Gooseberries produce their fruit on short spurs that develop on 2- and 3-year-old wood, as well as at the base of 1-year-old lateral shoots. After the fourth year, the canes become less productive, so they should be removed to encourage the plant to focus its energy on fruit production. Because gooseberries need good air circulation and sun penetration throughout the branches, pruning also has beneficial effects on the overall health of the bush. Pruning should take place in late winter or early spring while the plants are still dormant.
Trim the top growth back to 6 to 10 inches above the ground just before planting a gooseberry bush. Let the plant grow freely during the first year, pruning only damaged shoots.
Select six to eight healthy shoots for future fruit production at the end of the winter following the first year's growth. Use garden pruners to cut the rest of the shoots to the ground. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the thorns.
Remove weak or damaged wood after the second and third year's growth, but leave the remainder of the older branches. Select four to five new canes to retain and prune the rest of them. By the end of the third year, the bush should include a combination of canes that are 1, 2 and 3 years old.
Prune drooping branches that are in contact with the ground late in the winter after the fourth year. Trim any canes that may shade the centre of the bush. Cut away weak and damaged wood and remove the 4-year-old branches.
Maintain established gooseberry bushes by removing the oldest wood and any damaged or drooping branches each year. Thin out new growth to improve air flow and allow the sun to penetrate. Nine to 12 canes should remain after pruning.
Ratchet-cut pruners make pruning gooseberries easier by decreasing the pressure required to cut the canes.
Thoroughly clean up any debris after pruning to avoid transmitting diseases or creating a habitat for insect pests.