Growing Gooseberries from Planting to Harvest

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Gooseberry harvest

I’m often asked “What’s the best fruit bush for beginners?” Well, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: the gorgeous gooseberry. Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils; they’re self-pollinating so you can get away with planting just one; they’re easy to prune; and gooseberries are very generous, giving up their sumptuous fruits in hearty profusion. In short, you really need to grow one! Here’s how...

Types of Gooseberry

Choose from either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked with sugar to temper their naturally sour taste. They’re perfect in jams, pies, puddings and – my favorite – a gooseberry fool.

Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush – a treat you’re unlikely to experience unless you grow your own. Pick some berries young for cooking then leave the remainder to mature to full sweetness.

The berries themselves are typically pale green, but look out for eye-catching red or yellow varieties too. Most plants are very thorny, but some varieties are easier on the hands with considerably fewer thorns.

Red gooseberries are available as well as green and yellow varieties

Where to Grow Gooseberries

Gooseberries will thrive in most gardens, but to get the most from them grow them in a bright position in rich, well-drained soil.

Gooseberries naturally grow into bushes but may also be trained – as standards on a long single trunk, or against a fence as fans or single-stemmed cordons. Take heart if you really don’t have much space to spare or you only have a patio, because this hardy fruit can successfully be grown in containers too.

(Please note that in a few areas of the United States growing gooseberries is prohibited because they can serve as a host to white pine blister rust, a disease devastating to the lumber industry. Check for local restrictions before sourcing plants.)

Mulch gooseberries to suppress weeds and feed the plant

How to Plant a Gooseberry Bush

Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberries from late fall to early spring – you’ll probably need to wait until spring if the ground freezes solid over winter where you garden.

Dig a generous planting hole then add some well-rotted compost or manure to the excavated soil. Place the gooseberry into the hole so that the previous soil level is flush with the new soil level. Feed back the enriched soil around the roots or rootball, taking plenty of time to firm in the soil as you fill to anchor the roots. Water copiously to settle the soil further then finish off with a mulch of organic material to help suppress weeds and feed your new plant.

If you’re planting more than one gooseberry, space bushes at least 4ft (120cm) apart. Cordons can be planted much closer – just 45cm (18in) apart – but tie the stem to a supporting bamboo cane that’s in turn secured to horizontal wire supports.

Cordon-training gooseberries enables plants to be grown closer together, so you can pack more varieties in

Caring for Gooseberries

In moisture-retentive soils established bushes need very little additional watering, but regular watering in hot, dry weather is a must for young plants and essential for container-grown gooseberries.

Apply an organic, balanced fertilizer at the end of each winter to give plants a good start ahead of the new growing season. Then remove any weeds around the root area before topping up mulches to at least an inch or 3cm deep. Use organic materials like garden compost or bark chippings for this.

Pruning Gooseberry Bushes

Prune established gooseberry bushes to encourage an open, evenly spaced branch structure. This will let in plenty of light while allowing for good air circulation to discourage disease.

Prune the previous season’s growth back by a half to keep gooseberry bushes productive

Most pruning is completed in winter when the bush is dormant. To start, cut out all dead or diseased wood, any shoots growing close to the ground, plus tangled or overcrowded branches. Now prune the branches that are left by cutting back the previous season’s growth by a half. Sideshoots coming off the main branches should be cut back to between one and three buds from the base of the shoot. Make all cuts just above an outward facing bud to encourage that all-important open habit. Finally, dig up any stems, called suckers, growing from the ground away from the main stem.

Harvesting Gooseberries

Birds can sometimes pilfer fruits before you’ve had a chance to pick them. Stop them in their tracks! Cover plants with netting or grow bushes inside a purpose-made fruit cage.

Harvest gooseberries with care to avoid their thorns

Gooseberries are ready to pick from early summer onwards. Harvesting dessert or dual-purpose varieties in stages gives early, under-ripe fruits for cooking, then later fruits to enjoy sweet and fresh. The berries that remain after the first pickings will also be able to grow larger.

Handle the soft, plump fruits gently and wear thick gloves if the thorns become too painful to bear!

Gooseberries are at their mouth-watering best immediately after picking, but they’ll stay fresh enough in polythene bags kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or freeze gluts for a well-deserved taste of summer later on in the year.

Give gooseberries a go! They’re reliable, hard-working fruits that deserve to be more widely grown. If you’re lucky enough to grow gooseberries already and have a variety you’d especially recommend, please share it in the comments section below; and don’t forget to share your other tips for success while you’re at it.

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Show Comments


"I'd like to give a gooseberry plant to my adult nephew as a gift. It's an inside joke, but I know he'll appreciate it, and take very good care of it. He lives in St. Helena (Napa Valley, CA) and I'd like to know when the best time of year to plant would be. He has plenty of space, but I'm not sure if I should get him a seedling, a really small plant, or a young shrub. How long will it take before it becomes fruit bearing, and is it best to start it off as a house plant and re-plant outdoors later on?"
Amy on Thursday 22 August 2019
"An excellent guide, clear and comprehensive. My only thought is that some patience is needed. It may take up to three years before a new bush starts to provide a heavy crop. Well worth the wait in my opinion."
Derek on Friday 10 January 2020
"Hi Amy. My sincere apologies - I notice you never got a reply to your question. If it's not too late I can offer an answer to your question. It's best to plant you plants - usually one or two years old and showing a few branches. You would usually buy them in gallon-sized pots at this size. They are best planted either in the fall or late winter/early spring once the really cold weather is done. You may get one or two fruits the first summer after planting, but fruiting commences apace from the summer after. Keep the plants outside - don't bring them inside."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 January 2020
"Hi Derek. Completely agree - patience is often required. I found that my gooseberries started fruiting modestly the year after planting, but they were probably a couple of years old at that stage."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 January 2020
"Nice job on the gooseberry. It is by far the easiest and most rewarding small fruit to grow and propagate. It can be layered by covering part of a long stem early in the growing season with several inches of soil. It roots within a few months. The plant can then be dug out in the fall or next spring. Alternatively, just stick the tip of a longish branch 3 inches deep in a pot of peat and perlite, while it is still attached to the mother plant. Keep it well watered and separate it from the mother plant after as soon as 6 weeks. Leave 6 to 8 inches on your new plant. Transplant in late fall or early spring while plant is dormant. I propagated these plants while they were studded with berries. Timing does not seem critical. Just keep the substrate damp when in a pot. "
Michael on Tuesday 9 June 2020
"Thanks for that Michael. They are incredibly resilient and easy to grow fruits aren't they. I wouldn't be without them."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 9 June 2020
"Help I think my friendly deer are eating my gooseberries branches because the are eaten at the top. Could this be?"
Mary Chambers on Friday 19 June 2020
"This could be the issue. If there are caterpillars present then it could be gooseberry sawfly. But deer sound like a likely culprit."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 June 2020
"My gooseberries aren't ripe yet, still, I have almost as many on the ground as are still on the bushes. Any ideas as to why they are falling off?"
Terry on Saturday 4 July 2020
"no comment but a question. My gooseberry bush is a few years old. It flowers but there is no fruit, ever! what is the reason. "
marge on Monday 6 July 2020
"Hi Terry. Sometimes fruit trees and bushes drop excess fruits - almost as if they are thinning out the fruits themselves. This is to ensure that they have the resources to ensure they can continue to ripen those fruits that remain. So I would imagine what is happening is perfectly natural and hopefully the remaining gooseberries should ripen. It could be that the bush is struggling due to lack of moisture too - they like quite moist soil. So be sure to thoroughly water plants and finish off with a thick mulch of organic matter such as compost if you can."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 July 2020
"Hi Marge. It sounds like there isn't much pollination going on. Or the bushes are still quite young. Give them another chance for next year. Make sure you add plenty of organic matter as a mulch to help feed the bush, and water well in dry weather to encourage fruit set. Try to attract pollinators like bees to your garden with plenty of other nectar and pollen-rich flowers that appear at the same time as your gooseberries."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 July 2020
"a question - can you grow gooseberries by planting the seeds from the dried fruits sold in health shops? "
uri bleiberg on Sunday 20 September 2020
"Potentially, but there are several reasons you may consider avoiding this. Firstly you won't know what variety you are getting. Secondly, growing from seed takes a lot longer than simply buying a young plant, which will already be one or two years old and that much closer to fruiting. Also, there's no way of knowing if the fruits have been treated or dried in such a way that might compromise the viability of the seed. But all that aside, you could certainly give it a go - it could be a fun project."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 21 September 2020
"What is the name of the plant from which produces gooseberries?"
Edith on Monday 7 December 2020
"The plant is called a gooseberry too."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 7 December 2020
"I planted my gooseberry last spring. I bought one in about a gallon pot. it wasn't in perfect condition, but I couldn't find many others by that time in the season. I live in a cold climate, zone 3a, with pretty strong wind. it seemed do winter pretty well, then i went out to check it spring progress and all the bark had been stripped off, thorns and all! from the very bottom to the top about 3 ft tall. we have a dog so we don't get a ton of deer in our yard with the 6ft fence, but maybe at night? "
Lynae Greene on Friday 7 May 2021
"Hi Lynae. That does sound like the classic damage of a hungry deer. I imagine, particularly early on in the season after a long, cold winter, that the deer must be very hungry and will chew on almost anything."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 8 May 2021
"Hello! I have two gooseberry plants and while both are healthy neither of them have produced ANY flowers in the last two years. The first year they bloomed a bit (but birds got to the fruits before I could!) and since then I haven't seen one single flower on either of them. Any suggestions as to why? I live in southern California, zone 9. P.S. I know I get decent chill time as my plum and apple trees all bear fruit. "
Katie on Monday 17 May 2021
"Hi Katie. Has the gooseberry been pruned? They tend to flower and fruit on older wood - generally around two to three years old - but if the bush hasn't been pruned for a number of years the wood may simply be too old and the plant less vigorous. Also, are you adding compost to the area to help feed the roots? They do like a fertile soil to help them thrive. You could also try adding an organic fertilizer to give them a real boost. Is there enough sun? Dense shade isn't really ideal, though dappled shade would be fine - though given your presumably warm summers I would think that a little shade is no bad thing."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 19 May 2021
"ive planted a dozen over the years they all died, in NSW Australia, im in QLD Australia now just ordered 5 new plants to try here."
kev on Monday 24 May 2021
"Good luck with them Kev!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 24 May 2021
"Hi there My gooseberries call off the Bush when still very small. The Bush looks healthy but I have no fruits to pick left, Why is that??? "
Sieglinde on Thursday 27 May 2021
"It could be birds pecking at the fruits. They can do this if it's quite dry in a bid to get moisture. Another reason could be lack of pollination, and hence, aborted fruits. I can't really think of another reason why they'd be dropping like that. "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 28 May 2021
"I planted a gooseberry 2 years ago and it has barely grown at all, and produces no fruit. I water it and fertilized 1/yr. It is pathetic. All my perrennials around it are doing well. It is about 5 feet from an aspen tree, could that cause poor growth? What could be wrong with it?"
mel on Saturday 3 July 2021
"Hi Mel. I'm not sure why it hasn't fruited yet - it may simply be that it isn't big enough to do so yet and it will fruit next year/the year after. Make sure the conditions it prefers are met. And watch out for bids, which can sometimes take an interest in the flowers and fruits. Gooseberries respond well to plenty of light and air around them, but I imagine your bush has all that if the perennials around it are doing well."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 July 2021
"It would be helpful if you could give advice about whether to buy bare root of bush and the length of time it takes to get fruit from either type (assuming both planted in winter). Thank you."
Susannah Wight on Monday 31 January 2022
"Mine seem to take forever to get fruit. Now it's fine. Mine also do better with less sun, don't know why."
chuck on Tuesday 28 May 2024
"Hi Chuck. They do seem to prefer a cooler spot - and mine grow really well in dappled shade too."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 31 May 2024

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