How to prune a gooseberry bush – Top tips to maintain a perfect garden

Alan Titchmarsh speaks to expert about growing fruit in garden

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Gooseberries have been cultivated in England as far back as the 13th century but were not widely grown until the early 1500s. They come in a range of colours including red, white, green and yellow. Gooseberries were so popular in the 19th century gooseberry clubs were formed across the UK.

Gooseberries are a delicious fruit often cooked in pies or swirled into sweetened cream to make a gooseberry fool.

The name gooseberry was one of many historic names given to the devil and it is thought that this may be why the unwanted third party accompanying a romantic couple is sometimes referred to as a gooseberry.

These berries are very easy to grow and come from a single bush.

This single bush will often provide a mass of berries for up to 15 years and therefore can be a great investment for budding gardeners.

How to grow gooseberries

To grow gooseberries effectively, you should plant in moist, but well-drained soil.

This fruit is not particularly fussy when it comes to soil type, but does enjoy soil with plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost.

The best time of the year to plant bare-root gooseberries is during spring or autumn spaced around 1.5 metres apart.

Gooseberries grow well in large containers of soil-based compost.

How to prune a gooseberry bush

For bush plants, you should wait until the early spring of the first year after planting to prune for the first time.

Select five main stems on your gooseberry bush plant and prune them back to between six and eight inches, removing all other stems.

For gooseberry plants, you should use cordons to ensure you maintain a good spreading root system.

On planting gooseberries with cordons, you should prune back the plant to the tip by a quarter, making sure to cut just above the bud,

You should remove all side shoots which are six inches from the ground or below, plus any suckers.

In addition, be sure to take steps to cut back all young side shoots to one or two buds.

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From the second year, bush plants should be pruned each year around mid-June to July.

Shorten the current season’s growth back to five leaves, aside from branches required for the main framework of the plant.

The pruning should not remove any fruit as fruit tends to develop mainly on older wood, ratchet than the current season’s growth.

During the winter period, bush plants should be pruned again – with all dead wood and low-lying shoots removed.

You should then spur prune all side shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base.

Shorten branch tips by one quarter before cutting a suitable outward-facing bud.

With gooseberry cordon plants, you should take steps to prune from early June to mid-July.

Cut all young side shoots to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane as it extends.

In late winter or autumn, after leaf fall, prune back the same side shoots to one or two buds.

At this time, you should attempt to cut back the tip by around one third.

Once your cordon reaches 1.7m, make sure to cut back your plant to five leaves from last year’s growth in the summer and then back to one to three buds from last year’s growth in winter.

Top tops to maintain a perfect gooseberry plant

  1. Prune gooseberry bushes annually to maintain a goblet shape.
  2. To prevent mildew, keep the centre of the bush open.
  3. Water your gooseberry plant well in dry spells to ensure its health.
  4. In July and August, take steps to cut back this season’s soft growth to two or three leaves from the base.
  5. Look out for sawfly larvae on your gooseberries from mid-spring.
  6. If you do not have a large garden, you can train your gooseberry plant in a fan shape against a wall, fence or freestanding trellis.
  7. Pick gooseberries which are fully ripened as they are soft and likely to burst.

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