How to Grow Gooseberries: The Complete Guide

Gooseberries on a Branch
Photo Credit
G. Tatiana/SS
Botanical Name
Ribes spp.
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Hardiness Zone

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Gooseberries

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Discover how to grow gooseberries! From planting your first gooseberry bush to harvesting the sweet berries, we’ll cover all your growing information. This is also an easy, reliable, prolific fruit bush that’s the ideal choice for anyone new to growing fruit.

About Gooseberries

A tasty treat that is hard to find in stores, gooseberries are a reward reserved for gardeners. Most major seed companies carry gooseberry plants. They’re often sold as bare-root plants but also as potted plants.

Gooseberries are very popular in England and Europe, but they were banned at the turn of the century in North America because they (and currants) could host white pine blister rust. However, the bans are now lifted for all but several states, plus there are disease-resistant gooseberry varieties. We’re happy to see these sweet-tart berries are making a comeback. 

Gooseberries are members of the genus Ribes (family Grossulariaceae), cultivated for their edible berries and as ornamental shrubs. They tend to be a little smaller than a grape, and their color can range from pale green to yellow to red. Their taste is a mix of blueberry, kiwi, and grape).  

The varieties are usually described as either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked into jellies, pies, cobblers, and other desserts with sugar. Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush but are great for cooking too. 

Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils, are easy to prune, and are very high-yielding. They are self-pollinating, so you can only need one to produce fruit. Each gooseberry bush produces about 10 pounds of fruit per year. 

Gooseberries are also a prolific choice for northern gardeners who can’t grow those juicy warm-weather fruits. Most varieties are cold hardy down to USDA zone 3, and some survive in zone 2. If you’ve always wanted fruit trees and not bushes, many train well as “standards,” which is nursery speak for a bush that is trained into tree form with a single stem, like a rose tree.

Here’s another benefit! Gooseberries are considered a “superfruit” as the berries are high in nutrients and low in calories. This fruit is also high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C, and antioxidant-rich.

Gooseberries come in green varieties or you can grow sweeter red varieties. Credit: Edvard Ellric


Gooseberries aren’t fussy, but they’ll grow and yield best in a sunny position in rich, well-drained soil. The plant will naturally grow into vigorous bushes, but they may also be trained as standards on a long single trunk, or against a fence as fans or single-stemmed cordons. They can be successfully grown in containers, too.

When To Plant Gooseberries

Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberries from late fall to early spring, any time the ground isn’t frozen solid. Southern gardeners should do fall planting, allowing the plant to establish itself without worrying about hot summer weather stressing the plants. 

If you buy bare-root plants, they can and should be planted as soon as possible after receiving them. Dormant gooseberries (no leaves yet) can be planted in spring as soon as the soil can be worked.

How To Plant Gooseberries

Both will grow well, but bare-root plants may be significantly less expensive. They often grow better in the first year than potted plants. 

For bare-root plants, soak the roots in a bucket of water for 12 hours or so before planting–don’t let them dry out. I keep them in the bucket and take them to the planting site.

  • Dig a generous planting hole twice as wide as the root ball and about as deep. If planting bare-root shrubs, you’ll likely be able to see the old soil line on the trunk as a discoloration. The hole should look like a shallow bowl with sloping sides, not a coffee cup.
  • Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole. Either dig and refill it or use a garden fork to work it. Mix well-rotted compost or manure with the excavated soil. 
  • Try to avoid having a hard surface at the edge of the hole, which can be challenging for new roots to penetrate.
  • Lightly water the soil in the hole before planting.
  • Cut any circling or girdling roots. Use a garden trowel or soil knife to loosen up rootbound plants by scoring the edges of the rootball (container plants only).
  • Test fit the shrub in the hole and adjust the depth as necessary. Match the old soil level or soil line on the stem with your new ground level. 
  • Plant the shrub, spreading the roots out evenly. Don’t leave them in a cluster or clump. 
  • Backfill the hole with the soil you removed. Pause part way and water well, then continue adding soil. Firm the soil around the roots to avoid air pockets. Make sure to keep the shrub upright and not tilted to one side.
  • Form a slight lip of soil, about a foot in diameter, around the plant to hold water from running away, then water again. 
  • Mulch underneath to keep weeds down and keep the soil moist. Apply a 2-3 inch thick layer, but don’t allow the mulch to contact the trunk(s). Keep it a finger width or two clear.
Credit: Iryna80


Keep your gooseberry bushes well-watered while they’re young or if they’re growing in containers. Established gooseberry bushes need very little watering, unless your climate is hot and dry.

At the end of each winter use a balanced organic fertilizer. Otherwise, do not fertilize. These bushes are scrappy, and too much fertilizer can cause problems. 

Remove any weeds around the root area before topping up with a thick layer of organic matter such as garden compost or bark chippings.

Spread the mulch 4 to 6 inches thick around the bush and out to the drip line. Don’t pile mulch up against the shrub’s base.

Prevent birds from stealing your gooseberries by covering bushes with netting (or, grow them inside a purpose-made fruit cage).

Pruning Gooseberry Shrubs

With gooseberries, an annual pruning is recommended to keep the shrub neat and accessible, but it won’t need much else once established. 

Prune in late winter while the plants are still dormant. 

  • Remove any dead or broken branches first.  
  • Next, prune to open the center, removing twisted or competing branches.  
  • Suckers coming from the base can also be pruned.  
  • Finally, trim back last year’s growth by about half. Locate your cuts immediately above a bud.

Video Demo: How to Grow Gooseberries


Be patient: First berries start ripening in the early summer of the plant’s second year; expect full fruit 3 to 5 years later.

  • We harvest in mid-summer, though it depends on your climate. The easiest way to determine if gooseberries are ripe is to gently squeeze them. The fruits are soft, so handle them gently and wear thick gloves if your bush is of a thorny variety.
  • To get the hang of it, start when they are still immature. The fruits will feel quite firm. As they ripen, they’ll feel softer, more like a grape. Varieties other than green will also start to change color. 
  • Note: Not all gooseberries on a bush will be ripe simultaneously–the window usually lasts several weeks. Harvest dessert or dual-purpose varieties in stages.  
  • For fresh eating–picking at the peak of ripeness–the gooseberries will separate easily from the stems. If you have to tug at it, leave it another day or two. 
  • The under-ripe fruits are ideal for cooking, and riper fruits will be sweeter and larger. 
  • Store freshly-picked gooseberries in the refrigerator; they should last about a week though best eaten right away like raspberries!
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Wit and Wisdom

  • Gooseberry bushes are spiny and, without pruning, will likely become an impenetrable thicket. Keep up with annual pruning to make fruit harvest easier.
  • Gooseberries are thorny or spiky bushes, which is one way to tell them apart from currants. Some newer varieties are nearly thornless if you’d like a little less challenge at harvest time.


Birds can cause problems by stealing your harvest. Bird netting is an inexpensive way to protect your fruits if needed. 

Cooking Notes

  • Underripe fruit is ideal for cooking; mature berries are sweeter and larger.
  • If making preserves, harvest gooseberries before they are completely ripe–the natural pectin levels will be higher.  
  • Gooseberries make excellent wine.
About The Author

Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a flower farmer and master gardener with a passion for soil health, small producers, forestry, and horticulture. Read More from Andy Wilcox