Growing Gooseberries for Flowers and Fruit

Growing gooseberries is a delicious way to incorporate a fruit harvest into the landscape. Think about planting a few for their flowers and fruit. The deeply toothed green leaves, pink and green flowers, and tasty small berries make gooseberries a good ornamental choice for either backyard or front yard gardens.

Goji berries are another great shrub for your yard! 

Contributed by Jodi Torpey

Hands holding a small wooden bowl filled with gooseberries.

All about gooseberries

Gooseberry shrubs get their name from the shape of their leaves because they resemble a goose’s foot. These shrubs are hardy and easy to grow, very similar in culture to currants. Gardeners may have avoided planting gooseberries (Ribes) in the past because some varieties have long thorns. Newer types of gooseberries are bred to be practically thornless.

The berries are large, colorful, and have a distinct taste that’s slightly tart, but sweet like a tangy grape. Depending on the variety, the berries may be green, red, yellow, or even white.

A gooseberry branch with ripening red gooseberries hanging down.

Try growing gooseberries as part of an edible landscape.

Gardeners can plant gooseberry shrubs as a single specimen, in rows to use as a living fence or alongside other fruiting shrubs like currants. Gooseberries are self-pollinating, although planting another variety helps ensure better pollination. The first gooseberry harvest is typically 1-3 years after planting.

One important fact about gooseberries is there are some states that prohibit planting gooseberries because they can attract plant diseases that have a negative impact on valuable production crops. Some garden companies won’t ship gooseberry shrubs to these states. Be sure to check with your state’s department of agriculture and its rules about gooseberries before planting.


 

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Gooseberry varieties for home gardens

Most of the popular gooseberry varieties were developed in countries like England, Switzerland, and Finland, proving how adaptable they are to different soils and climates. Here are the top four gooseberries for home gardeners:

Tixia is a type of gooseberry that’s known for its large, red fruits that grow on almost thornless shrubs. This variety is known for its high yields of fruits, plus plants can resist mildew (hardy to Zones 3-7).

Hinnomaki Red is a self-fruitful gooseberry that is adaptable to different types of growing conditions. Shrubs have good mildew resistance and produce dark red berries that make tasty pies (Zones 3-7).

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Pixwell is another practically thornless gooseberry variety that’s prized for its old-fashioned flavor for pies, jams, and jellies (Zones 3-7)

Invicta produces jumbo-sized greenish-yellow berries on mildew-resistant, spiny shrubs that are known for their spreading habit (Zones 3-7).

How to plant gooseberry shrubs

Plant gooseberry shrubs in spring once the soil has dried enough to work without compacting it. Be sure to give each shrub enough space to grow and for you to be able to walk around the plants to harvest the gooseberries.

With good care, gooseberry shrubs can live and produce fruit for many years, so plan the planting site with that in mind. Most varieties grow long arching canes that can extend to at least 3-4 feet tall by 5-6 feet wide.

To prepare for planting, amend the soil with organic matter, especially if the soil has a good amount of clay. You’ll want to make sure water drains well, leaving the soil moist, but not soggy.

Dig a planting hole slightly deeper than the shrub’s root ball by at least 1 inch. This planting method encourages a stronger root system. Plant gooseberries about 4-6 feet apart.

Close up of a pile of red gooseberries.

Red gooseberries are delicious and pretty!

Requirements for growing gooseberries

Soil requirements

Gooseberries are adaptable to a wide range of soil types, but they grow best in fertile soil that has good drainage. As with many ornamental shrubs, gooseberries won’t grow well if the soil allows for too much standing water.

Light requirements

Select a large area in full sun to partial shade. Check the planting recommendations for the varieties you’re planting to make sure shrubs get the right amount of sunlight for your area.

Fertilizer and water requirements

Gooseberry shrubs require regular watering, at least weekly, especially while plants are getting established in the landscape. If the soil was amended with compost at planting, shrubs will not need additional fertilizing during the first season. After that, fertilize as you would any garden shrub.

Add a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to ensure shrubs get adequate moisture through the season. Mulch the planting area with straw, dry shredded tree leaves, or dry untreated grass clippings to moderate soil temperature and reduce the need for weeding. Mulch is especially important if planted in a hot area because gooseberries prefer to grow in cool soil.

A close up of a pile of ripe green gooseberries.

Flavorful gooseberries are a treat! 

Prevent problems with gooseberry shrubs

Prune gooseberry shrubs in late winter to help maintain their shape. Without annual pruning, the shrubs can become overgrown and the fruit quality will suffer in size and quality.

In addition to annual pruning, prevent these common problems:

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that shows up by twisting gooseberry leaves and covering them with white powdery patches. You can avoid problems with powdery mildew by selecting resistant varieties and providing plenty of space between plants for air to circulate. Be sure to clean up any infected leaf debris to keep it from overwintering near plants.

Leaf spot shows up as random, dark brown and shiny patches on upper leaves and lighter brown spots on lower leaves. Infected leaves die and fall off the shrub, causing decreased berry yield and poor-quality fruit. This is a fungal disease is transported by water that splashes on plants from the ground. To avoid leaf spot, water only at ground level and clean up leaf debris at the end of the season.

Sawfly damage is caused by larvae feeding along gooseberry leaf edges beginning from the interior of the shrub. Eventually, the feeding will defoliate the shrub. Prevent sawfly damage by monitoring plants for the larvae in early spring by looking for eggs on leaves and removing them. Rake and remove debris to prevent eggs from overwintering and prune the interior of plants to allow for more sunlight.

Growing gooseberries in containers

Gooseberry shrubs can grow in containers with the right care. Plant shrubs in large enough containers to support the mature size of the gooseberry variety you’re growing. Be sure containers have holes in the bottom to provide for good drainage.

Use good-quality potting soil meant for container growing. Plant the shrub at the same level or a little deeper than in its original container. Water slowly and deeply to keep the soil moist, but don’t let roots sit in standing water.

Monitor the shrub through the season and provide the same care as you would if the shrub was planted in the ground.

A bowl of fresh harvested green gooseberries.

Harvest gooseberries for a delicious snack.

How to harvest gooseberries

Look for gooseberries that are firm and have even coloring for the variety you planted. Pick gooseberries when they reach the variety’s size and color, and pass the taste test.

Protect ripening fruit from hungry birds by covering shrubs with netting. To keep birds from getting tangled, use netting that has tight crosswires.

Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves during the gooseberry harvest to protect your hands and arms from the gooseberries that have spiny branches. In a good year, you may be able to harvest 4-8 quarts of gooseberries from established shrubs.

How to use gooseberries in the kitchen

Gooseberries are typically used for jams and jellies, pie fillings (here’s a great crust recipe), and homemade wine. Some of the sweeter types of berries can be eaten fresh off the shrub or popped into the freezer to use later.

An unusual dessert that puts gooseberries to use is called Fool. This old-fashioned dessert originated in England where gooseberries are especially plentiful. The recipe for Fool calls for cooked and pureed berries to be strained and then folded into sweet whipped cream.

Gooseberry jam in a jar surrounded by ripe gooseberries.

Gooseberry jam is just one way to use this fruit.

Propagate gooseberries for more shrubs

Propagate gooseberries using a technique called ground layering. In spring, when gooseberry stems have started growing and are flexible, select a branch and strip all but a few of the top leaves off of it.

Carefully bend the stem to the ground and bury it several inches deep, keeping the leafy tip above the ground. Use landscaping pins, bent wires, rocks, or other methods to hold the entire stem under the soil.

Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks, roots will start to grow along the stem so you can clip the new plant from the main stem and transplant it into another planting site or share it with a gardening friend.

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About the author: Jodi Torpey is an award-winning vegetable gardener, a Craftsy gardening instructor, and a Colorado Master Gardener. She’s the author of Blue-Ribbon Vegetable Gardening and The Colorado Gardener’s Companion. Her writing also appears in digital and print media, and she’s a popular speaker at gardening conferences and events around the country. Reach her at www.JodiTorpey.com.

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