Ribes grossularia, is native to Britain where it has been cultivated since the thirteenth century at least. Being self-fertile and productive, it is ideal for the small garden. Gooseberries excel in the cooler areas of the Midlands and North.
They are tolerant of most soils but not of water-logging. Growth may be weak on poor gravel soils or soft and disease-susceptible on heavy clays. Both these extremes benefit from enrichment with garden compost, peat or leafmould. Goose-berries are very sensitive to potash deficiency.
A position in full sun is best for early ripening ; bushes can be planted against north or east walls to give extra-late crops. As gooseberries flower early in the spring it is important not to plant them in low-lying, frosty areas. For economy of space, they may be planted between plum trees as both appreciate generous manuring.
Besides the more usual bush forms, single, double, or triple cordons can be grown for special dessert or exhibition berries. Standard gooseberries are easier for elderly people to grow and pick.
Gooseberries are propagated from hardwood cuttings in mid-October, choosing well-ripened shoots 8-9 inches long. The lower buds are removed to pre-vent suckers from forming. The prepared cuttings are planted 4 inches deep in a slit trench with sand or grit in the bottom. Standard gooseberries are formed by graft-ing scions on to Ribes aureum rootstocks with stems of the required height.
Planting is carried out from November to February on ground previously enriched with farmyard manure. Bushes should be set out 4-6 feet apart each way; single, double and triple cordons at 1 foot, 11 feet and 2 feet respectively; standards at 4-6 feet apart.
Bushes and cordons should have a 6 inch stem devoid of roots and shoots to prevent suckering. Cut off the topmost roots if need be.
Plant firmly, covering the roots with 3-4 inches of soil. Shorten the leading shoots by a half and side-shoots to two buds. Give a generous mulch in the spring and thorough waterings in dry spells during the first summer. Keep the soil weed free by hoeing shallowly—deep culti-vation damages the surface roots.
Gooseberries demand an ample supply of potash, particularly on light soils; potash deficiency induces poor growth and premature defoliation. Feed annually in the spring with 1-2 oz per square yard of sulphate of potash, not muriate of potash which causes leaf scorching. Scatter bonfire ash round the bushes to give extra potash. Avoid promoting lush growth sus-ceptible to American gooseberry mildew disease by excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers.
Managing The Crop
- Summer prune the side-shoots to six leaves in July to promote blossom bud formation and to remove mildew-infected tips. Tear out suckers—cutting only induces more to develop.
- Thinning the crop produces larger berries. Defer thinning until the small berries are worth being picked for cooking (about Whitsuntide). Late varieties mature about the end of August. Harvest the berries when they are under-ripe for cooking or when fully coloured and soft for dessert use.
- Winter prune the bushes in November or defer pruning until the spring where bird damage to the buds is known to be severe. Shorten leading shoots by one third. Spur prune sideshoots to li inches for heavy crops or to two buds for large dessert berries. Prune upright bushes to outward-pointing buds, weeping bushes to upward-pointing buds. Keep the centres of the bushes open.
- Most gooseberry bushes are already 2-3 years old from cuttings when planted and have already formed branches spaced round the short main stem, known as the leg.’Shoots not needed for extension are pruned in February to 1 inch to make spurs.
- Future pruning aims to keep the bushes reasonably open and replacing old branches with new. Leading or replacement shoots are pruned by half each year to keep up a supply of side-shoots which are cut to 1 inch. If the plants are really growing well, even leader pruning can be dispensed with, but weak-growing plants may need more drastic treatment and feeding.
- Cut out old, weak or dead shoots and with drooping varieties prune to upward pointing shoots or buds. Bushes growing in exposed areas should have more shoots left in them than those growing in shelter.
Gooseberries can be grown as cordons, restricting the number of main growths to one, two or three. The selected leading shoots are pruned hard each winter until they reach the top of the support. Side-shoots are pruned to 1 inch to form spurs. Pruning of plants grown as stools without a leg simply consists in cutting out surplus shoots from all types to keep the plants open. As birds can damage buds, a repellent spray should be used as a pre-caution from mid January onwards.
Pests and Diseases
Personally I usually try to avoid reading a long account of the pests and ills that plants are heirs to, for it seems to take so much glamour away from the exercise. However, I do realise that it would not be right to shut my eyes to the fact that these nuisances do exist and that many of us from time to time must deal with them. The chief gooseberry pests are aphids, gooseberry sawfly, sparrows and bullfinches; the chief diseases are American gooseberry mildew and dieback.
There are two mildews which attack gooseberries during the growing season and both are of the type known as powdery mildew (Erysiphales). The first one is called European gooseberry mildew, Microsphaera grossulariae; it is not important and it does not affect the fruit although it may cover the leaves of older bushes with a dusty white deposit. The second one is called American gooseberry mildew (Sphaerotheca mors uvae) and this can be serious. It covers the fruits and the young shoots with a white powdery coating which later turns brown. The fungus parasite overwinters on these infected shoots which are very stunted and twisted. It is important to cut back such shoots on infected bushes ctipping’) about the first week in September and burn the prunings. Summer pruning will also remove mildew-infected shoot tips. In summer the mildew must be checked at the first sight by spraying with Karathane or the old remedy of washing soda at the rate of ½ lb in each 2 ½ gallons of water, plus a spreader.
Various species of caterpillar can over-winter often some distance from the fruit plants, and from spring to late autumn, keep up attacks on all plants. The winter moth group will attack leaves and shoots in spring and early summer while the tortrix group, which includes the codling moth, concentrates on the maturing fruit.
Attacks of caterpillars should be noted as early as possible. There are a number of very good sprays which will keep their numbers down.
Red spider mite, though not a true insect is a pest which during the summer can cripple trees. The adults suck sap from the leaves which turn bronze and in severe attacks cause russeting of the fruits. Prompt spraying of the plants is important when the first tiny red adults are seen on the undersides of the leaves.
Powdery mildews are the most troublesome diseases of fruit, and in summer cover leaves and shoots with a grey-white felt. These diseases, like so many others are carried over from year to year on the plants and once established are difficult to control. Botrytis, a grey mould on soft fruits, is also a real nuisance, spoiling the fruits just as they are ready to pick. Scab on apples and pears spoils the quality of the fruit when picked and, if severe, causes cankers on the wood.
This is a formidable list, but fortunately there are control materials which if used sensibly and according to directions will counteract most pests and diseases.
Though scientists are investigating newer and better ways of producing clean fruit, there are measures of garden hygiene which can be used, especially during the dormant season. Many pests and diseases overwinter on the trees as eggs, caterpillars or adults. All prunings should be burnt as well as any loose bark which can conceal cocoons of the codling moth. Cankerous wounds should be cleaned and treated with healing paint. Grass or weeds around the base of the plants should be kept down. Greasebands applied to the trunks of the trees in autumn will trap adult moths as they climb the trees to lay their eggs. The collection and destruction of diseased and pest-ridden fruits is neces-sary at all times. Leaves, on the plants or on the ground, can carry disease over the winter and should be gathered and burnt. Spraying in winter with a tar oil spray can have a good cleaning effect and will also kill a number of pests and diseases direct-ly. To guard against damage from small animals—mice, rats, rabbits or hares — and birds attacking buds, use a repellent spray.
When spraying has to be done, especially in spring or early summer, approach the problem sensibly. A wide range of garden sprays are available. Some will control a few pests or diseases only. There are, however, certain combined sprays which, if used according to instructions, deal satisfactorily with a wide range of troubles. Spray thoroughly before a pest or disease really gets a hold on a plant. Most sprays are applied at low concentrations, but more use is being made now of higher concentrations. The latter must be used with care to avoid overspraying and damage. Aerosol sprays are also useful but should not be used closer than 1 foot from the plants being sprayed. High volume spraying is safest under garden conditions.