooking. Leave the remaining fruit to ripen on the plant. The fruit tastes delicious straight from the bush, but it can also be frozen. You can expect a yield of about 5kg (11lb) from each bush.
Pests and diseases
Birds may eat nearly ripened or ripe fruit before you can pick it. In that case you will need to net the crop carefully so you get your just rewards.
The caterpillars of gooseberry sawfly can be a nuisance and will strip the leaves off a plant overnight, but can be controlled with BugClear Gun! for Fruit & Veg sprayed before the caterpillars start feeding.
American gooseberry mildew can be a problem on plants under stress because the soil is too dry. Keep the soil moist during periods of hot, dry weather, but keep water off the foliage. Or grow the varieties Invicta or Rokula, which have some resistance to the disease.