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Gooseberries are some of the hassle-free fruiting shrubs to have in your garden. You can grow them in gardens, big or small, in allotment patches as well as in containers which is one of my favourite ways to grow them. The issue for many people, however, is in regards to pruning these plants and that’s largely because of their thorny nature but also because they need to be pruned every year and correctly to get the most fruit.
If you want your gooseberries to flourish without becoming tangled and free of diseases, then you will have to cut them back every year to maintain an open goblin shape with new growth that is 2 to 3 years old as this is what the fruit best on. They don’t fruit on new growth and will produce poor yield on growth older than 3 years.
Pruning also keeps the plant at a decent size for easy harvesting of fruits. As to when and how to do it, read on to find out.
When to prune gooseberries
The short answer is during the winter when gooseberries are dormant, typically this is when i do it myself. However, sometimes gardeners struggle to find outward facing buds for cutting back till they have emerged. With this in mind, you can also prune gooseberries in early spring, usually around March when the plants are just beginning to bud. At this time, it’s easy to identify which way the fresh growth is facing as well as see dead or diseased wood that needs removing at the same time.
How to Prune Gooseberries
You will need a sharp clean pair of secateurs, thick gardening gloves as gooseberries are very thorny plus a bucket or wheelbarrow to collect the cuttings as you prune.
One thing to keep in mind is the eventual shape you want the plants to be in. Typically, you should aim for what gardeners often call an open goblet shape though there are other ways to train gooseberries such as against a wall or even cordons but this is something I don’t do myself.
Remember what you aiming for is an even goblin shaped bush with a permanent framework and growth that is 2 to 3 years old. This means we essentially want to keep pruning every year to main a shrub made up of mature branches that are 2-3 years old.
Take a keen look at the gooseberry bush and find any dead wood, damaged branches or diseased branches, and even crossing. Remove any branches that are 4 years or older. That’s because, at this age, the branches don’t produce good fruit in both quantity and flavor. The best fruit is produced by 2 and 3 year old branches as already mentioned.
No branch of your gooseberry bush should be more than 4 years old except for the main framework and you can maintain this by annual pruning. Just so you know, old branches are darker in colour and usually have peeling bark. Identify any large branches that are crowding at the center of the gooseberry bush and remove them.
Cut any dead or damaged wood back to the next set of healthy growth. If plants are crossing, cut them down to the main stem. Also, remove diseased wood from the bush completely. When cutting a small branch, cut it at the joint where it meets its parent branch. Deadwood is easy to see since it will be fragile and will have no buds. On the other hand, damaged wood usually happens when two branches are rubbing and the signs include rough bark.
Cut out any branches growing into the middle of the gooseberry bush. The ideal bush should be a goblet shape, therefore, no branches growing into the centre and blocking out sunlight. Another benefit of this open shape is that it allows good ventilation which in turn lessens the chances of mildew which is common on gooseberries as well as makes the bush easy to harvest.
Prune any upright shoots growing out of the soil from around the main stem. Cut them back to the point where they pop out of the soil, these are suckers and need removing. Look for branches that are growing on top of other branches and remove the lower ones, the reason being higher fruits will be easier to pick than lower ones. However, retain the younger one. You want every branch to get good exposure to sunlight to produce the best fruit.
The aim is to achieve an ‘open goblet’ shape for the bush. This means you should be left with around 7 main stems equally spaced with an open centre. With this shape, both light and air will get to each part of the bush equally for a healthy and productive gooseberry plant.
How often should you prune gooseberries?
Prune your gooseberries once a year using the guide above. This means taking out old branches, dead wood and diseased wood each year to keep your plants productive. This will also create a cycle of fresh growth to replace old growth. However, if you notice damage to your bush during the year, cut back the damaged branches immediately, otherwise, they can cause poor plant health or lead to infection.