Mulch the root area with organic matter, such as garden compost or bark chips, to conserve soil moisture. Watering is seldom required but in very dry spells water every 14 days. Container-grown gooseberries often struggle in dry conditions, so carefully monitor their watering.
In late winter, feed with a balanced granular fertiliser at 100g per sq m (31/2oz per sq yd). Avoid feeding the plants with too much nitrogen because this can encourage sappy growth, which is prone to gooseberry mildew.
To ensure good yields of large fruits you’ll need to prune and train gooseberries.
Plant bare-root gooseberries between late autumn and early spring, and container-grown plants at any time, avoiding waterlogged, parched or frozen soil.
Select two- to three-year-old bushes with a well-balanced head of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10-15cm (4-6in). Cordons should have a good spreading root system.
Bush plants: Space 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart.
Cordons: Space gooseberry cordons 30-38cm (12-15in) apart and red or white currants 38-45cm (15-18in) apart. Plant each cordon tied to a 1.7m (51/2ft) bamboo cane that is secured to horizontal wires spaced 60cm and 1.2m (2ft and 4ft) apart.
American gooseberry mildew: This fungal disease causes the leaves and stems to appear with a covering of powdery, grey and white fungus. The mildew can also appear on the fruit, causing problems with ripening.
Remedy: Spray with Systhane or Plant Rescue Fungus Control fungicide. Organic controls include fish oils. Some gooseberry varieties such as ‘Greenfinch’, ‘Hinnonmäki Gul’ and ‘Invicta’ have some resistance to the disease.
Gooseberry sawfly: Pale green, caterpillar-like larvae cause rapid and severe defoliation of plants, often reducing bushes to bare stems by harvest time. Damage starts in mid to late spring, but there can be three generations of the pest a year, so problems can continue through the summer.
Remedy: Inspect plants carefully from mid spring onwards, examining the undersides of leaves, especially in the centre of the bush – remove larvae by hand. Spray severe infestations with pesticides containing pyrethrum, lambda cyhalothrin or thiacloprid when larvae are discovered.
Birds: Like many other types of fruit, gooseberries are a magnet to birds. Bullfinches can damage the developing buds in winter, while others are attracted to the ripening fruit in summer.
Remedy: Cover bushes with fine gauge netting to protect buds and fruit. If you have a large garden, consider growing the plants within the protection of a fruit cage.
Protect from frost at flowering time by covering the plants at night with horticultural fleece.
Gooseberries will be ready for picking from early July – birds love the berries so protect the ripening fruit with fine gauge netting.
Gather green, under-ripe fruits for making jam, pies, tarts, and sauces in June, taking every other fruit, leaving the remainder to swell into ripe, sweet berries to gather in July.
Pick fully ripened berries carefully as they are soft and likely to burst. Excess fruit can be put into polythene bags and frozen.
‘Greenfinch’: Recommended due to having some resistance to mildew and leaf spot. Its prolific, green gooseberries are best eaten after being cooked.
‘Invicta’ AGM: A relatively modern cooking cultivar with high yields of large, pale green fruits and good disease resistance. It is vigorous but very thorny.
‘Leveller’ AGM: A large, yellow dessert gooseberry with one of the best flavours of any cultivar. A bit of a shy cropper except on good, fertile soils. It has good disease resistance.
‘Yellow Champagne’: A classic, yellow culinary gooseberry that is quite hard to come by. Other good yellow gooseberry cultivars to try include ‘Bedford Yellow’ and ‘Early Sulphur’.
‘Lancashire Lad’: This old favourite, raised in 1824, is a moderately vigorous plant with medium to large berries.
‘Whinham’s Industry’ AGM: A dark red, large dessert cultivar that tastes superb when allowed to ripen fully on the plant. The plant is vigorous with an upright habit and is more tolerant of heavy soils than other gooseberry cultivars.