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Saturday - January 16, 2010

From: Enoch, UT
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Pollinators, Propagation, Transplants, Vines
Title: Blossoms but no fruit for gooseberries in Enoch UT
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My gooseberries always get loads of blossoms, but I never get fruit. I think they need more sun, and thus, want to transplant them to a sunnier location. What (and when) is the best way to do this?

ANSWER:

There are 11 gooseberries (or currants) native to North America, of which 2 are native to Utah, Ribes leptanthum (trumpet gooseberry) and Ribes oxyacanthoides (Canadian gooseberry). Of these, only Ribes leptanthum (trumpet gooseberry) is seen as native to Iron County in this USDA Plant Profile.  That may not be exactly the species you have, but good enough to use as an example.  All members of the Ribes species are considered sunny woodland edge plants, tolerating some light shade but preferring sun. They generally begin fruiting after about 3 years in the ground.

We're wondering if possibly the problem could be in pollination. Apparently, these plants are pollinated by insects, more specifically, bees.  Since they tend to grow more in higher elevations, that may cut down the amount of time the bees have on a daily basis to do the pollination, because they are more active in warmer weather.  The flowers of the gooseberry are hermaphrodites, meaning there are both male and female organs on each flowers. There is some self-pollination, but the fruit of self-pollination drops easily at the time of ripening, which could mean the fruit was falling off before it became mature. Have you observed small immature fruits on the ground beneath your gooseberries? 

The plants obviously get a higher level of fruiting when the pollinators are present; however, there are some problems with that. One problem is if the gooseberries are not located in an area with an abundance of flowering plants, the bees may not be attracted to the area. Another problem is the increasing shortage of bees in the environment. Many factors have contributed to this shortage, and it is still something of a mystery, but loss of habitat and spraying of pesticides are two of the most likely suspects.  Have you observed bees working in the area of your gooseberry bushes during the flowering period of from April to June? One other consideration is theft by birds and small animals, all of which find the fruits of this plant very attractive. If you are not where you can observe your plants during different parts of the day, that could be what is happening.

In terms of when to plant, early Spring, before it begins to get warm, is the best time. We think this article from USA Gardener How to Grow Gooseberries covers the whole area very well. 

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Trumpet gooseberry
Ribes leptanthum

Trumpet gooseberry
Ribes leptanthum

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