The Cottage Smallholder

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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. I read that the sawflies hate garlic. It suggested planting garlic around bushes likely to be attacked. I made a spray yesterday of boiled garlic ( several cloves to a litre) with washing up liquid. The sawflies didn’t like it, nor did the caterpillars. It then rained heavily so my good work may be undone!

  2. I have gooseberries and various currants, and I’ve just found sawflies for the third year in a row. Have never treated them apart from some sporadic squishing of caterpillars. I have had a reasonable amount of fruit off the bushes each year despite this neglect, apart from the first year (2009 when they completely stripped the bushes bare in about 24 hours). I hate to sound lazy, but neglect does seem to work!

  3. Angela

    I LOATHE this pest. So much so that I gave up on Gooseberries but this year thought I would try again and use prevention. I shrouded the bush in agrifilm in early Spring. Having removed this last week I was obvioulsy just in time to provide a feast for the little sweethearts – as well as a destructive pest they are also hideous en masse. Well, going down now to the garden now, armed with washing up liquid, having already squashed as many c’pillars as I could see. I live in hope that ine year we shall achieve a decent crop – enough for at least one pie !

  4. Has anyone actually tried the foxglove spray? To what effect–any success? I keep seeing it suggested and never a peep on results.

  5. john access

    i was as green as a gooseberry…..i hand-picked all of the little caterpillars from my well eaten gooseberry bush and took them about 60 feet away to the bottom of the garden thought the birds would get them.
    lo and behold next day there they were munching away quite happily… so yes the must smell the gooseberry bush or whatever it is they do to home in on your goosgogs

  6. Barbara

    Just picked my first ever gooseberry crop made easier by the absence of leaves. I picked hundreds of caterpillars off during may/june. I,m going to try the winter fruit wash. Thanks.

  7. Margaret

    What great advice. My goosberreies were striped and they aer half way along a line of 8 red currents. tHe fruit appear to be unharmed and i am picking them as they come ripe. Will try the soapy water while there is fruit present. We had some damage last year and the bushs grew back fine until a week ago so Im not going cut them back. Am wondering why the very large blackcurrent bushes nearby have escaped or maybe i should take a good luck before i saw that! We planted black alder trees in this area two years ago and they have grown very large very quickly – has anyone else got them nearby to make a connection or is it just the year./weather etc

  8. We have had a bad attack of sawfly this year, much earlier than usual. I pick them off with long pointy tweezers, and drop them into a tub of strongly salted water. I prefer that to squashing them.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello m

      I don’t like squishing the caterpillars either so this is a great tip. We used a winter fruit tree wash (organic) in December and this seems to have done the trick as they haven’t returned – yet…

  9. jeannette

    I saw adult sawfly moths (black and fragile looking) last week when I saw the first sign of damage on my worcester berry bush. They were mostly flying round a Soloman’s Seal which is nearby. This was decimated last year by Soloman Seal saw fly larvae..just like the goosberry sawfly. Funnily enough, I never had a problem with gooseberry sawfly till I planted the Soloman’s seal. I used a washing up liquid solution on both plants and so far so good. I think I ought to get rid of the Solomans Seal and my life might be easier, but i like my plan now is to watch and treat the Solomans seal and hope that cures the goosberry problem too!

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Dave

    Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately malathion isn’t organic 🙁

    Hi Viv

    Malathion is an insecticide – available from a decent garden centre.

    I treated my bushes with fruit tree wash in November and so far no sign of the sawfly.

    However although the bushes look healthy there are no gooseberries to be seen 🙁

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