Gooseberries are the forbidden fruit in many areas, but if you can, growing gooseberries can lead to some very delicious jams and pies, as long as you follow these five tips.
If you’ve ever come across sweet grape-like gooseberries at your local farmer’s market, or have had the pleasure of trying a gooseberry jam, you might have considered growing gooseberries, and I wouldn’t blame you—they’re delicious!
Gooseberry bushes can grow in open land, in raised beds, and even in containers. There’s no need to worry about frost after the harvest is done—these sturdy bushes are cold-hardy down to 40 below and thrive in zones 3-8.
The Legalities of Growing Gooseberries
The first thing you need to figure out, though, is if it’s legal to start growing gooseberries in your area. They used to be banned entirely across the U.S. because they were part of the lifecycle of a tree disease called “white pine blister rust”. Basically, the disease needs to spend time on gooseberry bushes in order to become deadly and kill white pine trees. By making them illegal to grow, we were able to save trees, and bans were only lifted when disease-resistant varietals were created. Still, they are banned in states like New Hampshire, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Other states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey require a permit.
So, You Want to Start Growing Gooseberries?
Assuming gooseberries are perfectly legal in your area or you’ve obtained a permit, I highly encourage you to grow them! They are absolutely delicious, like a small tart grape, and they make the best jam of all time – gooseberry jam is even better than fresh strawberry jam, and have you ever tried gooseberry pie?
The gooseberries you may grow are most likely going to be American gooseberries, which began as hybrids between European gooseberries, which are susceptible to mildew, and their native North American counterparts, which tend to be mildew-resistant. The main differences are that, in general, American gooseberries tend to be smaller and sweeter than the European berries. European gooseberries are popular in the U.K., where there’s a preference for slightly tarter fruit than what appeals to the average American palate.
- Choose gooseberries resistant to powdery mildew. Growers have developed a wide variety of cultivars with flavors ranging from sweet/tart to sweet, and in colors ranging from pale white to deepest purple. Here’s a sampling of some of the varieties available which have good or better resistance to powdery mildew—a common ailment of gooseberries, and the fungus that causes white pine blister rust.
- Black Velvet (dark red)
- Captivator (greenish-red)
- Downing (green)
- Jahn’s Prairie (red-pink)
- Lepaa Red (red)
- Pixwell (pinkish-red)
- Poorman (red)
- Stanbridge (yellow-green)
- Plant only if your temperatures get below 45 for a long time in the winter. All gooseberry bushes require a certain number of chill hours—that’s the number of hours that the temperature is below 45° F during the winter so it can grow successfully in the spring. In general, gooseberry bushes need at least 1,000 chill hours over the winter; that’s 42 days. They don’t have to be consecutive, but the hours need to add up.
- Don’t try to grow gooseberries from seed. If you have a gardener friend who’s already growing gooseberries—and you live in a region that allows you to grow them—you can start your own gooseberry bush with a one-foot-long cutting from a gooseberry cane that’s at least a year old. Get it in late fall or early spring. You can also buy a young plant. Don’t bother trying to grow from seed, because gooseberries are hybrids, which means you may not end up with a gooseberry plant!
- Plan to weed. Just like our friend asparagus who hates weeds, so do gooseberries. These two plants have a lot in common in that way. Gooseberries have shallow roots, and they will not compete for resources, so the weeds will always win. Keep the ground well-weeded, and consider putting down a layer of mulch to deter future weed growth.
- Grow one or many. Gooseberry plants are self-fertile, so you only need to plant one. But if you plant two, you’ll get a better harvest. Keep in mind that these bushes can grow up to five feet—and the branches have thorns—so harvesting may become a bit of a challenge if you plant your gooseberry bushes too close together. You want to plant your gooseberries at least 4-5 feet apart—unless, of course, you’re planning to plant gooseberries as a natural hedge. In that case, a two-foot spacing is a good idea.
The keys to happy gooseberry shrubs are sunlight, well-drained soil, and good air circulation. If you can provide those three things (weed-free), you can grow gooseberries just about anywhere.
If you liked this article on Gooseberries, we have a whole gardening guide on Gooseberries that you will love. Planting and growing gooseberries is easy, and the harvest is delicious! There are terrific, disease-resistant varieties to choose from, and you only need one gooseberry bush to start! So, what are you waiting for? With our Gooseberries Gardening Guide, you get all the details that go into growing and harvesting plump, juicy gooseberries. Get recipes that make the most of the flavor of your gooseberries so you can enjoy the fruits of your harvest all year long! Get it all in our Gooseberries Gardening Guide right now!