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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. Hi almost got rid of them last year but didnt prepare the ground over the winter – thought frost would kill them – will persevere with w.up liquid but where do I get this malathion from and what is it.???? Thanks for all the ideas on this site great.

  2. Washing up liquid doesn’t work. One dose of malathion does.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lis

    Sorry to have missed your comment. Foxgloves are prolific in our garden – weh hey!

    Thanks for all your advice.

    Hello Susie

    Thanks so much for this tip! I’m going to try and get hold of some wash asap.

    I hadn’t even heard of gooseberry sawfly before this year.

  4. Hi I found this article after googling for christmas cake!

    I’ll be trying your cake recipe but just to comment on the sawfly. I have my dad’s bushes which thrived in his little garden patch and this is the 3rd year I have them. Not a gooseberry in sight for 2 years. First year I think it was the awful weather that affected the flowering but last year it was caterpillars and although I picked them off daily the damage was already done so no fruit.

    My local garden centre suggested using the fruit tree wash that you can get and to treat the plants around this time of year. Also turn over the soil around the plant to expose larvae for the birds to pick at.

    I used the wash and it seemed to work although I did get another infestation this year but strangely very late in the season and after I’d picked most of the fruit.

  5. Following on — the Daily Telegraph had some advice a few saturdays’ ago —

    via Forest of Dean Council via Jerry Green Head Gardner at Westbury Court Garden – “To prevent gooseberry sawfly caterpillars, pick a bucket of foxglove leaves and pour over two pints of boiling water, leave for two days, srain and spray on gooseberry plants before any caterpillars are seen(alas I have no foxgloves)

    Nemasys the biological control specialist has a spray on nematode that will control gooseberry sawfly. Foliar drenches of Nemasys Caterpillar Killer carefully timed in early May and July will apparently solve the problem. Try Green Gardner (01603715096;”

    To reply to another query – I cut both the gooseberries and jostaberry back and they are now again in full leaf (just ready for the new assault but I now make daily patrols)

    I read somewhere that they also lay their eggs in mulch and compost so be careful with the manure top dressing

    hope this helps someone

  6. Thanks for that reassurance, Lynne.
    Now, if only we could train our squirrels to much the sawfly and not the fruit!

    Viv, I asked Fiona about eating the fruit after spraying and she said Yes – assuming that the instructions on the spray do not indicate otherwise. Let us know if you die. 🙂

    Nicola and Susan – Fiona said feed the plant by applying plenty of well rotted manure or chicken poo pellets (yes! You can buy them in garden stores) around the base of the stems.

    Robert – thanks for that sound piece of advice.

    Good luck all for next year. These sawfly creatures are like locusts and we would love to hear advice on how to deter them in the first place, if that is possible.

  7. Lynne Poulson

    It’s fine to eat the fruit – they are just little caterpillars. We had them last year, but if you have the chance when the little monsters are spotted, you can put a white sheet under the bushes, shake them off and squish them. It saved ours being totally ravaged. This year we only found one, but came back from hols last week to find the squirrel (presumably) had eaten all the unripe fruit – Aaagh!!

  8. Alison

    We returned from holiday to find both gooseberry bushes stripped of all their leaves but still laden with fruit which appears to be ripening. Is it safe to eat the fruit? What do we need to do to the bushes to help them recover?
    Any advice gratefully received

  9. viv on june 22nd 2009

    Hi Im another sawfly sufferer only discovered them a few weeks ago – sprayed special sawfly bug killer has done the trick – but you can only do this twice a year – can i still eat the fruit – they dont eat them – will also try the soapy liquid -thanks for all of the advice – nice to know im not the only one suffering these nasty bugs ////

  10. Spotted these little green ‘caterpillars’ on my gooseberry, not quite stripped, but they have had a good go..!! Boxed them up to show kids and tried feedin cabbage, lettuce, sprout leaves, broccoli to no avail! Came across this while searching ‘caterpillar’ ‘food’ and ‘gooseberry’ Aah, not cute little caterpillars that will turn into butterflies!!
    Anyway, my question, since the bush has not been completely annihilated, will it have any chance of recovering this year? Thanks

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