(Species: Ribes uva-crispa - Family: Grossulariaceae)
Gooseberry and its origins
The gooseberry is native to many parts of Europe, as well as, Western, South and South-East Asia.
It has always been associated with Britain, where it used to grow in hedgerows and be widely grown as a cottage-garden plant, but its appearance in the countryside is a rarity these days. In recent years, however, it is having a revival as a worthwhile garden fruit to grow.
Varieties of the wild gooseberry were likely to have been bred by gardeners in Holland, whose name for the fruit, 'Kruisbezie' might account for the English word.
Gooseberries are hardy, untidy fruit bushes that grow to a maximum of 3 metres.
The branches hold sharp, stiff spines and the small bell-shaped flowers are produced from the groups of scalloped-edged leaves.
The wild fruit that follows the blossom, in early summer, is smaller than the garden varieties and usually pale green and hairy. Cultivated varieties can vary from tart green cooking varieties to sweet, deep red varieties.
How to plant Gooseberry
Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberry bushes in late autumn so that they can establish before the growing season.
Gooseberries grow best in well-drained yet moisture-retentive soil, and do well in cool gardens though should not be planted in a frost pocket. They will tolerate some shade, so can be grown beneath fruit trees.
They grow as open bushes on a short trunk to aid air circulation and this helps to prevent disease. The can be grown as a standard, as a lollipop shape, or as a fan or cordon. In a cordon, wires are stretched between two posts to support the fruit bushes.
Prior to planting, dig in well-rotted manure and XXXX balanced fertiliser, and leave for a few weeks. Branches that form the framework should be cut back on planting by half, just above an outward-facing bud, if they haven't been done so already. Gooseberry bushes should be grown about 1.5m apart, while vertical cordons can be planted as closely as 30cm apart.
Keep the surrounding soil weed-free and mulch in late winter with well-rotted manure. Net the plants when the fruits appear because birds can decimate bushes. Bushes may need support to prevent fruit-laden branches from snapping. Water frequently during dry periods or in warmer climates.
Always wear thick gloves or gauntlets when pruning gooseberries, which should be done in both winter and midsummer.
Pruning bushes and standards: In winter, cut back the new growth to one or two buds, and cut out any dead wood or branches crossing at the centre. In summer, cut back all new sideshoots to five leaves.
Pruning cordons: In winter, cut back the leader to one bud above the top of the cane, and prune back sideshoots to two buds. In summer, cut new growths back to five leaves each.
Unusually, gooseberries benefit from a double harvesting: an early one, to thin the fruits. Use these sharper-tasting fruits for cooking. Then a second one, after the rest of the fruits on the bush have fully ripened in the sun, a few weeks later.
Gooseberry sawfly can strip every leaf off a bush within a day or so. Keep a regular watch on the underside of leaves for the culprits, black-spotted, pale green caterpillars. Spray with XXX.
Propagation of Gooseberry
Take gooseberry cuttings in mid-autumn, choosing healthy-looking stems about 30cm long.
Make a sloping cut at the top and a straight cut at the bottom. Remove all the side shoots, except the top three or four. Dig a small hole into prepared ground and plant the cutting, with the lowest bud about 5cm above the surface. Water well and look for sprouting foliage that shows it is growing, and transplant in mid-autumn.
Did you know: Gooseberry facts
In 19th century England, gooseberry clubs, in which growers would compete to grow the largest fruit, were popular. Due to these clubs there are records detailing over 3,000 gooseberry varieties, although many are now extinct. There are still however over 150 gooseberry varieties today.