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18 October 2013

Gooseberry Growing

Gooseberries are a real treat and come in a range of varieties, from small yellow ones to large red ones. Growing more than one variety will lengthen your picking period.

Late autumn to early spring is the ideal time for planting bare-rooted gooseberries, though you can plant container-grown ones at any time. They like a sunny, sheltered site and can be grown as cordons against a wall or fence to save space in a small garden. Bushes should be planted at least 4ft apart and cordons 12 - 18ins.

After preparing your planting location by digging in rotted manure or compost and adding some general purpose fertiliser, spread the roots of a bare-rooted plant in the hole and cover with well-conditioned soil, making sure that the soil around the roots is firmed down.

If you have chosen a container-grown bush, the surface of the rootball compost when planted should be level with the surrounding ground.

Plants should be kept well watered while they get established, and a mulch of compost or bark will help with moisture retention. Once established gooseberries seldom need watering but in very dry periods water them every 14 days. Keep an eye on container-grown plants in dry conditions as they may need more frequent watering.

You will need to net your plants during June and July or the birds will get them before you.

Pruning is important if you want to get the most out of your plants so in the first year you should follow the following procedure:-

Bush plants: In early spring of the first year after planting, choose five main stems and cut them back to a length of 6-8in, then remove all other stems from the base.

Cordons: when planting, prune back the tip by a quarter, cutting to just above a bud. Cut back all young side shoots to one or two buds and remove any sideshoots that are 6in or less from the ground, plus any suckers.

Bush plants: In the second year and thereafter, in mid-June to July, reduce the current seasonís growth back to five leaves, except for any branches needed to extend the main framework. As fruit develops mainly on the older wood, this shouldn't remove any of your crop.

In winter, remove dead wood and low-lying shoots, then spur prune all side shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward facing bud.

Cordons: In the second year and thereafter, from early June to mid-July, reduce all young side shoots to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane. After the leaves have fallen, in late autumn or winter, reduce the same side shoots to one or two buds and cut back the tip by one-third.

When the cordon reaches the top of the supports, reduce the tip to five leaves from last yearís growth in the summer, and then to one to three buds from last yearís growth in winter.

Winter pruning makes picking easier as it keeps the centre of the bush open, and also reduces the risk of mildew disease by improving air circulation.

You can start picking gooseberries during late May or early June, removing roughly half the crop. These early fruits are best used for cooking. This gives the remaining fruits more room to grow and extends the cropping season.

Harvest the rest of your crop in July, when they should be ripe and sweet.

As well as birds attacking your gooseberries, there is the risk of mildew, so try to buy varieties that have some mildew resistance. Also be on the lookout for gooseberry sawfly from late spring onwards. Check leaves regularly for caterpillar damage and control either by hand or by regular spraying with an insecticide.

Some recommended varieties to grow are Greenfinch and Invicta AGM which are both green varieties, Leveller AGM and Yellow Champagne which are yellow varieties, and Whinhams Industry AGM and Lancashire Lad which produce red fruit. AGM means that the plant has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. You may need to obtain these varieties from a specialist supplier.

As you might expect, there are lots of gooseberry recipes on the internet, so get the satisfaction of making some of the dishes using your own fruit.
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