Granny’s gooseberry cake is for many a beautiful childhood memory, but the tasty gooseberries had gone out of fashion for a while and even disappeared from many gardens. On the one hand because of its spines, which give it its name and can spoil the harvest, but above all because of the shrub’s susceptibility to American gooseberry mildew. But both problems have been largely solved by breeders: There are now many varieties that are insensitive to the fungus, and even some almost spikeless varieties. So nothing stands in the way of growing cherry-sized fruits with their characteristic sour, refreshing aroma. They are healthy and contain many vitamins – especially vitamin C – as well as minerals and fruit acids.
The gooseberry, Latin Ribes uva-crispa, gives its name to its botanical family, the gooseberry family (Grossulariaceae). The currants also belong to this group. In Europe, Asia and North Africa the original form of the gooseberry is widespread, also in North America there are gooseberry types. However, as with many cultivated plants, it is no longer possible to determine exactly where they were originally native and where humans first brought them. The ancestors of the gooseberry grow in light, usually slightly more humid forests, on the edges of forests and in hedges on soils that are not too dry.
Location and soil
Gooseberries tolerate light shade, but in full sun there is a risk of sunburn on the fruits. Somewhat protected by larger groves, such as fruit trees, they stand ideally. Although the shrubs tolerate low temperatures in winter, they should not be planted in areas at risk of late frost, as their early flowering can damage them. The soil should be loose, rich in humus and not too dry. Enrich permeable sandy soils with humus. Nutrient-rich, medium-heavy soils with sufficient soil moisture are ideal. The shrubs do not thrive in locations that are too dry.
Gooseberries are more sensitive to dryness than currants, for example. A good water supply is therefore important for a rich harvest, and water must be supplied during dry periods. The shrubs have shallow roots, so you should only work the soil superficially and carefully in the immediate vicinity. A thin mulch layer is ideal, which suppresses weeds and protects the soil from drying out. Fertilizing is recommended in early spring as well as after flowering in May. Use an organic fertilizer, such as compost, horn shavings, or an organic berry fertilizer. Sprinkle it over a wide area around the plant, work it flat into the soil and water as required.
Education and editing
Gooseberries are offered as shrubs and as small stems, they can also be grown on trellises. High stems can be harvested more easily, but are somewhat more short-lived than shrub forms. Gooseberries form their fruits mainly on the one-year-old side shoots of older shoots. To encourage this, you need to cut gooseberries regularly. After planting in autumn, the first pruning takes place in the following spring or at the end of winter. Shorten the strongest soil shoots by about one third. The remaining soil shoots, except for about six shoots, are completely removed.
Gooseberries are available as shrubs (left) or small stems (right). Important: Stems need a stable planting post for their entire life, which reaches into the middle of the crown. With both growth forms, the 3-4 year old guide shoots are completely removed or cut directly over a lower standing side shoot. Side shoots that are too dense are also completely removed from the shrubs. For stems, they are shortened to about one centimeter long cones.
Replace two old soil shoots annually in the following years by cutting them close to the Soil in early spring. Leave two one-year-old, young Soil shoots for it. Shorten soil shoots that become too long by about a third and redirect them to an outwardly growing side shoot. Older, worn side shoots should be shortened to short cones, either immediately after harvesting or in the following early spring. One-year-old side shoots must be left standing, they bear fruit in the following year. Remove side shoots that are too dense and growing inwards. The thinning out of the sting bearing varieties makes the harvest easier.
Although the flowers of gooseberries are capable of self-fertilization, the best yields are obtained when there is plenty of bee flight at the time of flowering and several gooseberry varieties grow side by side.
Harvesting and recycling
Gooseberries are often used in the kitchen – especially for baking. Due to their special fresh and sour aroma, they are popular for the preparation of cakes and desserts. Depending on their intended use, gooseberries are harvested at different stages of ripeness: green fruits that have not yet ripened are particularly suitable for preserving and as a cake topping. They are harvested from the end of May to the beginning of June. For jams and jellies, the fruit may remain on the shrub for a little longer. The berries should then have reached their final size, but still be firm. If you want to eat the fruit directly, you should wait until July or August, depending on the variety. Then they turn white, taste much sweeter and reach their full aroma.
Gooseberries are divided into yellow, red and green varieties according to the colour of the fruit, with the latter there are also forms that turn whitish. Red gooseberries are usually slightly less sweet and aromatic than green or yellow gooseberries. However, when buying gooseberry gooseberries, pay particular attention to resistance to the American gooseberry powdery mildew:
Captivator’: red, medium early ripening and almost thornless
Spinefree’: red, medium early ripening and almost thornless
‘Rokula’: red, medium early ripening
Remarka’: large, wine red fruits, ripening medium early
Redeva’: small fruited, red, very productive, late ripening
Invicta’: yellow-green, medium to large fruits; medium early ripening; may be affected by mildew in unfavourable locations
Gooseberries are quite easy to reproduce. In late autumn, after the leaf has fallen, one year old, well woody shoot sections can be placed directly into the garden bed as cuttings or in summer cuttings can be cut from half woody shoots. Both variants grow problem-free. If you want to cultivate a standard stem, you have to refine the desired variety by copulation in late winter or oculation in summer on small stems of the golden currant (Ribes aureum). However, this requires some practice. Sowing is also possible, but does not play a role in the true reproduction of gooseberries. It is only interesting if you want to breed new varieties.
Diseases and pests
Especially older gooseberry varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew (American gooseberry mildew). Modern varieties are less sensitive or even largely resistant. The closely related currants can also be infested. In principle, shrubs on dry sites are more susceptible. The best protection is planting resistant varieties. If brown shoot tips appear, this is usually a sign of infestation. The red gooseberry mite, spider mite and scale insects can infest the shrubs. Rippled leaves are usually the result of gooseberry aphids. In case of severe infestation, the pests can be controlled with Neudosan or Spruzit. There is also a butterfly, the caterpillar of which eats the leaves of gooseberries and currants: the gooseberry tree. Caterpillar and butterfly are white with coloured spots. However, the butterfly is so rare that it does not usually have to be regarded as a serious pest. In 2016, the gooseberry stretcher was named Butterfly of the Year.
Whether potted plants such as oleanders or indoor plants such as orchids: The scale insect infests the most diverse plants. René Wadas, a herbalist, will give you his tips on pest prevention and control: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera: Fabian Primsch; Editing: Dennis Fuhro; Photo: Flora Press/Thomas Lohrer
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