Jostaberry: Last Chance Saloon

Meet our rather adventurous 2009 purchase, Rubus Nidigrolaria; the Jostaberry. Developed in Europe, the Jostaberry is a thornless cross between the Blackcurrant and the Gooseberry. Results to date have been poor to say the least. This, the Olympic year, is its last chance to determine its future; compost heap or eternal sorbet/crumble rich prospects.

On the endless quest for tasty curiosities, the Jostaberry joined a whole crew of fruit bushes in our fruitcage, including; Blackberries (Black Butte, Boysenberry, Tayberry, Loganberry, Japanese Wineberry, Blackberry Silvan), Raspberries, Gooseberries, Cherries, Strawberries, Currants (red, white, pink), and Josta’s dad; the Blackcurrant.

Original purchasing decision was based on; (1) Juicy catalogue photograph of luscious looking berries, (2) Yield potential; plant capable of 5kg yield of large, twice size of normal Blackcurrants, (2) Taste; bit of both scrumptious parents, (3) Growth habit; vigorous, upright and thornless, (4) Soil suitability; grows on most normal soils and (5) Disease resistance; resistant to Gooseberry mildew, Blackcurrant leaf spot and Blackcurrant gall mite. Furthermore, with an A+ score for supermarket shelf absentia, how could anyone resist?

Jostaberry Bush
Blackcurrant and Jostaberry
Neighbours: Blackcurrant (Ben Lomond) and Jostaberry
Nutter Jostaberry
Before Pruning
Post Pruning
Fruit Cage: Man's best friend
Jostaberry bark
Jostaberry Bark

Leafy Yield

Textbook advice, states that plant to harvest time is two years, with each plant capable of producing that magic yield of 5 kg of fruit. Though, we have yet to see a harvest higher than, 5 grams. Meanwhile, its parent and fruit cage neighbour, the Blackcurrant, has produced harvests of at least 750g. The Gooseberries are in cordon training mode, hence not yet expected to yield substantial harvests.

Instead of delicious fruit, the Jostaberry has grown into an enormous plant, with ridiculously long branches and hence taking up far too much space within the set limitations of the cage. Furthermore, and this is the saddest part of the whole affair, the few fruit that it did produce were in truth, not that exciting. Tasting simply more like a mild Blackcurrant than anything really special. Jon Munday, Nursery Manager Blackmoor, said in a recent tweet, ‘I would have a Blackcurrant or Blueberry over the Jostaberry, anytime’. He may very well, be correct.

Horticultural CSI

Just as the excessively naughty behaviour in our dog, is the result of our doomed training attempts, owners are usually to blame. So what went wrong?

At a Chelsea Flower Show, Roger Muir laughed heartily at our generous manuring and/or composting. He explained that too much nitrogen in the soil, would encourage the plant to set growth rather than fruit. Instead, he advised to use feeds with high levels of potash and an application of Bonemeal in spring, spread around the base of the plant. Potash feed has since been added, and this year some scrummy bonemeal will be provided.

Despite being more tolerant than most berries, the Jostaberry needs substantial moisture to develop fruit. The cage though has an underground irrigation system, and our soil is wetter than most, so this could not have been the issue.

The Jostaberry enjoys full sun in afternoons, though partial shade in the morning which it is written, does them little harm. Frost can be an issue as their flowers can be damaged by a late frost which will result in lower yield. The late frosts of last year, were most likely the principal cause of our rather poor yield. It remains to be seen, if frost can also impact fruit quality and/or taste.


As was advised on planting, we trimmed shoots to two buds above soil level. Sounds and looked drastic, but encouraged strong root system, healthy growth and presumably prevents the plant from growing even bigger. Subsequent winter, no pruning. Come second winter, pruning starts to encourage young growth, which (theoretically) have better fruiting potential.

Pruning is as prescribed, with the four D’s; remove Dead, Diseased, Dying and Damaged wood. Consequently, prune to maintain the (cup) shape; prune centre of plant to let in light and air, and finally, remove crossing or rubbing branches.

On a strong established bush such as ours, we will have to cut out, (max) a third of the (central) old wood (to the ground), to reduce its rather overcrowded growth. On weaker bushes, reduce pruning to around one fifth of the old wood to ensure plant can fill out as a bush. Remove any low, ground hugging shouts to prevent fruit touching ground. Note, despite being so tall, no tip pruning, especially as they are now covered in juicy buds.

Plan of Action

Therefore, the Jostaberry survival plan is as follows;

  • Prune into shape, to ensure adequate air circulation and sunlight
  • Ample potash & bone meal
  • Consistent Watering (within allowances of possible hose-pipe ban)
  • Extensive Morris dancing to ensure favourable weather conditions and keep frost at bay

Keep or Heap?

Our fingers are crossed for the Jostaberry. However, if we are once again faced with a poor yield, a replacement will be needed. The question then is, should we pick another Blackcurrant? If so which variety? Or should we dare try another oddity, such as perhaps the Worcester berry? Or would the latter just be a case of our falling into the same trap again? Oddities may be remarkable, but aren’t always the tastier option.

In any case, for our Jostaberry, the clock is ticking. Tik tok tik tok….

Chelsea Flower Show: The 2012 Thompson Design Marathon Woman: An Interview with Jo Thompson

any comments?

Comments: 32

  1. My two year old jostaberry had well over 11lbs of fruit. It has grown in less than a foot of reasonable soil laid over rough rubble and subsoil etc which was dumped in our old silage clamp when the foundations of the barn were dug out. Some of the branches were about 6 tall but I have cut it right back almost to ground level when we harvested the fruit the other day to give the other fruit bushes a chance. I have no idea whether it will survive such treatment. It was a cutting off another one in the orchard but I never see the fruit off that one as the birds get the lot. It’s amazing how well the gooseberries are growing in the same situation.

  2. I have reached the conclusion that I need a fruit cage to stop the birds gorging on my jostaberries. Can anyone recommend a manufacturer that makes really good quality cages?
    Many thanks

  3. I am desperately looking for a nursery/catalogues……wherever to find where I could buy jostaberry bushes. I have come up with a hundred dead ends, except for the UK , which I suspect cannot ship due to quarantine issues. Help?

    • You don’t say where you live, but KEN MUIR, in England, stocks Jostas. They are very reliable nurserymen in my experience,(I have no connection except as a customer) and should be able to give you advice as to whether they can send a plant to you. Or contact your Dept. of Agriculture, or the equivalent.
      Regarding Jostas, if you are troubled by bird-theves see my comments & the reply above. And have patience – they seem to take several years to get going.Think “tree” not “cane”.
      Good luck! “Pat”

      • That would be our advice too. We bought ours, in fact most of our fruit bushes and trees from Ken Muir. Blackmoor nurseries is also another option, as they have a good selection of quality plants too. Outside of the UK, I am afraid I am unable to recommend any nurseries for fruit bushes. Blackmoor or Ken Muir may be able to point you in the right direction. Hope that helps.

    • Thank you so much. I live in Ontario, Canada and therefore cannot order the bushes from the UK>
      A friend of mine bought three bushes a couple of years ago from Canadian Tire, if you can believe it. I was SO looking forward to starting my own small field. The jelly I made this past summer was stellar.
      I appreciate your timely reply.

      • Your problem is solved: No need to import plants..This way may cost you a bottle of wine, but no paperwork! Ask your friend to send you a dozen cuttings (more if you want a plantation) , about 30cm long, of healthy this years’ shoots, when he prunes his bushes… (Just like blackcurrant cuttings.) Preferably NOT in plastic bags, if your post takes more than a day! Prepare a fairly sandy mix of compost. Trim the cuttings to a bud top & bottom, rub off the lower buds (or they turn into a clump) & stick them in firmly, 1/2 to 2/3rds deep,. They root very well.
        Keep fairly cool, slightly damp but not soggy. In UK they would go into the garden but I gather Ontario might be too cold? Next Spring several will develop leaves & new shoots. When they look sturdy, move them on, to either a nursery bed or their final planting.
        Then follow the advice re. hard pruning for the 1st year, and just give them time.

      • Thank you SO much for your information! Unfortunately, my friend doesn’t prune, nor does he know what a shoot or cutting looks like. I live too far away to go and do it myself, but I visit every summer, so can I do it then?
        I like the wine idea………….let it flow, and I’ll go and dig up the whole darn bush and it might not even be noticed!

        • Your latest reply just shows how Jostas thrive whatever you do -or don’t do!

          Yes, Take them just before you go home. You can take “semi-hardwood cuttings” when you visit in summer, if your’re there towards the end of the season. If early, you can take “softwood cuttings” (more delicate to get going). Both work, I’d advise looking up methods – here or Google (try RHS – the full instructions are too long for these comments,

          Or, persuade your friend to find something that cuts twigs, Ask him/her to visit the bush when the leaves fall. (These are for “hardwood cuttings”). The new shoots at the ends of the branches are what you want: they have NO SIDESHOOTS, & are buff – coloured (old wood has darker bark), and just cut off some of them, Best about 65cm/2′ long, so you can trim them to size.

          If you live between the Great Lakes you should have a good climate for Jostas.. I was a student in fruit growing (East Malling Research Station) & several times we were visited by growers from that area, picking brains!

  4. I am about to try Josta berry and welcome your comments.But do try Worcester Berry (Thorny as Goosberry). About the size of a black currant, Black, hairless, cn be eaten straight off the bush. I expect to get 3 Kg. off one bush, and clear it in one pick. Fruits on previous year’s wood.
    Grow on a 1 Metre leg, as the growth tends to be thin & wippy, train on 3 horizantal wires to keep off the ground, facilitate ease of picking from both sides, & prevent a bad back.

  5. I’m going to stick up for the Jostaberry! I have 3 healthy specimens in Leamington, about 8 years old. They grew like crazy for a few years without fruit (possibly their habit, or too much nitrogen) then switched to producing masses of fruit – kilos per week. We gently stew them down with lots of sugar and freeze for winter use with yogurt – absolutely delicious, and more juicy than blackcurrants treated the same way. A real treat.
    A word of warning if you are planting – give them plenty of space. I must have given mine 1.5m spacing whereas 4m would have been better. And they are over 2m tall.
    My *nonexpert* suggestion to those struggling to get fruit would be stop feeding, stop watering (at least until the fruit sets), and avoid cutting out too much old wood.

    • I would like to tell you all that I have three Josta bushes that are over 50 years old. I live in Northern Ontario – Timmins to be exact. Our zone is technically 2b – minus 40c. My grandmother let the bushes sprawl, but I had the bright idea to train them up a pole in a braided fashion to a standard style. Yeah, that took a few years with stripping the new growth off the trunks every spring and only leaving a few canes to train around the pole. I have never fed them but I have loam soil – black earth, yes, its a rich soil. I prune every year, heavily, to allow the new growth plenty of room for light and air. The advice I read about pruning out crossing shoots is correct. I can tell you the years I was criminally ruthless about pruning, the following year I had bountiful fruit production. But, every year has a great yield anyway.

      My bushes are in the backyard with north-west winter winds, however, we do get plenty of snow for protection. Do not cut out the old wood, unless it is diseased or dead, but manage the new growth. That is the next year yield. The fruit is exceptionally flavourful and tart, but I think that a cold Northern climate is the reason. I can not imagine these bushes doing well in Southern Ontario, however Peter has given me hope! However, you could try my suggestions and give your plants a couple more years before you pull them out. Happy gardening!

      • (from Kent, England) On from my previous remarks,
        I had a terrific set of Jostas. All the other Ribes family didn’t do well. Hardly any blackcurrants, gooseberries small and sparse, red & whire currants with 1/2 empty strigs. Our spring was dreadful, very cold & hardly any pollinating insects around, so I was looking forwards to just the one good crop. By late July I thought of photoing the Jostas – the branches were bending under the .huge crop, and they were just colouring.
        Then, as they ripened the blackbird family deserted the other fruit, and scoffed every berry as it got dark. The currants were untouched, even the raspberries & strawberries were almost untouched! Every other day I go to the soft fruit patch to harvest. I get scolded by young blackbirds, who won’t fly until I am within a yard of them, and rarely collect more than a handful of Jostas, but get a box of rasps.
        The bush is too big to net – frustrating!

        • Pat
          I’m also in Kent and bit the bullet this year and bought a fruit cage because I was sick of the birds eating all of my jostaberries.

          I have had at least the 5kg per bush (I have 2) that Peter was suggesting despite some of the feathered little so and so’s seeming to have found a way into the cage and having to be shooed out regularly.

          Investing in the fruit cage was a good plan. Jostaberry pie is delicious as is jostaberry and whitecurrant jam!

    • I think it’s normal not to give fruits for the first 2-3 years

  6. Strawberryblonde
    I have had a Jostaberry for 2 years; plenty of leaves, loved by various insectivorous critters, but to date nerry a flower nor berry to be seen. Its fast off the starting blocks but falls at the first hurdle. Mind you, it was Free winter 2011, from a reputable, well known supplier of all and every type of edible (and non edible) growing things, but this little Freebee will bee in the bin if it does not flower/fruit this year. Others I have had on the Freebee Line have all come to fruition, in great bowls-full of scrumptious soft fruit. I just wonder why it was Freee – oh yes – its a hedge tree not a fruiting tree – silly dizzy blonde again.

  7. Mine is about 6. Sulked for 3 years, then GREW.and had a very few berries. I was going to chuck it. Last year it had over 10lb, This year it looks like more – in spite of the awful spring. It’s in a dreadful site. No sun: Houses to E&W, and it overtops a 6ft fence to S. Very dry (SEKent), but fertile soil. I prune, but not too hard – or it would grow even bigger. Nothing else grows there – no even many weeds!
    Plus: Disease-free, no thorns & not much bending ( I might need a ladder soon!) Good taste, no cats’ pee stink. Tough, hardly any work needed probably good for Vitamin C, Birds prefer red currants.. Good for jam.
    Minus. Doesn’t ripen evenly on strig, so would need picking over for dessert (but I freeze green with black & they cook OK).Tedious to “top & tail”.
    I’d say “if you like the flavour of the parents, and have an unpromising site, AND patience, do try it. if you have a premium site & don’t mind bending, prickles & catty smell,, go for Goosies & Blackies – or all 3.

  8. Devon, grown for four years in clay soil on top of exposed windy hill and trained along wires. Top dressing with blood and fish once a year and weeded.
    Has fruited heavily (about the same as a sturdy blackcurrant)every year producing large acidic/sweet purple berries great for pies, jams jellies and ice cream mix. If you like a tangy fruit its edible straight off the bush. Berries freeze well if flat frozen then packed. Cuttings made from bush two years back have rooted well and grown quickly but as many of the posts here state have failed to produce from masses of buds – fingers crossed this year.

    George Yeoford

    • Glad to hear it! Ours has been replaced sadly, but glad yours fruiting well. Do you think they taste better than blackcurrants?

  9. I am in Canada, zone 3, and have a 5-year old Jostaberry. Very disappointing! Over 5 years it has yielded perhaps one cup of fruit even though it’s gotten huge and is squeezing out 2 more prolific Saskatoon-berry bushes. After reading your similar experiences, I think I will toss it. I am afraid that will be a lot of digging, though.

    • Dear Susan,

      Ours has now beaten the dust. Again, tiny harvest paired with its usual excessive growth. Despite our hard pruning, it continued to outgrow the fruit cage and sadly not contribute in terms of fruit value. We dug it up two weeks ago, and will be replacing it this winter with another blackcurrant. Though, before I do that, I may look into your Saskatoon berry, never heard of those but am intrigued!

  10. I’m into my second year of Jostaberry ownership, I didn’t prune it in early summer so it’s already overshadowing a couple of 3 year old blueberries and has outperformed all the currant bushes by several growth rate factors and it’s a wonderful shape … the fruitcage was looking very leafy but nary a fruit bud in sight!

  11. Feast for caterpillars last year, and one fruit. Netted this year, no fruit. Out the garden, methinks

  12. I’ve just discovered that I’ve inherited one on my new allotment – it is 5 ft tall and 7 ft wide after 2 years of neglect, but seems to be producing a very generous crop. London Clay soil.

  13. So I’m not the only person having Jostaberry problems, I look forward to seeing what you do, I will give mine one more season.

  14. Thanks for this very useful information! I love both black currants and gooseberries, and have long been curious about jostas. I’ve never been able to find them so can’t taste them to see if they’re any good! The description does sound enticing, but I’ll wait to taste before planting.

  15. Interesting. I’ve never heard of this one and from what you say, I’ve not missed much :)
    I bet it will be stunning this year, after being threatened with the Compost Heap.

    • So far, you haven’t missed much at all unfortunately. You’re probably correct, in that with the threat of fruit cage eviction and premature death, it may decide to provide a bounty of delicious fruit. I hope so, but we will have to wait and see!

  16. Strange the effort we can sometimes put into growing something we might simply walk past in a shop…?


    • Are you talking about your Tesco vegetables again?

  17. Berries!!!! Yummmmm!!! RT @Petra_HM: Jostaberry: Last Chance Saloon

  18. RT @Petra_HM: Jostaberry: Last Chance Saloon @BlackmoorFruit @gardengrab