How to Grow Gooseberry (Beginner’s Guide)

Gooseberries can be the perfect way to mix up those boring berry recipes and add some kick to your custard, cakes, or even your drinks!

These tender little tarts have a zing to them that can really go unexpected.

You don’t know until you’ve tried gooseberry jam.

And now, you can make your own!

Let’s dive in and learn how to grow and care for these delicious Ribes.

Last updated: 8/5/21.

Quick care guide: Gooseberry

Plant type Perennial
Origin USA, Canada
Scientific name Ribes uva-crispa
Other names Black currant, ribes, greengage, poha berry, cape gooseberry, Aztec berry, Inca berry, Golden berry
Soil type Loamy, rich, fertile, well-draining
Soil pH 6.0-6.8 (slightly acidic)
Sunlight requirement Full sun, partial sun
Bloom season Spring, summer
Colors White, green, yellow, pink, purple, lime, maroon, black, clear, orange
Max height 5 feet
Max width 4-5 feet
Low temperature -450F
High temperature 90F
Ideal temperature range 50-70F
Humidity Low
Watering requirements Often during first year of growth, spring, and summer
Fertilizer requirements Low
Fertilizer NPK 5-5-5
Days until germination 3-6 weeks
Days until harvest 1-2 years
Days until bloom 1-2 years
Speed of growth Moderate
Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Plant depth 0.25 inches
Plant spacing 10-12 inches
Plant with Yarrow, beans, tomatoes, tansy, chives, strawberries, oregano, kiwi, mint, chamomile, marigold, and grapes
Don’t plant with Other plants in the same family
Propagation Seeds, layering, cuttings, transplants
Common pests Aphids, currant worms, stem girdlers, gooseberry fruitworm, fruit flies, four-lined plant bugs, sawflies, or currant borers
Common diseases Downy mildew, root rot, blight, stem rot
Indoor plant Yes
Outdoor plant Yes
Grown in container Yes
Flowering plant Yes
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Low (very easy)
Uses Decoration, edible, indoor plant, recipes, jams, preserves, cakes, desserts

What’s a gooseberry?

Gooseberries are a sour, tarty, and forbidden berry. Why forbidden?

Because it’s a banned fruit!

Well, at least it USED to be.

Only a few select states allow gooseberries to be grown.

But if you’re in a vicinity where it’s legal, you’ll be happy to know that it offers a bunch of benefits over other berries like blueberries or winterberries.

Gooseberries are an extremely hardy plant. They’re resistant to pests, easy to grow, and extremely compact in the garden.

These globular berries are part of the Ribes genus, which includes currants like black, green, or red ones.

Toxicity

Gooseberry is known to be highly toxic to wildlife, so avoid feeding or allowing any birds, dogs, cats, chickens, geese, or other wildlife to consume it. Unripe berries and the leaves are also known to cause adverse side effects, so never eat, touch, or harvest them. Always use proper protection when pruning or harvesting.

What do they taste like?

Gooseberries are sour, tarty, and have a kick to them, unlike your traditional berries.

Yes, these aren’t tame berries. They even have thorns. Literally.

Depending on the species you’re growing and the time to harvest, their flavor can be from mildly sweet to extremely sour. It all depends on what you want.

What do gooseberries look like?

Gooseberries are cool. They come in a variety of different colors and sizes, based on the cultivar you’re growing.

Typically, the berries are about 0.5” in diameter. They can be bigger or smaller depending on the cultivar. They come in purple, pink, red, yellow, green, white, maroon, and everything in between.

Each berry grows on the branches that stem out from your gooseberry bush in predictable patterns. The berries are firm, shiny, and globular. They may have tiny hairs on them. American gooseberry shrubs have gray leaves. European shrubs are dark green.

Personally, the European shrubs are a lot easier to pair with complementary plants in the yard IMO.

Why are gooseberries illegal?

Gooseberries are illegal in some US states.

In the past, they were banned in 1911 because they contributed to white pine blister rust. This particular rust killed a certain type of plant species, so it was outlawed because of its ability to infect pine, especially in states like Maine or New York.

Now, the ban has been revoked in some states and it’s up to each state to determine whether or not gooseberries can be grown.

You must do your research to see if gooseberries are legal in your jurisdiction before you try to grow or import them. It can be unlawful for you to do so even if you didn’t know.

Are they easy to grow?

Yes, gooseberries are the perfect berry for beginners because they take care of themselves once they get going.

Other than some regular pruning, watering, cutting, and harvesting, it’s straightforward to produce them. Plus, they make a great fruit to eat raw or used as a jam, sauce, etc.

Can you eat them?

Yes, gooseberries may have gotten a bad rep because they were once banned.

Do NOT eat unripe berries or the leaves.

But it’s not because they’re poisonous or anything like that. People have gotten confused over time and the waters have become murky regarding their reputation.

Since the ban has been lifted, now it’s up to each state to decide whether or not they want to allow gooseberries to be legal.

Because of this, some people can easily assume that just because some states mark it as illegal, it’s “bad” fruit.

Gooseberries have a distinct splash of flavor that erupts in your mouth.

They can be extremely sour to sweet. The flavor depends on the type of gooseberry you’re growing, when you harvest, and how you grew it (soil type, plant food, etc.)

Plus you don’t even have to eat it. Some people use it exclusively as a decoration or privacy hedge. The berries are just topping on the cake, friend.

Types of gooseberry

Gooseberry growing on a branch.
Gooseberries come in all different sizes. Is this even a gooseberry? Can you tell or not?

Wondering which gooseberry to grow in your garden? There are dozens to choose from, each with its own unique flavor profile.

Here are some to get you started:

  • Black velvet (grows up to 5 feet, partial shade, American)
  • Captivator (3 feet tall, resilient to fungus, American)
  • Hinnonmaki yellow (superior flavor, 1” berries)
  • Hinnomaki red (American, sour, 5 feet tall)
  • Pax (sweet berries on minimal thorns)
  • Careless (large fruits)
  • Invicta (green plant, large fruits, green cooker)
  • Jeanne (purple, rust-resistant, 3 feet tall, American)
  • Little ben (tarty, 3 feet tall)
  • Leveller (yellow, sweet berries)
  • Glendale (full sun tolerance)
  • Cape gooseberry (goldenberry)
  • Whitesmith (desert cooker, white berries)
  • Whinham’s Industry (big red berries)
  • Pixwell (pink/green berries, 5 feet tall, American)

See this list for all varieties.

There are spineless varieties, which are expensive but may be with the extra cost. The thorns make everything more difficult from pruning to harvesting. Look for Xenia or Pax.

Note that American types are usually smaller but mildew resistant. They also produce more yield and are easier to manage compared to European ones. European gooseberries have much tastier yields though.

How to propagate

Gooseberries collected from the home garden.
Look at those bright gooseberries!

Gooseberry is extremely easy to propagate. You can start from seed or use a pre-grown shrub. 

how to grow gooseberries from seed, laying, or cuttings. Or you can buy a baby bush from the nursery if you don’t want to mess with germination.

From seed

Starting from seed takes the longest because you have to deal with germination.

You’re starting from nothing, but it’s also the most rewarding out of all the different ways you can propagate. Seeds can be started in a pot, in the soil, or even below a trellis to climb.

Note that if you’re growing it outside in your garden, you should pick the home for it to be permanent. It’s hard to move once it becomes established because of its unwieldy size.

So that means if you want to use it as a privacy hedge, barrier, or some kind of decor, you should plant it accordingly.

Also, growing from seed won’t produce plants that are identical to the original plant.

Seeds often produce hybrids or random ones, so you don’t know what you’re getting. They also require a lot of time and some effort to grow. But if you’re up for it, here’s how you do it.

Get the seeds. Read the packet. That’s step one.

Next, put the seeds into a soak for a few hours. This will increase the germination rate. Take them out. Let them dry to room temperature.

Wrap them in a towel and put them in the fridge for 120 days. Keep the towel moist, but not wet. This is called cold stratification and is required to germinate gooseberry seeds.

Buy one of those seed starter kits then fill it with a good quality potting mix. It helps if you choose the same mix you plan to use in the garden later. This will reduce plant shock.

Sow 2-3 seeds per compartment about 0.5” deep. Water generously. Then just keep them moist until they germinate.

Once they grow a few sets of leaves, you can move them outside to your garden. Four or five sets of true leaves should be a sign of an established plant.

From cuttings

Propagation from cuttings is easy. All you need is an American gooseberry bush that’s established. Cut out a virulent cane that’s sitting on the base of the plant.

It should be snipped with a pair of sterilized pruners right next to a flower bud. The cutting should be dusted with rooting hormone, then covered with soil. The cut side should be covered about ⅓ of the way. The other half should be exposed to the light.

Use compost or a thin layer of mulch to cover the exposed half. When you’re done, only the very edge of it should be exposed. The cutting will develop its roots over time.

European gooseberry should be layered instead. They don’t take well to cuttings for the most part. Take cuttings in the early spring or late fall. Never do it during the growing season.

By transplant

When transplanting gooseberry, simply remove it from the original container and plant it in the same depth and width as the original pot. Let it adjust to your garden.

If the leaves turn yellow or drop over time, that’s normal. Some people let it slowly acclimate to the garden by exposing it to sunlight for a few days.

Put it in the sun then shade it for a few hours each day until it hardens off.

Layering

While laying may sound difficult, it’s very easy.

You’ll need a fully grown shrub to do this with. If you have one, it makes preparing a second gooseberry eye.

  • Find a good branch near the base of your plant.
  • Use a branch that’s not too rigid so it can bend with ease. If it’s not flexible, it’ll uproot itself.
  • Bend it into the soil and tie it down.
  • Cover it with soil at least ⅓ of the way, leave the other 2/3 exposed or use a light bit of compost.
  • Keep it watered just like the main plant.
  • Over one season, it should develop roots. Cut it off and plant it elsewhere.

That’s it. There’s nothing special about it.

Plant in the spring or fall for bare-root gooseberries.

How to care for gooseberry

Here are some basic guidelines on caring for gooseberries.

Depending on the type you’re growing, your plant’s needs may vary. However, you can use these tips as a high-level overview.

Hardiness zone

Gooseberry grows well in USDA hardiness zones 3-8. It can be grown in higher or lower zones, provided that you give it adequate shade in hot weather or insulate it in the cold.

But for the least amount of maintenance, growing it in the recommended zone is the easiest. Check this site if you don’t know your zone.

Soil

Plant gooseberries in rich, fertile soil that’s well-draining. It likes high nitrogen and potash-dense substates.

You can amend it with some additives if your soil is lacking in the nutrient profile. If you don’t know your soil’s metrics, use a test kit to find out. Use organic if you want to grow organic berries. Avoid shallow, dry soils.

Soil pH

Aim for a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0-6.5. Like most other berries, gooseberries prefer a lower pH.

You can amend your soil if you need to lower the pH. But it’s easier to just buy a few bags of soil that fit the bill.

Depth

When planting seeds, sow a seed a quarter-inch deep.

When using cuttings or layering, cover the branch a few inches deep with soil, while exposing the rest of the branch to compost or mulch. That’s all there is to it.

Spacing

Place each plant about 3 feet apart to minimize the competition between plants. Gooseberry does get pretty wide, so you should allow adequate spacing between each shrub.

Sunlight

Gooseberries like cool spots, so partial sunlight are best. They can grow in full sun if you’re in a cooler hardiness zone (northern US), so they can be a good plant for those morning rays.

For those in a warmer zone, don’t be afraid to give them 6 or 7 hours of sunlight per day.

The more sun, the more fruit you’ll produce.

However, if it’s scorching hot, the sun will burn the leaves.

This is why it’s important to position it in a way where it doesn’t get burned up by the afternoon sun. Try to keep temperatures below 80F if possible.

You can use plant shades to help block out those harmful beams of light. The best way to do it is to start with the right location in your garden.

Choose somewhere that’s cool with partial sun- a bit of afternoon sun with plenty of shade is good. Plant on an eastern-facing side of your garden.

Watering

Keep the base of the plant moist, but not wet. Aim for 1-2 inches of water per week, but account for rain or doubt and adjust accordingly. Never overwater.

Gooseberry hates wet roots. It can also lead to fungal problems since the roots are right at the soil surface.

Use a high-quality mulch to help keep the water retained plus reduce watering.

Don’t let it dry out between watering sessions.

Humidity

Humidity should be kept relatively low because of the cool, shady nature of gooseberries.

Excess water is not a good thing.

You may end up giving your plant fungus or mold if you keep it humid. Prune to reduce humidity and increase the evaporation rate.

Temperature

Gooseberry grows in a wide range between -30F to 85F. You don’t need to worry about this if you’re in the right zone.

Mulching

Mulching has multiple benefits and there’s no reason to. You preserve water, prevent bugs, stop weeds, and help insulate the temperature swings.

Use a few inches of straw, bark chips, or compost to mulch your gooseberry. If you’re in a hot region, use less. If you’re in a colder region, use more.

A good layer of mulch can help stop the wild swings in the winter and your roots from becoming damaged. Since the roots are so shallow, the layer of mulch helps.

Plant food

Gooseberry will need some fertilizer to grow and produce those bountiful harvests. Unlike other berry plants, they’re heavy feeders.

Use a balanced fertilizer in the spring to help give them enough food for the season. Be careful of overfertilizing, as this can lead to powdery mildew, root rot, or fungus problems.

A blanched plant food (NPK 10-10-10 or 5-5-5) is good enough. Use as directed.

Pruning

Prune your gooseberry with a sterilized pair of pruners (use rubbing alcohol) regularly. This will encourage it to grow and produce more harvest. It may seem counterintuitive, but it helps.

During the first year, there’s no need to prune much. This is because you need to let it grow and develop its branches. Cut back about 3 leaves from the base in July or August.

Keep the center of the bush exposed to prevent plant fungus.

Next season, prune regularly. When the branches reach their second season of growth, they produce a lot of fruit. The second and third seasons will be very productive if you give it the TLC it needs. Prune off any damaged, wilted, or yellowing foliage.

Cut at the base of the plant. Any branches that have become weak or spotted with pests or fungus should be removed immediately.

When you prune, be sure to wear some kind of protective gear because the thorns are sharp!

Use proper garden gloves, clothing, and thick shoes. The thorns will rip through thin clothing. You’ve been warned. Exercise common sense and caution!

Prune in the late winter before winter is here.

What to prune

Prune the old canes. Gooseberry is most productive during the second year of growth, so any older branches should be removed- typically around 4-5 years.

When you start seeing that a specific cane doesn’t produce the gooseberries it did last season, prune it. Remove canes that are broken, wilted, or have pests. If two or more canes brush up against each other, remove the weakest canes.

A single gooseberry should have 10-12 canes total. All other canes sap energy from the plant. Keep only the best canes.

Some should be newer shoots and others are older so then you have a good combo of canes growing at different times.

In the second season, cut off the weakest canes. Only keep about a half dozen or so. In the third season, keep about 12 total and keep it like that going forward.

You can recycle the cans by cutting the oldest and letting the youngest grow. You should be pruning twice a year to keep it in shape.

Trellising

Gooseberries are excellent climbers and will climb the walls of your house, trellis, or fence. This allows you to use it to cover up ugly fencing, or as a privacy hedge from your neighbors.

The thorns that grow out of it also give it that double-up defense from wildlife that may be getting into your garden. Trellising can also help prevent water from pooling, which can reduce pest activity.

You can stake up trellises around the garden and position the gooseberry right below it. It’ll magically learn to climb it when it attaches to it. Once it does, it’s hard to remove. So plan.

Wind

Because they’re so darn tall, they can get toppled by high winds. You’ll want to stake or trellis them if you’re in a windy area. Plant strategically. Shelter them from the wind and they’ll be good to go.

Staking

Oh boy, do gooseberries grow quite tall. This is why people put them on trellises- they have something to climb so they don’t topple over and destroy themselves.

While staking isn’t needed, it’s highly advisable if you’re not growing them on some tall vertical service like a fence, wall, or trellis.

Remember that gooseberries can grow up to 5 feet. In areas with drafts or winds, it can get uprooted so you may want to use stakes to hold it in place.

Harvesting

Weird green gooseberry.
Looks like a pumpkin.

Harvesting it is the fun part. While you won’t get any fruits in the first season, you should have plenty of them in the second year.

A single gooseberry plant can provide up to 12 cups of berries each season. That’s plenty to munch down on all year. Get your favorite pair of garden gloves on, because we’re going harvesting!

First, put on your gear. Get a sterilized pair of pruners and find the ripe berries. Don’t cut out the unripe ones because they’re very sour.

You can tell if they’re ripe by looking for these characteristics:

  • Large, globular berries
  • Red, pink, or maroon shades
  • Plumb and firm
  • Thick skin
  • Ripening for at least 5-6 weeks
  • Birds or animals eating them

Because different types of cultivars will have different colors, they can be tricky to tell when they’re ready to pick. Don’t eat the leaves. Don’t taste test.

These fruits take some time to fully ripen and they don’t all grow at the same time. So you need to go out repeatedly to harvest them at peak flavor.

Don’t let them overripe either. If you picked some that are unripe by accident, you can use them to make sauces or jams.

Berries often burst when you try to pluck them by hand, so you should use pruners if possible and pick them by the bunch. They’ll splatter too, so wear something you don’t care about getting berry juice on.

Watch out for the thorns!

Storing

You should use your berries right after you cut them off for freshness. If you need to save them for future use, put them in a container in the fridge for 1 week.

They will crush the muscles under their weight, so you should lay them out flat if possible. Cut off any stems and dry them off before storage. You can also use the extra for pastes, jams, etc.

Overwintering

You don’t need to do anything with gooseberries for the winter if you’re in the right hardiness zone. If you’re in a lower zone, you can put some mulch to insulate the roots.

Otherwise, just let it wilt and drop the foliage for the winter and let it grow back on its own. If you want to take divisions, do it in the fall before the winter comes.

Gooseberry typically doesn’t need any special care for the winter.

Pests

Gooseberry is a favorite fruit among many different bugs you’ll find in the garden.

Sadly, probably because of its delicious nature, bugs like to munch on the fruit whether it’s ripe or not.

Some of the most common bugs you’ll encounter are aphids, currant worms, stem girdlers, gooseberry fruitworm, fruit flies, four-lined plant bugs, sawflies, or currant borers.

Each pest will need its management technique. Some things you can do from the start are not overwatering, harvesting on time, and not overdoing the fertilizer.

Diseases

Common diseases found on gooseberries are the typical bunch- powdery mildew, leaf spot, and currant mosaic virus.

Botrytis, blight, cane blight, and scale are also common. The root cause of many of these is simply too much water.

Water only the base of the plant and ensure good drainage to allow evaporation. If you see powder or spots on the leaves, it’s likely a fungal issue and needs to be pruned.

Gooseberry companion plants

Some of the best plants to grow with gooseberries are yarrow, beans, tomatoes, tansy, chives, strawberries, oregano, kiwi, mint, chamomile, marigold, and grapes.

Experiment to see what grows in your yard.

Some plants will help attract beneficial pollinators or repel insects and can do well without stunting the growth of either plant.

Don’t plant something in the same genus or they might compete for resources!

What can you do with it?

Gooseberries are grown as an edible fruit that can be used in a variety of dishes.

Some of the most popular recipes that call for gooseberries are gooseberry crumble, gooseberry jam, gooseberry fool, gin, custard pies, or even gooseberry ice cream!

You can also use it to flavor vodka, make a variety of tarts, or just let it grow as a decorative plant.

Growing gooseberries in pots

Gooseberries do well in pots if the size is sufficient. They need a pot that’s at least 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep. They grow both tall and wide, so they appreciate the space.

The bigger the pot you provide, the less chance of having to upgrade later on. The care is the same, other than using a very well-draining soil and not overwatering or feeding.

When you feed in a pot, the buildup is exponential. So don’t overdo it. The soil should durian well also because it can clog at the bottom drainage holes in its crappy soil.

So use a good one or put a layer of rocks to prevent clumping.

Other questions about gooseberry care

Here are some other commonly asked questions about caring for gooseberries. You may find these tips and tricks helpful to maximize your yield.

Where do gooseberries grow best?

Gooseberry grows in fertile, rich, well-draining soil.

Choose a cool, shady spot in your garden that’s free from winds, heat, drafts, etc. It does scorch easily, so make sure you plant it out of direct sunlight during those hot summers.

How long does it take for gooseberries to fruit?

Gooseberry will fruit in its second year of growth. During the first year, you should expect nothing. When properly cared for, the fruit will come during the next season.

Even during the second season, it’s usually a partial fruit. You can expect full fruiting in the third season of growing gooseberries.

Are gooseberries poisonous to dogs?

Gooseberries aren’t well documented enough to determine if they’re safe for canines.

Because of this, you won’t get a solid answer. Consult your VET for specific advice. Do NOT take advice from random internet blog posts (including this one)!

Some say they’re OK, others say they’re not. It’s not worth the risk.

However, they ARE TOXIC to birds, chicken, geese, and other wildlife. Because of this, you should avoid feeding gooseberries to ANY animals- dogs included.

To keep it simple, you should avoid feeding your dog gooseberries because of the high sugar content and low protein content. There’s no reason to force your canine friend to eat it.

Why is my gooseberry bush not fruit?

If your gooseberry doesn’t fruit, it may be because the canes are too old. Keep the canes trimmed and let new ones grow.

Gooseberry will continue to fruit for years if kept properly. If your plant fruited before but suddenly stopped, check the canes.

Check for pests or mildew.

Also, check the soil’s nutrient profile. It may be running low on nitrogen or potassium if it’s been in the same soil for a long time. It could use some amending to replenish it.

Can you take cuttings from a gooseberry bush?

Yes, you can use cuttings from established gooseberry bushes. They can be used to propagate new plants. See the section in this guide above for more details.

Do gooseberries fruit on old wood?

Older canes should be trimmed off so that you’re left with canes that range from 1-4 years old. Keep about a dozen canes at any given time of varying sizes to continue to produce berries.

Where to buy gooseberry

Gooseberry can be purchased in states where it’s legal. Do some research first and see if you can grow it in your area. You can also buy packets of seeds if you want to start from seed.

When are gooseberries in season?

Gooseberries are in season during the peak summertime.

While each berry becomes ripe at different times, you’ll find that your gooseberry produces the most yield during the summer, especially after their first year.

These currants produce their fruit in the second year, and you can increase it by trimming the older canes off.

Further reading/references

Enjoy your gooseberry!

Light green gooseberries.
Light green gooseberries.

Gooseberry doesn’t deserve the bad rep it comes with just because it’s a “forbidden” fruit.

If you’re looking for an exciting new berry (and it’s legal in your jurisdiction), then gooseberry makes an excellent choice. It’s easy to grow for beginners. It requires little care.

And it can be used in a variety of ways just like regular berries. Eat them raw, make sauces, jams, or even pickled gooseberries!

What do you think? Do you have any tips to share with other readers? Post them below and let me know.

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