Shop-bought gooseberries can be disappointing – a few miserable berries rattling around in an over-priced punnet simply can’t compare to plump, sun-ripened fruit plucked straight from a bush in your back garden. Once you’ve tried home-grown gooseberries, you’ll settle for nothing less.
Luckily, gooseberries are easy to grow. It only takes a couple of years for them to produce around 2.5kg of fruit per bush, and the yield increases as the plants become more mature. You can eat them straight off the bush or use them to make gooseberry fool, pie or crumble.
Discover how to get the best results when growing your own gooseberries, below.
Most gooseberries are bought as bare-root plants in late-autumn or early spring. Before planting, stand the plants in a bucket of water, leaving them to soak for about 20 minutes. This will reinvigorate the plants and help them to establish successfully.
Dig a large hole and fork well-rotted manure into the base. Add slow-release fertiliser to poor soils. Position the plant with the stem at the same level in the soil as it was previously – which is identified by a ‘tide mark’ on the stem. Back-fill and firm well using your feet.
Use a hoe to weed regularly around the base of the bush to help reduce competition for moisture and food. Annual weeds can simply be left to shrivel in the sun.
Keep plants well watered as berries start to form. In the first year, it’s also worth thinning out the fruits slightly if there’s a heavy crop, so the plants don’t overexert themselves. Keep an eye out for larvae of the gooseberry sawfly, which can devastate plants, as well as signs of gooseberry mildew.
Prune the plants in summer to improve air circulation around the plant, helping to prevent disease problems. It also makes picking easier. Reduce young growth of outer shoots by about half, so each branch has around five leaves. (Watch Monty Don’s video for tips on winter-pruning gooseberries.)
Gooseberries will be much sweeter and juicier if they’re allowed to ripen fully before harvesting. The ripest berries are slightly soft, so gently squeeze them to find out when they’re ready to pick.