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Gooseberry Sawfly Beware

Background- gooseberry bush eaten by sawfly caterpillars

Background- gooseberry bush eaten by sawfly caterpillars

When I was at school and hadn’t revised properly for an exam, I put the main course text book under my pillow hoping that magically the information would be transmitted into my brain as I slept.

This guaranteed a restless night, especially if the tome was large. I’d usually wake feeling tired and stressed. Perhaps it was the adrenalin and desperation that made me creative with my exam answers. Generally I passed. But would have done far better if I had prepared properly for the exams.

These days my radio headset is a boon but often I’m not concentrating 100% on the programmes. I focus on topics that appeal and drift on the edge of other programmes that bob in the background just in case. Often I’m drawn in to a topic that I didn’t know existed.

Last night I stalked down to the kitchen garden to peruse the potential gooseberry and currant harvest. Both gooseberry bushes were stripped bare.

I immediately thought sawfly. I must have picked up this tip subliminally from Gardener’s World  (BBC Radio4) as I swooshed the green paint over my clients’ garage doors. Our gooseberry and currant bushes have finally come into their own after three years and were laden with blossom this spring. Tiny hands had clapped with glee at the prospect of fruit vodkas and chic jellies and tarts. We had planned giving gooseberry wine a go. The sawflies had eaten all the fruit and every bit of leaf from the green gooseberry bush but had left the fruit on the sweet red (dessert) gooseberry bush. Why?

We are sawfly virgins. So this evening I looked up sawfly on the internet and discovered that the gooseberry sawflies are also partial to red and white currants. My blood pressure immediately raced.

I shot down to the fruit cage and spotted hundreds of small caterpillars guzzling our currant bushes, and thousands of eggs waiting on the stalks to mature and continue the devastation.

So now we are at war, there are five of us (two humans and three Min Pins) up against millions of hungry and potentially ravenous new born caterpillars. Help!

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  1. Emerson College

    I found a product called PY spray, it is a natural insecticide, that can be certified organic. I used it and it worked on the fruit bushes. I think that it will need to be applied every few days or once a week to keep them under control. The down side is that it is not healthy for all the other soft bodied insects and will kill them all, so take care how often you apply the product.
    Best Wishes

  2. Following deleafing of my gooseberries and wondering what caused it (im new at this game) I lost all the leaves on a very healthy jostaberry in 24 hours – shriek – looked up the pests in my fruit book – pyrethrum recommended – aha, alas withdrawn from sale – bought a ‘cure’ my garden centre recommended (regardless of its inorganic nature although safe for fruit) Ok its working – Ive spent quite a lot of time watching the …….. curl up forever – hundreds of them – they are still coming two days later . . .
    As pyrethrum was chrysanthemum based would under/companion planting with Chrysanthemums deter them in the future???

  3. Nicola

    Does anyone know what’s the best thing to do with a bush that’s been totally stripped? Should I cut it back now so that it conserves its energy, or is it better to leave as is and hope it sprouts some new leaves? Don’t want to weaken it too much long-term.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    He Jeanette

    I have a great graden sprayer that my mum gave me years ago – hadn’t thought of using it for soap and water. Thanks.

    Hi Robert

    The swawflies are really nasty. You need to kill the eggs as well as the caterpillars.

    Good luck to you too!

  5. Emerson College

    Nice to hear you’ve all got a problem too, I’ve spent at least 20 hours the last week squashing them by hand, I’ve tried the BT spray on our 150 bushes but no effect and today i tried a 48 hour nettle spray. I like the sound of the soap and water mix and will give it a shot as of tomorrow.
    Good luck to everyone

  6. jeannette

    My dear old dad used a solution of hard soap in warm water with a stirrup pump to wash all sorts of pests off fruit bushes.I have bought a fence spraying kit from Morrisons ( cost about £15 ) to save me some elbow work! It works well.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Chick Pea

    Thanks so much for dropping by but the hen route doesn’t seem to be an option as they don’t like the sharp gooseberry taste of the caterpillars.

    They’d probably be a great side dish with pork or lamb for the non squeamish.

    Hello Jon

    Thanks so much for your advice. We have been using your method and now can only see eggs on the branches. We’ll keep up the good work until everything vanishes.

    Hello Magic Cochin

    Sorry to see from a later comment that you have this pest too.

    My mum pointed out that she’d seen no gooseberries on sale yet (there are always early ones). Perhaps sawfly are virulent this year.

    Thanks so much for your input. I’ve never had this pest so had no idea that it over winters in the earth.

    Hello Allotment Blogger

    What a shame. Plans and prospects wiped out in a day.

    Hello Steelkitten

    Thanks so much for your advice – much appreciated.

    Hello Amanda

    I hadn’t seen the devastation that sawfly causes until this year. I’m kicking myself for not reading up on pests as we’ve lost so much of our crop!

    Hello Z

    Thanks so much for the explanation. Our fruit bushes are in cages so birds generally can’t get in. I was planning to use the ‘chicken answer’ until I read Magic Cochin’s and your comment.

    Hello KatyVic

    Thanks so much for your advice!

    Hello Arvin

    Yes it’s a great tip. Thank you.

    Hi Sarah

    Sometimes a gooseberry bush may take a year off but three years seems unusual to me, unless you got it as a baby and then it might take three years to flowers and fruit.

    Feed it very well this summer and tell the bush that this is its last chance.

    You may be lucky and get flowers and fruit next year. The flowers just come in the spring and the fruit sets then.

    Hi Rosie

    Thanks for your input. Now our necks are strained with examining the bushes in the garden. We have something similar on the hellebores arrrrrgh!

  8. Rosie

    That’s very intersesting what magic cochin said about the beasties being adapted for different species. So far this year the Worcestererry has had a major attack, the jostaberries a minor attack and the gooseberries and assorted curant (as yet) none). It’s daily squashing patrols here though to keep on top of them.

  9. Sarah

    After reading your post on Sawfly, I popped out to check my gooseberry bush. No signs of holes on the leaves or caterpillars etc.

    I do have a problem with this wee bush, as it has never cropped any fruit and I have had it for 3 years. I used to have it planted alongside my blackcurrant bush, but this year I moved it into a large pot of its own to see if it made any difference… No flowers and no fruit so far, it does have an abundance of healthy green leaves, but the branches/bark is flaky looking, does this mean it has something?

  10. Arvin

    This must be a hustle. I remember the days when there was a lot of grasshoppers in my garden. My neighbor has a lot of chicken. They sometimes let them lose and they go to my garden to feast on the grasshoppers. But not only that their “poop” would be a good treat for my soil and a good end result to my garden. I think this would be a good tip to add to your gardening ideas.

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