How & when to prune gooseberries: Beginners guide for improved fruiting
Gooseberries really are a fuss-free fruiting shrub. Suitable for container gardens, small gardens, big gardens or allotment patches. They are a brilliant addition to the edible garden. Gooseberries however have a crisis of conscience. Given their tough thorny appearance, many people are either put off from growing them or fail to prune them properly. Trust me when I say there is nothing to fear and a good pair of gardening gloves will prevent any issues with those thorns!
I grow a number of different Gooseberry varieties in containers in my edible garden and they are prolific fruiters. Great for jam, Gooseberry gin or picking fresh from the shrub. Tart and juicy deliciousness!
This guide is going to help you correctly prune your gooseberry bushes, without fear of those thorns which will help keep them producing fruit each year for your delight!
- Should I prune my gooseberries?
- When should I prune gooseberries?
- Pruning equipment needed
- How to prune gooseberry bushes
- How often should I prune gooseberries?
- When do gooseberries fruit?
- What can I do with gooseberries?
Why do gooseberries need pruning?
Gooseberries fruit on 2-3-year-old wood. They tend not to fruit on soft new growth. However, over time if these older branches are left unchecked they will soon start to produce fewer and fewer fruits over time as they come to the end of their lifespan. This is why pruning each year will encourage fresh new growth that from years 2 and 3 can then take their place. Think of it as a never-ending cycle of older growth-producing, new growth growing and then removing older growth once unproductive.
Pruning also helps keep your gooseberry bushes in a healthy form that is free from disease and drama. If left unpruned gooseberry bushes tend to get over congested. Branches may rub and cross each other making picking fruit a hazardous task. Along with all sorts of congestion issues such as fungus or disease setting in due to lack of airflow.
Pruning is really simple and if done each year takes a matter of minutes to improve fruit yields on gooseberries and also prevent disease/damage. Pruning helps focus the plant’s energy on shoots that are going to be productive. Although we are removing parts of the shrub think of it as redirecting the energy into lower shoots or other areas of the gooseberry bush.
When should I prune gooseberries?
In the UK the best time to prune gooseberries is in the winter when the plants are dormant. However, a number of beginner gardeners struggle to know how to select the right ‘outward facing’ buds for pruning until they have emerged.
Gooseberries are really tough plants so I always prune mine in early March when the buds are just breaking.
This is because it makes it easier to see which way the new growth is facing and also identify dead wood, ie wood that hasn’t budded at all which needs removing.
Equipment for pruning gooseberries
Before we get into the action of pruning you’re going to need three pieces of equipment to successfully prune gooseberries.
- Sharp clean secateurs
- Thick gloves (to avoid those spikes)
- A bucket to collect those sharp prunings
How to prune gooseberry bushes
The first thing to understand is the ultimate shape we want gooseberry bushes to be in. For most gooseberry bushes this is the ‘open goblet’ or ‘upward facing palm’ shape. There are other ways to train them such as cordons and wall training but that’s usually reserved for more advanced gardeners. This guide focuses on the open goblet shape of the gooseberry bush.
Stand back and look at the overall shape & health of the gooseberry bush, Looking carefully for any dead wood, crossing, damaged or diseased branches.
Remove these first by cutting them back to the next set of healthy growth or right the way back to the main stem if crossing.
Stand back and check progress as you remove each part. This will enable you to keep the shrub evenly spaced and shaped. Take your time to help you balance out your pruning.
We then want to remove any growth in the centre that may be preventing the open goblet or upward palm shape.
Even if there is healthy growth in the very centre, the likelihood is it will send out laterals (side shoots) that will ultimately end up rubbing against the outward-facing branches and stems we are training. Be bold, by removing these we are focusing the plant’s energy on more productive parts of the gooseberry bush.
Next, we want to remove 1/3 of the very oldest wood right back to the main stem.
This is because this older wood, say 4-5 years old will have become less productive. Removing it will spur the gooseberry on to put on fresh growth that can replace it.
We then want to take off 1/3 of last years growth from each of the remaining tips.
This should leave 3-5 buds on each of the remaining stems. We do this to focus more effort on fruit and less effort on vegetative growth. This also helps keep the gooseberry bush in a neat and workable size.
We are aiming for an ‘open goblet’ or upwards palm shape for the shrub. This will result in 5-7 main stems equally spaced with an open centre. This allows airflow and light to get to each part of the gooseberry shrub equally meaning a healthier more productive plant!
Collect up your cuttings in your bucket so that you don’t end up standing on them by accident. They can be really sharp. I don’t compost these clippings as the thorns are lethal when handling compost. So I either save them and use them as kindling or put them in my council recycling green bin.
Lastly each Autumn it’s a good idea to give your gooseberries a good thick mulch of peat-free compost. This will help feed them, especially if you’re growing them in containers.
It’s really simple to prune gooseberries this way and keep them productive for years to come.
How often should I prune gooseberries?
You should aim to prune your bush gooseberries once a year using the guide above. This means that each year you’re taking out the oldest growth and keeping your gooseberry bushes productive. Creating a cycle of new growth to replace the oldest growth each year.
If during the year your gooseberries get damaged from severe wind or a stray football then prune back the damaged areas immediately. Don’t wait for winter as damaged branches lead to infection and poor plant health.
When to harvest gooseberries & how to know when they are ripe
Most gooseberries fruit in June here in the UK. You’ll see the fruits emerge from April onwards and the biggest problem is getting to them before the birds do.
You can cover your gooseberries to prevent birds from stealing them. However, I find birds only pick them when they’re ripe. There are green or red gooseberry cultivars so don’t wait for red ones to turn green or vice versa. Look up the cultivar you have and then use the guide below to know when they are ripe!
You can tell when a gooseberry is ripe as they should be slightly soft to the touch. If they are hard or firm they are not ripe yet. From the end of May, I check mine every couple of days. Then when they feel soft I harvest them quickly. I may leave a few for the birds so they don’t miss out completely!
What can I make with gooseberries?
Gooseberries make wonderful jams or fools. Given their high sugar content they work really well for sweet desserts. I make jam with mine using an equal part of the fruit to jam sugar. Jam sugar contains pectin which helps the jam set. By making jam I can enjoy gooseberries all year round and even add them to the centre of cakes for a sweet and tangy treat!
Stewing gooseberries for a fool is the quickest way to prepare them. I put my gooseberries in a pan, add sugar to taste and a splash of water. Simmer for a couple of minutes and then take off the heat. When it’s cooled down it turns into a lovely fruity syrup great for ice cream, to have with yoghurt or your morning porridge!
So there we have it the easiest way to keep your gooseberries healthy and full of fruit each year.
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