Note Number: AG 00098
Published: January 2000
Updated: December 2011
Reviewed: July 2013
Gooseberries belong to the species Ribes grossularia L., and are native to Europe east to the Caucasus and south to North Africa. Recent breeding work has utilised several North American wild species as donors of disease resistance.
Gooseberries were extensively grown in southern Victoria and Tasmania last century, but have failed to maintain popularity or demand. Most varieties available in Australia today originated in northern England, where "Gooseberry clubs" were organised before 1900, and gardeners vied to produce the largest fruit. Limited markets exist for small quantities of fruit.
The gooseberry is a woody bush, reaching from 1-1.5 m tall and about the same width. It is characterised by nodal spines up to 15 mm long. Flowers are small, single, yellow green or slightly pink. Fruit are borne on one-year old wood. Fruit are green at full size, and ripen to either red or a translucent yellow-green, depending on variety.
Site and soil
The gooseberry requires winter chilling to facilitate flower bud development and growth, and good yields can only be achieved in cold districts. The fruit and leaves can suffer sun-scorch. In Europe, gooseberries are often inter-planted in plum orchards, to take advantage of partial shade. Similar results can be achieved by providing afternoon shade by wind breaks.
The site must not be exposed to wind, or yield will be reduced, and fruit abraded on branches by wind-rub. Soils must not water-log nor dry out. An optimum pH of 6 - 6.5 should be established before planting. The shallow and fibrous root system does not encourage deep working once plants are established.
Propagation is by rooted cuttings or layering of low branches. When dug, the plants should be pruned to leave one third of the wood, ensuring that stronger and well angled branches remain to form an open frame-work. Plantations should be established from nursery stock rather than attempting to establish cuttings in situ, as the strike rate is seldom above 70%. Plants are established at 1.2 - 1.5 m spacing within rows. Mulching is essential, and may be either organic matter or black plastic, as polyethylene film or woven fabric. Pre-plant weed control is essential, as gooseberries are difficult to weed, and cannot cope with any competition. Row spacing should be as close as machinery will allow.
Gooseberries grow slowly to become multi-stemmed shrubs. The aims of pruning are to keep the centre of the plant open, to remove branches which arch to the ground, and to maintain a vase-shaped framework from which fruiting wood can develop. When plants are six years old a program of rejuvenation should begin, whereby old, weak or broken framework branches are gradually removed and replaced with new framework.
Pruning is a slow process worsened by the presence of spines which can inflict painful injury, and detract considerably from the appeal of the species. Overseas growers have experimented with miniature Tatura trellis structures for commercial production, as pruning and harvesting are both expedited by the open structure thus created.
Where plants are to be trained to any form of framework, initial pruning must aim to produce a single stem bearing a framework, like a miniature fruit tree rather than a multi-stemmed shrub. Gooseberries are very amenable to pruning and training to a variety of shapes, and gardeners often produce standards (on long stems) and espaliers on wooden frameworks.
Gooseberries require approximately equal proportions of NPK, either as organic manure or as NPK fertiliser. As a guide, a mature plant can utilise 300 g of NPK - 8:11:10 per annum, applied at bud burst.
The gooseberry plant tends to form a hemisphere, which impedes access to the soil under the plant. The root system is shallow and dense, which makes both soil cultivation under the plants and the use of herbicides, difficult or dangerous. For both these reasons, weed control prior to planting is imperative, and mulching is to be encouraged. Gooseberries do not cope well with weed competition, and yield is diminished by the presence of weeds.
The following notes are based on observations of the gooseberry variety collection planted at ex DEPI Toolangi campus during the 1990's. Only high-yielding varieties are noted.
- Green Giant: large, yellow-green fruit. Green Giant is most suited to production of green fruit, but is also acceptable as a dessert variety.
- Roaring Lion: small, red fruit.
- Farmers' Glory: medium sized, red, later than Roaring Lion; largest available red-fruited form. Most recommended for home gardens due to good yields.
- Yorkshire Champion: medium sized, green-yellow fruit.
- Captivator was introduced to Australia due to its thornless habit. Unfortunately its yield is unacceptably low.
At present (2011), there are no specialist suppliers of nursery stock for the commercial gooseberry industry.
Pests and diseases
The gooseberry varieties available now are all susceptible to American Gooseberry mildew, caused by the fungal organism Sphaerotheca mors-uvae, which can destroy entire crops and seriously debilitate plants. Symptoms occur firstly on new foliage in spring. Initially, emerging leaves appear a lime-green rather than the normal deep green colour. Affected leaves fail to fully expand, and develop a white powdered appearance. Fruit set can be seriously diminished by American Gooseberry mildew, and those fruit which do set often fail to reach a good size, have thick skin and a powdered appearance from the presence of mildew. Wet weather at any time after leaf-out predisposes plants to attack. Control is usually only possible by spraying. Consult your local farm chemical supplier for the names of fungicides registered for use on European gooseberries.
Gooseberries are not normally attacked by any other pest or disease.
A small and specialised market exists for gooseberries. A few are exported to Europe in the fortnight prior to Christmas, but at other times the prices received do not encourage fresh exports. Local markets take green, yellow and red gooseberries in raspberry or strawberry punnets, but in small quantities. Prospective growers should research markets, and the markets' specific requirements, prior to embarking on commercial production. Gooseberries are used in fruit pies and pastries, desserts, jams and chutneys.
This Agriculture note was developed by Graeme McGregor, FFSR .in January 2000.
It was reviewed by Mark Hincksman and Neville Fernando of Farm Services Victoria in December 2011.