Growing Gooseberries – How to Grow Gooseberries – Expert Tips
How to Grow Gooseberries
There is an old saying, ‘God caused the gooseberry to grow where the grape would not’. No doubt implying that the gooseberry was the alternative to the grape and, in my opinion at least, the flavour of many gooseberries is far superior to that of many varieties of grapes.
The gooseberry is found wild in Europe and Great Britain. It is one of the few fruits, perhaps the only one, to have shows and exhibitions entirely devoted to it. A few of these specialist societies still survive but 90 to 130 years ago they numbered many hundreds, particularly in the northern part of the country where the gooseberries were developed almost to perfection.
Enormous weights have been recorded for individual berries and single fruits have been produced almost the size of a normal hen’s egg. Generally, however, the flavour of the fruit decreases with size; the best flavoured ones being the smaller berries like Golden Lion and Golden Drop. Incidentally, these small-berried varieties make the best hedges, as the wood and habit is generally stiffer and more erect and they fruit very well indeed.
When growing gooseberries, you will find that the gooseberry fruits on old and new wood and indeed bushes will fruit for close on a hundred years even if they are never pruned. However, in this state they are simply a tangled mass of prickly vegetation and almost completely inaccessible so, for convenience of gathering and to preserve a shapely bush, they are generally pruned to a goblet shape – about eight main branches with the centre kept completely open. Furthermore those branches which form the frame- work of the bush are invariably pruned during dormancy back to a spur carrying three to live buds. The leading growths are also shortened back by about two thirds, partly because these immature growths would die off in any case following winter frosts and also to keep the bush balanced.
When you’ve learnt how to grow gooseberries, you will soon come to realise that the gooseberry is not fussy about the type ofit grows in, provided it is not completely , but possibly no bush or fruit is so responsive to potash or lack of it. Except on commercial plantations and in expertly run gardens, practically all the gooseberries in this country are deficient in potash. This is shown by the death of the leaf margins and very early leaf fall. A dressing of sulphate of potash at the rate of 4oz to the square metre should be given every year. This quantity is approximately two handfuls per bush but very few gooseberries get this amount in their lifetime. Alternatively, you can use bonfire ash.
One great advantage of the gooseberry bush is that it can be trained into virtually any shape and can be grown under any conditions, I have even seen them grown by enthusiasts in window boxes and tubs in back yards in industrial towns. As they lend themselves to being fruited on a single stem with spurs, they can be any shape including single, double, triple or quadruple cordons, espaliers, fans, balloons, in fact any contorted shape that the grower can think up. The main advantage of this adaptability is that in a small garden they may be grown alongside a path or used as a screen measuring only 4 to 6 inches in width.
This means that even in the tiniest pocket handkerchief of a garden or even with no garden at all, gooseberries can be grown.
When grown for exhibition, it is advantageous to train the growths horizontally about 6in from the ground, so that the ripening fruits benefit from the redirected heat and moisture; in fact, the real exhibitor will put saucers of water under selected berries.
Unfortunately, varieties are now restricted to a few commercial cultivators, but if you are interested and search around, you will still find exhibitors and collectors who have stocks of some of the old favourites. Few new varieties have been introduced of recent years and, as they are so easy to hybridise and propagate, someone with time on their hands might turn their attention to this aspect. Original stock can be bought in as maidens, two or three-year-olds and also as partially-trained plants in espalier, fan and low or high-bush form. When growing gooseberries, remember that they should be grown on a single stem or leg and they may be propagated from cuttings from which the lower six buds have been removed to produce this clean leg.
Commercial varieties come in four main colours and are exemplified by the following varieties:
- Careless: white, mid-season.
- Keepsake: green with large berries of excellent flavour and a regular and very heavy cropper.
- Leveller: yellow, smooth oval berries, prolific and can be grown on to produce berries of about ten to the pound.
- Whinham’s Industry: red, oval and hairy, very sweet and hangs late.
This variety will also tolerate a certain amount of shade.
Although nearly all gooseberries fruit about the same time, times of fruiting and hanging can be varied by growing gooseberries in different parts of the garden. For example, early ones can be produced on a sunny border and fruits can hang until late August on a sunless north border.