This article is about the plant species Ribes uva-crispa, a shrub with edible fruit commonly referred to as Gooseberry. Native to the cool climate parts of Europe, in the wild it is a woodland or hedgerow plant. The berries are usually green, but different cultivars produce a range of yellow, red or white fruit. The flavour is usually tart but desert varieties tend to be sweeter.
Background Information[edit | edit source]
Gooseberries are someties referred to as "soft fruit" or "berry fruits" (along with blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, loganberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc). The term refers to the relativley short shelf life, distinguishing from "hard fruit" (e.g. apples, pears, kiwi, lemons, limes, oranges, peaches, plums, quince). To further subdivide the category of soft fruit, gooseberry and currants are sometimes termed "bush fruits" to distinguish from the "cane fruit" (blackberry, raspberry, rubus hybrid berries, etc).
Taxonomy[edit | edit source]
Species: R. uva-crispa (syn. R. grossularia)
Common names[edit | edit source]
- Goosegog (UK)
- European Gooseberry.
- English Gooseberry.
- Grosart (Shetland).
Etymology[edit | edit source]
Ribes (pronounced "RYE-bees") is Latin for "currant" (from Arabic rībās meaning "rhubarb"). Uva-crispa is latin for "curved grape".
History[edit | edit source]
R. uva-crispa is the wild, European Gooseberry. Selective breeding of this species led to the creation of cultivated varieties (which can be thought of as "culinary gooseberry", "improved gooseberry" or "domesticated gooseberry"). Heirloom cultivars derived from R. uva-crispa tend to have larger fruit, are less hardy, and according to some taste better. They have susceptibility to Mildew (also termed American Gooseberry Mildew). The wild American Gooseberry is R. hirtellum W. Relative to European heirloom cultivars, cultivars derived mostly from R. hirtellum are smaller, more hardy and have less well flavoured fruit. Many modern cultivars are from both R. uva-crispa and R. hirtellum. However the binomial name of gooseberry is almost always given as R. uva-crispa in horticultural texts. Some gooseberries growing in the wild do represent garden "escapes" which have been bird sown. Following this, resistance genes to American Gooseberry Mildew was bred into R. uva-crispa from 4 American gooseberry species, namely Ribes divaricatum, Ribes hirtellum, Ribes oxyacanthoidesW and Ribes missourienseW.
Indeed, taking the example of wild UK gooseberry populations, the spread of Powdery Mildew has created a selection pressure for genes providing resistance to it. Modern gooseberry cultivars have been interbred with R. hirtellum (American Gooseberry), which co-evolved with Powdery Mildew and has resistance. In the wild, original native species of gooseberry are subject to gradual gene death while resistant cultivars which spread into the wild have advantage.
Classical Greek and Roman writers do not mention gooseberry. The first recorded mention of gooseberry is in 1276, listed in purchases for the Westminster garden of Edward I. Originally gooseberry was a woodland and hedgerow plant, the first selective breeding took place in the British Isles in the 16th century, particularly by amateur growers in the industrial midlands. Traditionally, gooseberry was grown in orchards in the Fens (Eastern England). Yearly gooseberry competitions with awards for the largest gooseberry took place in Lancashire, and still take place in some UK villages. This stimulated creation of hundreds of cultivars of gooseberry in Britain. Gooseberry growing reached its peak in the 19th century.
When Mildew spread to the UK in approximately 1905, the gooseberry industry was devastated. This has been a significant factor in the reduced popularity of gooseberry since, although the taste and the thorns may have also played a role in this as thornless berry plants and imports of exotic fruit from the rest of the world became increasingly available.
In North America, wild American gooseberry varieties were used by Indigenous peoples. When European cultivars were transported by European settlers, they tended to die off, due to Mildew and partly due to poor adaptation to climate. The American Gooseberry was popular among early settlers and trappers, but it did not tend to be grown in gardens as civilization developed. The first American cultivar, Houghton was disseminated in 1848. The pathogenic fungus White Pine Blister Rust was accidentally introduced into North America, causing serious damage to American White Pines (and also Black Locust and Sugar Maple) which have little genetic resistance. Some European and Asian white pines (e.g. Macedonian Pine, Swiss Pine, Blue Pine) are mostly resistant to the disease, having co-evolved with the pathogen. After this caused a lot of damage to the logging industry, in the 1930s cultivation and import of gooseberries (along with currants) was banned. Gooseberry cultivation remains illegal in some parts of the USA (e.g. Maine). As a result of this, and combined with easy availability of imported exotic fruit, gooseberry growing is significantly less common in North America than it was historically.
A member of the Ribes genus, Gooseberry is closely related to blackcurrant (R. nigrum). Jostaberry is a thornless hybrid between R. uva-crispa, R. nigrum, and R. divaricatum ("Worcesterberry"/"Spreading Gooseberry").
Varieties[edit | edit source]
One source from 1990 claimed there were 4884 cultivars of gooseberry worldwide at the time.
- "Golden Drop" -- yellow fruit.
- "May Duke" -- red fruit.
- "Rokula" -- red fruit. Some resistance to mildew.
- "Pax" -- dark red fruit. Nearly thornless. Excellent flavour ("desert gooseberry"). Resistant to mildew.
- "Bedford Red" -- red fruit.
- "Careless" -- white fruit.
- "Greenfinch" -- green fruit. Some resistance to mildew.
- "Invicta" -- green fruit. Medium sized fruit. Heavy cropping (June). Vigorous and spreading. Some resistance to mildew.
- "Keepsake" -- green fruit.
- "Langley Gage" -- white fruit.
- "Leveller" -- yellow fruit.
- "Whitesmith" -- white fruit.
- "Whinhan's Industry" -- red fruit. "Desert gooseberry". Especially shade tolerant and therefore more appropriate for forest gardens (according to Robert Hart).
- "Black Velvet" -- dark red fruit. Very good flavour. Resistant to mildew.
- "Hinnonmaki Rod" / "Hino(maki) Red" / "Hamamekii Red" -- dark red fruit. Vigorous. Fruit medium sized. Good flavour. Resistant to mildew.
- "Hino(maki) Yellow" -- yellow-green fruit. Fruit medium-large sized. Good flavour ("desert gooseberry"). Bushes compact. Resistant to mildew.
- "Captivator" -- red fruit. Nearly thornless. American.
- "Lancashire Lad" -- red fruit. Some resistance to mildew.
- "(Howard's) Lancer" -- green fruit.
- "London" -- red fruit.
- "Lord Derby" -- red fruit.
- "White Lion" -- white fruit.
- "Anneli" -- red fruit. Vigorous. Good flavour. Resistant to mildew.
- "Gold Ball" -- yellow-green fruit. Good flavour. Resistant to mildew.
Characteristics[edit | edit source]
Range[edit | edit source]
Albania, Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia
Baltic States, Belarus, Central European Rus, Connecticut, Delaware, Denmark, Falkland Is., Finland, Iceland, Indiana, Iowa, Ireland, Japan, Kentucky, Korea, Kuril Is., Labrador, Maine, Maryland, Masachusettes, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Newfoundland, North Dakota, North European Russi, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Québec, South Dakota, Sweden, Tadzhikistan, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
[Source= Plants of the World Online]
Morphology[edit | edit source]
Single trunked, multi-stemmed deciduous shrub. Mature height 1-1.5m and similar spread.
Leaves are 3 or 4 lobed and have blunt toothed margins.
Fruit are grape sized but more rounded. They are usually hairy. Most are green, but some cultivars are red, yellow or white. Fruit grow singly or in clusters of 2 or 3. On a branch, the fruit closest to the main plant is usually the largest.
Growth Habit[edit | edit source]
The roots are shallow but spread laterally to a significant degree.
Reproduction[edit | edit source]
Hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs). All gooseberry varieties are self fertile (one plant can pollinate itself and fruit by itself). Flowers in March - May. Flowers fairly resistant to frost. Bee & insect pollinated. Vegetative reproduction also occurs by suckers.
Requirements[edit | edit source]
Hardiness[edit | edit source]
Soil Type[edit | edit source]
Slight preference for heavy soils, and moist but well drained soils, but can grow in almost any soil. If the soil is known to have low potassium levels, this should be improved first. Gooseberry has a reputation for tolerating very poor soils, but some experts state this is partly misconception since neglected bushes can survive for a relatively long time. Phosphorus and Potassium levels of 100ppm and 150ppm should be sufficient for gooseberry.
Soil pH[edit | edit source]
Shade Preference[edit | edit source]
Shade Tolerance[edit | edit source]
Tolerates quite a lot of shade. Under shaded conditions crop yield is reduced, and it tends to be more "leggy", growing taller and narrower to try and get to the light, and fruiting higher up (which can be a more convenient height for harvest). When designing placement, aim to provide some direct sun for part of the day, or good indirect sun for most of the day.
Aspect[edit | edit source]
They can be grown on north-facing walls.
Exposure[edit | edit source]
Fairly sheltered. Gooseberry is a bit more tolerant of wind than other soft fruits, but do not expect them to fruit reliably in exposed conditions. Cold winds during flowering can mean no gooseberry crop for that growing season.
Cultivation[edit | edit source]
Planting[edit | edit source]
Overall, gooseberries are quite easy to grow. Typically purchased from suppliers as bare-rooted or potted bushes, usually 1 year old rooted cuttings. Select stock that looks strong with at least 3 good shoots. Advised times to plant range from: winter, or autumn-winter, or autumn to spring. Plant when the weather and soil are favourable, i.e. not during frost and not straight after heavy rain. To prepare the site, one method is to dig deeply and mix manure or compost in the top layer, over a wide area (gooseberry has shallow, lateral spreading roots).
Bushes and standard trained plants should be spaced 90cm to 1.5m apart. As cordons, gooseberries should be spaced 30cm to 45cm apart (in the row). With the deep bed method, the spacing can be reduced to 1.2m.
Gooseberries are good for small gardens since they fruit heavily and do not take a lot of space (particularly if trained as cordons), and can also be used to utilise shaded areas. Gooseberries can even crop fairly well in a tub, e.g. on a patio. Gooseberries can be grown as hedging, but fruiting may be unreliable in this role.
Forest Gardening[edit | edit source]
In a temperate climate forest garden, gooseberries perform excellently in the shrub layer since they are quite shade tolerant. Along with other Ribes spp. such as blackcurrants (R. nigrum) and redcurrants/whitecurrants (R. rubrum), some consider gooseberries to be the backbone of the shrub layer. They are woodland plants in their natural state. Some even state that gooseberry is one of the most useful plants for the shrub layer. Comparing to the other Ribes spp, gooserries are more shade tolerant than blackcurrants, and less prone to birds than red/whitecurrants.
There are a few particular considerations when selecting cultivars for a forest garden, more shade tolerance is desirable, and some authors highlight "Whinham's Industry" to be best suited for the partly shaded conditions of the shrub layer. In the very sheltered conditions of a forest garden, mildew is more likely, so mildew resistance is important. For gooseberries, frost is less of a concern in the forest garden.
Companion Planting[edit | edit source]
Gooseberry will crop acceptibly without any specific need for support from other plants. Some suggested companion plants are:
- Beans: especially broad beans are nitrogen fixers. Although gooseberry does not have heavy nitrogen requirements, broad beans repel gooseberry sawfly. If planting broad beans with gooseberry, consider adding a soil ammendment of potash to compensate for the competition between the two species for potassium.
- Tomatoes: tomatoes may repel some gooseberry insect pests, and vice versa (unproven).
- Tansy: (Tanacetum vulgare) W this herbaceous perennial flowering plant has pest repellent properties, which may be beneficial for gooseberry plants in close proximity.
- Chives: (Allium schoenoprasum) W prevents some diseases of gooseberries, importantly Powdery Mildew. A tea made from chives can also be used on gooseberry plants.
- Wormwood: (Artemisia absinthium) W in a very small amount next to gooseberry can help prevent plant rusts. It is a herbaceous perennial and very aromatic, releasing absinthin which is antagonistic to many other plants. Consider keeping it in a container.
- Tarragon: (Artemisia dracunculus) W a relative of Wormwood, Tarragon can fill the same role almost as effectively, and is not as toxic to other plants.
Allelopathy[edit | edit source]
In terms of antagonistic plant placement near gooseberry (negative allelopathy), the species does not have many "enemies" among other plants. For example, trees like walnut release a phytotoxin (juglone) from their roots, which destroy most other nearby plants. Gooseberries however are resistant to this.
Propagation[edit | edit source]
- Hardwood cuttings: take cuttings in late autumn and place them in outdoors nursery bed.
- Mounding: one method of obtaining many rooted plants for transplanting is to hard prune an old bush to within 30cm of the ground in early spring. This encourages new shoots. In midsummer, heap a mound of earth and compost around the bush so that only the tips of the new shoots are visible. In autumn the new canes will have rooted and can be carefully removed from the rest of the plant.
Maintenance[edit | edit source]
To maintain healthy plants and heavy cropping, proper fertilization is required. Nitrogen and potassium (potash) in particular are the main nutrient limiting factors for growth and cropping of gooseberry plants, although too much nitrogen can promote weakness to mildew.
- Mulch: mulch generously in spring with manure, ideally well rotted manure. Maintaining a good mulch prevents the soil from drying out, and reduces chance of mildew.
- Weeding: avoid using a hoe since the roots are shallow.
Watering[edit | edit source]
Gooseberry plants are moderate in their water requirements, about 30mm rain per week during the growing season (Northern USA and Southern Canada).
Pruning[edit | edit source]
- Bush: Most gooseberry is grown as a bush, the natural form. Keep centre of the bush form open to prevent stagnant air and easy access to fruit. It should end up as a bowl shape. Aim to have 8-12 well-spaced main branches on a short leg. Prune in late winter or at bud burst in early spring. Earlier pruning increases impact of brid damage. Summer pruning young shoots reduces spread of mildew. Formative pruning is carried out when year old plants are planted in the first winter. Shorten all shoots by about 3/4 of their original length (this may have already been done by the supplier). Some cultivars have a pedulant growth habit, prune these back to upward facing buds (encourages upward growth). Other cultivars have upright growth habit, prune these to outward facing buds (encourages outward growth). Sideshoots develop the next spring. Select 8-10 to be the future main branches. In the second winter, shorten each of the main branches by up to 1/4. Any remaining shoots can be shortened to 4 buds, and remove any shoots that are crossing (cut them off back to the main stem. For established bushes there are 2 methods of pruning, spur pruning or regulated / renewal pruning, both carried out in winter. As with most pruning, a good place to start is to cut back any damage, diseased or dead wood back to the main stem.
- Spur pruning: this is shortening all new growth back on a permanent framework of branches to encourage spurs. Cut all new shoots back to about 8cm (3") from the base of each shoot. Cut the branch leaders back to 3-4 buds, restricting size of the bush. Spur pruning results in a smaller crop of larger fruit, but is more time consuming.
- Regulated / Renewal pruning: this is removing older branches entirely. Gives a heavy crop of small fruit (ideal for preserving). Older, less productive or weak branches are selected for removal (perhaps mark out which branches do not produce a lot of fruit in the previous growing season). The remaining branches should be left well spaced. Remove any growth that arises from below 10cm from ground level (some may have layered - it may be possible to propagate a new plant if these are carefully spearated from the main plant). Renewal pruning is ideal for neglected plants, and the crop will be significantly improved.
- Cordon: when trained as a cordon, gooseberries take up minimal space, and it is easier to harvest the fruit without injury. This can be done by tying them to stakes which are supported by horizontal wires.
- Standard: a gooseberry cultivar is grafted onto a vigorous American ribes stock (e.g. R. divaricatum or R. odoratum W), of approximately 1-1.2m height. The root stock takes about 3 years to create, or it can be brought ready made from a supplier. Stake firmly for support. Formative pruning of the grafted cultivar is then carried out in the same was as a for a bush, although side shoots on the trunk must be rubbed out. Standards are more "delicate" than bushes and may not be able to compete with surrounding plants as easily, although there is space potential to grow other plants such as vegetables below.
Problems[edit | edit source]
Overall, gooseberry is not prone to pests and diseases:
- Gooseberry Mildew (also termed American Gooseberry Mildew or Powdery Mildew): this can be the main problem facing gooseberries. First sign is white, talcum powder-like felt covering young leaves and shoots. On the berries, the white can later become a brown covering. Powder can be wiped off fruit and they are still edible. Do not give bushes too much nitrogen to prevent it. Too much nitrogen promotes soft, easily infected growth. Remove and burn any affected shoots (after picking any fruit they bear). One method is to spray with a mixture of soft soap (228g), washing soda (500g) and water (23 litres), and again during flowering and again when fruit is set. Best prevention is good pruning technique to allow circulation of air through the bush. Or to grow resistant varieties. Mildew is more likely if the soil becomes dry, so mulching is important. The RHS website has a dedicated article on Gooseberry Mildew:
- Gooseberry Sawfly: these are dull, khaki (green and black spotted, yellow tailed), small (up to 2.5cm) caterpillars. They can reproduce 3 times in a single growing season and a bad infestation can eat every leaf from a gooseberry bush. They are found usually on the underside of leaves from early May to late summer. If not spraying, then they have to picked off by hand. The RHS website has a dedicated article on gooseberry sawfly: 
- Red Spider Mite: Tiny red mites gather on leaves, which will turn bronze with a white underside, and eventually dry up and die. Use a jet of water to dislodge them.
- Birds: birds may strip off new buds in spring. Green "cooking" gooseberry are not normally taken by birds. Red "desert" varieties may be taken however, consider netting or a fruit cage to protect ripening fruit.
- Magpie Moth: (Abraxas grossulariataW) the caterpillar of this moth is black, white and orange spotted. As with sawfly they can defoliate entire bushes so need to be removed by hand. Usually occur in May and June.
- White pine blister rust: (Cronartium ribicola W) as most Ribes spp, the gooseberry is telial host W for this pathogenic fungus. White pine blister rust was accidentally introduced into the US, and can cause serious damage to American white pines (and also Black locust and sugar maple), which have little genetic resistance. Gooseberry cultivation is illegal in some areas of the USA (e.g. Maine), due to the historical impact of this disease on the logging industry. Some European and Asian white pines (e.g. Macedonian Pine, Swiss Pine, Blue Pine) are mostly resistant to the disease, having co-evolved with the pathogen. Infected Ribes spp may show chlorotic (yellow) leaf spots and the telia appear as orange "pustules" on the underside of the leaf, but are otherwise not significantly impacted.
- Potash (Potassium) Deficiency: since they are heavy cropping, on deficient soils yields may suffer easily.
Harvest[edit | edit source]
In the wild, gooseberries can be found scattered in woods and hedgerows in most of Europe. Wild gooseberries fruit from early July onward. Wild gooseberries are often less than 1cm diameter, while cultivars can be up to 3cm in diameter.
Once fully ripe, fruit can be eaten raw. If early and late fruiting cultivars are both grown, harvest can continue until August.
Pick the fruit with some stalk left attached (remove before storing). One method of quickly harvesting gooseberries is to pull the branches through your hand while wearing a thick glove. Catch the fruit in a sheet. To separate the fruit from fallen leaves and thorns etc, place the contents of the sheet down a board which allows the round fruit to roll down into a container.
For cultivated varieties, yield is about 4kg per year per mature bush under full sun conditions. Yield is reduced in shade. Per plant yields are less for mature cordons (approximately 0.5-1.5kg per cordon) but usually the reduced space requirements of cordon trained plants mean that more plants can be grown in the same area of space.
Preservation[edit | edit source]
- Freeze: To freeze fresh, wash then top and tail the gooseberries and freeze them in resealable plastic bags. Alternatively can be frozen as a puree after stewing and sieving.
- Bottle: This was very common before freezers. Strong bottling jars (either screw topped or clip jars, with rubber sealing rings) are heated to a high temperature for long enough to kill bacteria, yeasts and fungi and stop enzymatic activity. The jars are sealed at heat to prevent contamination with micro-organisms. Bottles can be heated either in a large pan of water or in the oven. Top and tail the fruit first. If heating by water, heat to simmering (88°C) in 30 min, then hold this temp for another 2 min. If heating by oven, heat at 150°C for 40 min (up to 2kg fruit) or 60 min (up to 5kg fruit).
- Drying See: .
Uses[edit | edit source]
- Alcoholic Beverages -- See: Making fruit, vegetable and flower wines#Berry Wines for several gooseberry wine recipes (The Household Cyclopedia, 1881).
- Jam -- Gooseberries are high in pectin and are useful to add to low pectin fruits which would otherwise not set easily when making jam. Can also be the sole fruit ingredient in a gooseberry jam. Wash, then top and tail. Heat in water and simmer until tender. Continue simmering and stirring until a thick pulp. Add sugar. Stir and boil hard until set.
- Fruit leather -- pulp needs thickening.
- Sauces -- e.g. chutney
- Bee plant
- Leaves -- young, tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads (in small quantities due to toxicity).
- Hedging / Barrier -- since it is thorny, it can act in this role.
Cooking[edit | edit source]
- Gooseberry Pie
- Gooseberry Fool, a traditional English desert.
- Fennel and Gooseberry sauce for mackerel.
- Gooseberry Chutney
References[edit | edit source]
- Brickell, C; Joyce, D (1996). The Royal Horticultural Society pruning & training: a fully illustrated plant-by-plant manual. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9780751302073.
- Ribes uva-crispa (efloras).
- Lim, TK (2012). Edible Medicinal And Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 4, Fruits. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9789400740532.
- Grigson, J (2007). Jane Grigson's Fruit Book. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803259935.
- Gooseberry Varieties.
- Ribes (efloras).
- Mabey, R (2012). Food For Free. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780007183036.
- Warren, J; James, P (2006). "The ecological effects of exotic disease resistance genes introgressed into British gooseberries". Oecologia. 147 (1): 69–75. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0257-3. PMID 16205951.
- Small, E. (2014). North American cornucopia: Top 100 indigenous food plants. CRC Press. ISBN 9781466585928.
- Staub, J (2009). 75 Remarkable Fruits for Your Garden. Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423608813.
- Hart, R (2019). Forest gardening: rediscovering nature and community in a post industrial age. Green Books. ISBN 9781900322027.
- Barney, D; Kim Hummer, K (2005). Currants, Gooseberries, and Jostaberries: A Guide for Growers, Marketers, and Researchers in North America. CRC. ISBN 9781560222972.
- Hedrick, U (1922). Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits. Applewood Books. ISBN 9781429014359.
- Brickell, C; Royal Horticultural Society (2012). Encyclopedia of Gardening. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9781409364658.
- Crawford, M (2016). Creating a Forest Garden: working with nature to grow edible crops. Green Books. ISBN 9781900322621.
- Titchmarsh, A (2008). The kitchen gardener: grow your own fruit and veg. London BBC. ISBN 9781846072017.
- Ribes uva crispa (Plants of the World Online).
- Whitefield, P (1996). How to make a Forest Garden. Permanent Publications. ISBN 9781856230087
- Seymour, M (2014). The New Self-Sufficient Gardener: The complete illustrated guide to planning, growing, storing and preserving your own garden produce. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9781409346784.
- Ribes uva-crispa - L. (Plants for a Future).
- Bird, R (2011). A practical guide to growing vegetables, fruit & herbs. Hermes House. ISBN 9781843098324.
- Companion Planting Guide for Gooseberry.
- Warren, P (2003). How to Store Your Garden produce: The Key to Self-Sufficiency. Second Edition. Green Books. ISBN 9781903998250.
- Crawford, M; Aitken, C (2013) Food from your forest garden: How to harvest, cook and preserve your forest garden produce. Green Books. ISBN 9780857841124.