What’s Eaten the Leaves on Your Gooseberry Bush – Gooseberry Sawfly

What’s Eaten the Leaves on Your Gooseberry Bush – Gooseberry Sawfly

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Gooseberry farming was made popular in 19th century Britain, but the plant is still indigenous to many parts of Europe and Western Asia. It is cultivated for various uses, both domestic and commercial purposes. The berries are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked as an ingredient in desserts. They are also used to flavor beverages such as soda, flavored water, and fruit wine.

The gooseberry fruit can be preserved in the form of jam, dried fruit, and as an ingredient in pickling, and can be stored in sugar syrup. The gooseberry plant like any other is also susceptible to pests and diseases like other plants in the wild and on farms.

The most common pest that feeds on the leaves of the gooseberries is the dreaded gooseberry sawfly and their larvae which look like caterpillars, do extensive damage leaving only the skeleton veins of the leaves and they can totally strip a gooseberry of all its leaves.

So what’s eating your Gooseberry leaves?

There are about 500 species of sawfly in Britain. Adult gooseberry sawfly come in a range of colors; many are black, green orange, or striped yellow and black. The gooseberry sawfly refers to three species sawfly that feed on gooseberry leaves, including the gooseberry sawfly (Nematus ribesii), the pale-spotted gooseberry sawfly (Nematus leucotrochus) and the small gooseberry sawfly (Pristiphora appendiculata).

The sawfly menace

Adult Sawfly which lay there eggs and the larvae can cause significant damage to gooseberries and currents
Adult sawfly that lay their eggs that hatch larvae like caterpillars

The gooseberry sawfly can have up to four generations of larvae from late April to June, and from July all through to September. The females lay eggs on the underside of the leaves in the center of the bush so that the larvae grow hidden well even after they start eating their way upwards and outwards. This vigorous defoliation of the gooseberry bushes doesn’t kill the plant right away but weakens it and affects productivity in the following year. I have seen hundreds of gooseberries be demolished at the same time in nurseries within a week or two.

Do you find your leaves are curling but no sign of gooseberry sawfly larvae, check out my other guide on why my gooseberry leaves might be curling

Sawfly larvae that eat the leaves leaving nothing but a skeleton
Sawfly larvae that eat the leaves leaving nothing but a skeleton

After being fed, the larvae go into the soil, where they spin silk cocoons and pupate. However, the sawfly species do have some distinct characteristics in regard to how they pupate. The pale-spotted gooseberry sawfly only has one generation a year with larvae present in May and June, and the small gooseberry sawfly has up to four generations a year with larvae present from late April.

How do you stop the sawfly?

There are several measures for controlling a gooseberry sawfly outbreak, including pesticide and non-pesticide control measures. The control measures involve checking the plants throughout the season so as early detection and action can be taken before the infestation grows.

The eggs are often laid low down in the center of the bush, so it’s easy to miss the larvae until lots of damage has been done. Choosing the right control measure is important so as not to harm the plants and animals around the plant.

Non-pesticide control measure

The most recommended measure is physical checks underneath the leaves and in the center of the gooseberry bush and manually removing the larvae which look like caterpillars before they can do any serious damage to the crop.

If this measure is still not enough, then you can opt for pesticides, just make sure its a fruit friendly pesticide. Also, encourage predators and other natural enemies of the sawfly such as birds and beetles to inhabit the area.

A biological control measure may also be used in form of fruit and vegetable protection; this can be administered by watering it directly into the plants. This nematode should be applied during cool damp weather.

Pesticide control

The use of pesticides is recommended for fruits and vegetables or pyrethrum-based pesticides to control the infestation when manual removal of larvae is impossible. Short-term or shorter persistence pesticides are less likely to cause damage to the wildlife than longer persistence pesticides. Look for organic insecticides that contain natural pyrethrum and are approved for fruits and vegetables. Short persistence products may be necessary to give good results.

Want to get the most out of your crop? Check out this guide on when and how to pick gooseberries, spoiler alert, you should be removing some of the small gooseberries early on.


Remember, it is better to deter pests than combat them, so keep an eye on your plants in early spring or early spring when the sawfly usually starts attacking gooseberry plants. Be sure to follow the labelled instructions written on insecticides and pesticides, as well as follow the regulations provided on the levels and the number of applications required for best results. Crops in the flowering stage should not be sprayed due to the danger paused on pollinating insects such as bees. That said, now you know what’s troubling your gooseberries and how to deal with them.

Ever tried growing gooseberries in pots? read my guide here to get the most out of them

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