Cutting Back Gooseberry Bushes – How And When To Prune Gooseberries

Cutting Back Gooseberry Bushes – How And When To Prune Gooseberries

By: Amy Grant

Gooseberry bushes are grown for their small, tart berries excellent in pies and jellies. With arching branches, gooseberries grow to around 3-5 feet high and across and do well in cooler climates hardy to USDA zone 3. They can become tangled and unhealthy without pruning gooseberry plants. Read on to find out when to prune gooseberries and other information about gooseberry pruning.

About Gooseberry Pruning

There are two types of gooseberries: the European gooseberry and the American gooseberry. Almost all American gooseberry plants have been crossed with European species at some point. These resulting crosses are smaller and more resistant to mildew than their European counterparts.

As mentioned, gooseberries can become a tangled mess and susceptible to diseases if allowed to grow unchecked. So cutting back gooseberry bushes is a worthy practice. The goal of cutting back gooseberry bushes is to keep the center of the plant open to air and sunshine, prune out any dead or diseased branches and to shorten the growth of the plant to a manageable size and to facilitate harvest.

When to Prune Gooseberries

Gooseberries bear fruit on 2- to 3-year-old branches. When pruning, a good rule of thumb is to keep a ratio fruit bearing limbs by leaving 2-4 shoots each of 1-, 2- and 3-year-old wood. Also, prune out any shoots that are older than 3 years of age. The best time to prune gooseberries is in late winter or early in the spring when the plants are still dormant.

How to Prune a Gooseberry Bush

Before pruning gooseberries, wear some thick leather gloves and sterilize your pruning shears with rubbing alcohol.

Prune out any dead or damaged branches on 1-, 2- or 3-year limbs. Prune the branches out to ground level in the early spring.

Prune 4-year-old or older gooseberries in early spring, cutting out the weakest and oldest limbs, again, down to ground level. Leave 9-12 stems per bush or cut out all the limbs to ground level, which will encourage the plant to produce larger fruit.

If the plant becomes infected with powdery mildew, cut out any stems that appear infected during the growing season. Prune three inches below the infected area, making your cut just above a leaf node. Sterilize the pruning shears before making any further cuts.

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Read more about Gooseberries

Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa)

Forget the hard, green bullets you often buy in shops for cooking with, dessert gooseberries have rich, sweet, and juicy flavours. Gooseberries are easy to grow and can often be pretty much left to their own devices.

But a little care and attention and some annual pruning will produce bumper crops of tasty fruit.

How to grow gooseberries


Gooseberries aren’t too fussy about situation. They love a sunny position, but will also grow and fruit very well in shade and other awkward positions in the garden. They will also tolerate a more exposed position than most other soft fruit.

They need a moist, but free-draining soil that doesn’t become waterlogged in winter. It will pay dividends to improve the structure of all soils by adding lots of organic matter, such as compost or soil improver. This is particularly the case with clay soils, where it will improve drainage, and on light sandy soils, where it will increase its moisture-holding capacity.

Gooseberry varieties

Gooseberries are divided into cooking and dessert varieties, although most are dual purpose and all taste sweeter when left to fully ripen on the plant. The fruit is also available in four different colours – green, red, white and yellow. The following are all good dessert varieties, except Careless, which needs cooking.

Fruit colour Good varieties
Green Careless, Invicta
Red Pax, Rokula, Whinham’s Industry
White Langley Gage
Yellow Bedford Yellow, Golden Drop, Leveller

Invicta and Rokula have some resistance to American gooseberry mildew disease.

Planting gooseberries

Plant bare-root gooseberry bushes in winter. November or December are best, although it can be done right up to the end of February, whenever the soil isn’t frozen solid or waterlogged. Container-grown bushes can be planted at just about any time of year.

Gooseberry bushes should be planted around 1.5m apart (5ft). They fruit on older wood and on the base of young wood, and can even be trained into cordons and fans against walls or fences if space is tight.

Dig a hole 60x60cm (2x2ft) and 30cm (1ft) deep. Add a layer of organic matter into the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the gooseberry bush in the planting hole at the same depth as they were originally growing, so that the old soil mark is at soil level.

Now mix in more soil improver to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Add a general granular plant food and water in well. Finally, add a 5cm (2in) deep mulch of well rotted garden compost, bark or other bulky organic material around the root area.

Container growing

Gooseberries grow and crop perfectly well in a large pot or other container. You will need a pot of at least 30-38cm (12-15in) in diameter, filled with a good quality potting compost. Obviously, plants in containers will need regular watering and feeding throughout the growing season to ensure good results and a large crop.

How to care for gooseberries

Water the newly planted bushes during the first year if the weather is dry. In subsequent years, watering when the fruit is swelling may be needed if the soil is not already moist.

For maximum crops, feed each year in March with a suitable granular plant food, and top up the mulch to retain soil moisture at the roots.

Prune annually between late autumn and late winter, cutting back new growth to two buds and main shoots (leaders) by one-third. Pruning new growth to 5 leaves in summer will also encourage a bigger crop the following year.

Covering plants with netting will protect the fruit from birds and may also help prevent damage from gooseberry sawfly caterpillars.


A few weeks before they are ripe, remove alternate fruit and use them for cooking. Leave the remaining fruit to ripen on the plant, but don’t leave them until they become too soft. The fruit tastes delicious straight from the bush, but it can also be frozen. You can expect a yield of about 5kg (11lb) from each gooseberry bush.

The Best Gooseberry Varieties

Gooseberries come in two varieties: cooking (culinary) and dessert. Some are dual purpose, and all are sweet if you leave them to ripen on the bush. Gooseberries come in four different colors – green, red, white, and yellow. They also come in European and U.S. varieties.

Here are a few kinds to consider:


  • Langley Gage – this variety has large, thin-skinned white berries on a medium-sized bush. It’s one of the most famous English types, and many growers say it has the most delicious dessert berries.


  • Careless – Careless is an early bloomer with good all-around berries. It can handle a variety of soils.
  • Invicta – Invicta is a U.K variety and is one of the most common gooseberries out there. It has pale green berries and ripens in July.


  • Golden Drop – This plant ripens mid-season with lots of medium-sized fruits. The bush has an upright, compact growth habit.
  • Leveller – This mid-season bloomer has oversized yellow berries and a heavy yield. It needs rich soil to produce well, but if you can provide that, you’ll get excellent dessert fruits.
  • Hinnomaki Yellow – This plant has lots of spines, but it’s a prolific, all-around producer. It lends nicely to container growing.
  • Pax – Pax lacks the spines that some other gooseberries have. It’s mildew resistant and perfect for desserts. It can’t handle heavy winters, however.
  • Rokula – This German variety resists mildew, and it fruits a good week earlier than other berries. It has a compact growth habit and the dark red berries are incredibly sweet.
  • Winham’s Industry – This U.K. variety is considered the gold standard of dessert gooseberries. It’s a vigorous grower that can handle most soils. It ripens in late July.
  • Lord Derby – This plant grows large dark red fruits with a fine skin. It ripens later in the season.
  • Poorman – This American variety is vigorous and has small thorns. It’s mildew resistant and produces large, flavorful berries.
  • Captivator – This thornless variety has marvelous pink berries that grow on an upright bush. It’s mildew resistant.

How to Prune a Jostaberry

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If you have just purchased a home with a mature jostaberry (Ribes nidigrolaria) bush, you may wonder how to prune this sprawling piece of vegetation. Jostaberry is a cross between a black current and a German gooseberry. The fruit tastes a lot like black currents and is delicious fresh, frozen or made into pies and jam. Pruning this thornless bush is not difficult, but it is necessary for optimal health and a plentiful harvest. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before the buds begin to swell.

Confirm that your jostaberry bush is in its second season before you prune. If you just purchased your property, the real estate agent or prior owner may be able to supply this information. But if no information is available, it is best to hold off on pruning until after you have seen the bush through one full season.

Pour hydrogen peroxide into a clean bucket, and soak your pruning shears and loppers for 30 minutes. Dry them thoroughly with a clean cloth.

Remove any broken branches starting from the bottom and working your way to the top of the jostaberry. Use a step stool to reach the top portion of the bush if it is too high.

Prune out any branches that are crossing over another branch. Make a clean cut as close to the bush trunk as possible. There should be ample light passing through the bush, and branches should not be crossing over one another.

Prune back half of any young growth to 6 inches, but leave the other new growth long. This encourages fruit production.

Prune one-third of the older, woody growth to within 1 inch of the ground.

Pick up all cut branches from the ground and discard them to avoid decomposition in place or tripping hazards.

  • A properly pruned bush should appear upright and open.
  • Jostaberry grows in Sunset's Climate Zones 16 to 22.

Susan Patterson is a health and gardening advocate. She is a Master Gardener, Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and a Certified Health Coach with vast experience working with organic gardening and nutrition. Her passions include sustainable living, organic foods and functional fitness. Patterson has been writing and presenting on health and gardening topics for 10 years.

How and When to Prune Gooseberries

Pruning your gooseberry plant is always a good idea. The best time to prune is when the plant is dormant during winter, usually between middle of November and the end of March.

You will want to cut out any dead or diseased branches or any branches growing towards the center of the shrub.

Same with branches that are crossing each other you don’t want the branches rubbing against each other. This will cause a wound on the plant and invite diseases to enter through the open sores.

You want the overall look similar to a goblet shape were the middle is more open and the sun and wind can get into the plant.

Every year you will want to remove about a third of the 3 yr. old canes. Any canes that are 4 years or older should be removed.

  • Currants and gooseberries will grow in full sun to partial shade. You will get more fruit if the plant is in full sun.
  • Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
  • Most currants and gooseberries are self-fruitful. One variety will set fruit on its own.
  • Prune annually to remove weak or dead canes and to open up the canopy.
  • Expect to get fruit 1 to 3 years after planting.
  • Remember, gooseberry bushes are spiny and will become dense thickets without regular pruning.

Although closely related, you can easily distinguish currants and gooseberries by examining the canes and fruit. Gooseberry canes normally produce a spine at each leaf node and bear roughly grape-sized berries singly or in groups of two or three. Currant canes lack the spines and bear 8 to 30 pea-sized berries in clusters.

A mature currant or gooseberry shrub can produce up to four quarts of fruit annually. Most commercially available varieties have adequate winter hardiness for the majority of the Upper Midwest, many to USDA hardiness zone 3a.

Selecting plants

Types of currants and gooseberries

Red, pink, and white currant

  • Red, pink and white currants are the same species, Ribes sativum.
  • Red, pink and white currants are self-fertile, meaning one plant will set fruit without any other currant varieties nearby.
  • Pink and white currants are albino selections of red currant.
  • The fruit of pink and white currants is generally less acidic.
  • Some consider pink and white currants to be better for fresh eating.

Black currant

  • The European black currant is Ribes nigrum.
  • They are widely grown in Northern Europe for their high vitamin C content.
  • Black currants have a strong and unusual flavor.
  • They are ripe when the fruit has a deep, purple-black color.
  • Some varieties are self-fertile. Those that are not would require a second varieties to ensure good fruit set.


  • Gooseberries of American origin are Ribes hirtellum or hybrids derived from this species, while the European species is Ribes uva-crispa.
  • Gooseberries are self-fertile, so you will grow plenty of fruit with just one plant.
  • Gooseberries have translucent skin. Depending on the variety, it might be light green, pink, or even red when ripe.
  • The wilted flower that precedes the berry often hangs on throughout the season. Pluck that off before eating.


  • The jostaberry (pronounced yust-a-berry) is a cross of black currant and gooseberry.
  • It is sweeter than gooseberry, thornless, disease resistant and easy-to-grow.

These varieties are recommended based on disease resistance, fruit quality, overall plant performance and availability.

Many other varieties are available, but those listed here have performed best in trials and are well suited to the home garden and landscape. The following tables are divided into red, pink, white and black currant, gooseberry and jostaberry varieties.

University of Minnesota releases are in bold and include date of introduction.