Unlike most other small fruits, gooseberries bear fruit on first-year wood as well as on spurs of older wood. They tend to overbear and are susceptible to mildew — two problems pruning can help control.
Gooseberries start producing the second season after planting but maximum harvest begins the fourth season if the shrub is pruned properly. After planting, cut out all but six shoots to form an open, vase-shaped plant. Remove any stems that touch the ground, both now and later in the season. This maximizes air circulation and sunlight penetration and discourages mildew.
During the third and fourth dormant seasons, remove the weakest old wood to encourage new, more productive branches. After the fourth year cut out all three-year-old wood entirely because it will no longer bear fruit. Thin some first- and second-year canes as well.
If this pruning does not stimulate growth of renewal shoots, head third-year wood to stubs 4 to 6 inches long. Limit the resulting new growth to about six canes.
Pruning Currants and Elderberries
Naturally full and shrubby plants, currants fruit best if plants are pruned to six to eight stems. Although they will produce on older wood, currants bear fruit best on two- and three-year-old stems. Start pruning currants during the second season by removing dead, small, and broken branches. The following years thin three- and four-year-old wood during the dormant season.
Elderberries grow in much the same fashion as currants except they spread considerably more. Limit new shoots to a circle 2 feet wide around the original plant.