Native to Europe, gooseberries are now commonly found in North America. Cousin to currants and jostaberries (a cross between currants and gooseberries), gooseberries can be eaten fresh or used to make delicious pies, jams, and jellies. Gooseberry flowers also attract many pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa also R. grossularia) grow on bushes that can reach 5 feet in height and width. These shrubs have spiny branches and stems that can make working with them a little tricky. Berries can be hairy or smooth, much like peaches and nectarines. They are usually green, but can also be white, yellow, or a reddish-purple. Gooseberries are categorized as culinary or dessert varieties.
How to grow gooseberries
Gooseberries grow best in U.S. Hardiness Zones 3 to 8, but can be grown in shaded areas in regions with warmer summers. Gooseberries are self-pollinating, so you only need one. Gooseberries can be propagated from seed or cuttings. You may also find them available as bare root stock. Gooseberries can be planted from late fall through early spring.
Caring for gooseberries
Gooseberries perform best when pruned for good airflow. This is best done in winter, while the plant is dormant. Gooseberries can be trained along a fence or up a trellis. This also makes it easier on your arms when harvesting. They can also be grown in large containers. When pruning gooseberries, start by removing any dead, diseased, or rubbing branches and any suckers. Then prune to reduce crowding. Finally, prune back any remaining growth by one-half. Lateral branches should also be cut back, leaving one to three buds.
Being native to alpine regions and other areas with poor soil, providing gooseberry plants with extra nitrogen often results in too much vegetative growth. This means you get less berries and more spindly branches. Gooseberries should be given a top dressing of aged compost at the end of each winter to help them grow in spring. Mulching around gooseberry plants will also help reduce weeds and stabilize soil temperatures.
Both because of the spines and the need for significant pruning, heavily laden branches should be removed completely, once the fruit is ripe. This allows light to reach new growth next year.
Gooseberry pests and diseases
Gooseberry plants are susceptible to several fungal diseases, such as American gooseberry mildew, anthracnose, currant cane blight, grey mold, and septoria leaf spot, so avoid overhead watering and be sure to provide good drainage.
In North America, gooseberry sawflies (Nematus ribesii), also known as currant sawflies and imported currantworms, are the most common pest. Aphids, brown marmorated stink bugs, currant borers, gooseberry fruitworms, and clearwing moths may also cause problems. And birds.
Note: If you live in New Hampshire, North Carolina, or West Virginia, you are not allowed to grow gooseberries or other Ribes plants. If you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island or Delaware, you’ll need a permit. These bans are in place because Ribes can carry white pine blister, an imported Asian rust fungus that has devastated high elevation pine forests.
Thanks to reader Carol Peck, I learned that California hosts several native edible gooseberry varieties. These include canyon gooseberry (Ribes menziesii), flowering gooseberry (R. speciosum), hillside gooseberry (R. californicum), Santa Lucia gooseberry (R. sericeum), Sierra gooseberry (R. roeslii), spreading gooseberry (R. divaricatum), and yellow gooseberry (R. quercetorum). Thanks to Carol Peck for the information!
If you are lucky enough to live where you can grow gooseberries, give them a try. These shrubs are very prolific and the fruit is delicious!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!