Currants are an excellent fruit for the home gardener as they a relatively trouble free and produce large crops of highly nutritious fruit. Currants are divided into black, red and white types with many varieties to choose from. In general blackcurrants tend to be cooked as they are quite tart raw but redcurrants and white currants are more likely to be used fresh.
Interestingly although the 3 types look very similar their maintenance is a little different with blackcurrants requiring very basic pruning while red and white currants are treated more like gooseberries with a more intensive pruning regime.
The following article is intended to give you the basics including planting and maintenance of currants and should enable you to begin growing this easy and rewarding fruit. If you need any more help with your growing please don’t hesitate in getting in touch with the Quickcrop team, we’re always happy to help.
Where to plant blackcurrants
Blackcurrants are able to tolerate poor drainage better than other soft fruits but ideally they will prefer a well drained soil with plenty of organic matter added and shelter from strong winds.
Avoid frost pockets where possible, if your garden is low lying and prone to frost either choose frost resistant varieties (All the modern ‘Ben’ varieties) or cover with frost protection fleece in April to protect the flowers. No flowers means no fruit.
Preparing your site for any fruit bush is important as unlike vegetables once they are planted they stay in the same spot meaning you only get one chance to attend to the soil.
It is recommend to prepare your soil about 4 weeks before planting by digging over a 2ft square area, removing any perennial weeds and adding a generous quantity (2 buckets) of well rotted manure. Removing deep rooted weeds is important because if they come up around the stems they will be impossible to remove, I have this issue with some of my raspberries and it drives me nuts!
In this case we are looking at planting bare root varieties; for potted plants the process is pretty much the same, just tease out the roots a little before planting. Bare root currants are planted in October-November (Feb-March also) but potted plants can be put in at any time of year. Spacing between bushes is 5ft (150cm) between both rows and plants.
Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, usually about 1.5 ft in diameter and spread the roots out in the hole. The stem should be planted about 2.5 inches (6cm) deeper than it was originally so separate stems emerge from the soil rather than a single trunk. Deep planting with help numerous new shoots to develop from the base which will eventually become new fruit bearing branches.
Mix some more well rotted manure in with the soil before back filling a little at a time treading gently as you go to firm the ground. Finally water the planting hole well, soaking will also help settle the soil around the plant roots.
Initial Pruning – Immediately after planting prune all shoots to a bud approx 2 inches (5cm) above the soil surface. This hard pruning is the secondary stage of the deep planting process and has the same effect of increasing the number of fruiting stems.
Hard pruning will delay fruiting until the following year as fruit is borne on stems grown the previous year, it will delay your jam but you’ll have a better bush in the long run.
Yearly Pruning – Recommended pruning season is between November and March, personally I like to delay until March as any wounds will heal quickly when the bush comes out of dormancy in April. I’m not a big fan of Winter pruning of any fruit as the raw cut is left exposed to the elements with the plant unable heal itself.
The thing to remember is the best fruit is produced on young wood so any old wood should be removed on a yearly basis to keep your bush at its most productive. Old wood is darker in colour than pale young wood with thicker stems so is relatively easy to spot. Cut out any old wood as close as you can to the base of the plant using a horizontal cut to stop rainwater collecting on the wound.
Make all cuts at outward facing buds with will cause new growth to grow outwards instead of in. The reason for this is that the new growth comes from the bud nearest your cut and will grow in the direction that bud is facing.
Remove any weak or diseased looking wood and any low or horizontal branches growing away from the plant to make the bush easier to harvest and to avoid low fruit being spoiled by contact with the ground.
Keep the soil around the base of the plant relatively weed free, this is better done by mulching and hand weeding rather than hoeing as roots are shallow and easily damaged. Mulching is also the ideal way to feed your blackcurrants with a thick layer of well rotted manure and/or garden compost providing all the nutrients required.
How to grow red and white currants
The growing conditions for red and white currants are the same as blackcurrants above with a 2ft square area of soil to be prepared with well rotted manure.
Spacing is the same at 5ft between plants for bushes but red and white currants can also be grown as single, double or triple cordon plants with spacings of 1.5, 3 and 4 foot respectively. In this case we are focusing on bush growing as it is the easiest, has the highest yield and is the most common method.
Red and white currants are less tolerant of waterlogging and shade so should be planted in well drained soil in full sun. Protection from frost is also required in April with fleece or sacking draped over the plants for protection.
Planting red and white currants
Unlike blackcurrants which are planted 2 inches lower than they were originally, red and white currants are put in at the same level. You should be able to see a transition from darker to lighter wood on the main stem which marks the old soil level.
The reason for the different methods is with a blackcurrant we want more shoots coming from the base of the bush while with a red and white currant we want a single stem with an open bush shape on the top.
Pruning red and white currants
Initial Pruning – Remove any suckers from the base of the plant. A sucker is a new stem growing up from the base of the main stem or root ball. Cut back the rest of the branches to approximately half of their length, cut at an upward facing bud to encourage growth upwards rather than outwards.
Yearly Pruning – The ideal bush shape is an open ‘goblet’ with a single main stem and an open space inside the bush to allow light in and to aid air circulation. The open bush with sparse foliage at the base also helps control sawfly caterpillars as they don’t like open positions. Sawfly can decimate a healthy bush incredibly quickly so worth keeping an eye out for; I had them on my currants a couple of years ago but I find you can quite easily keep populations down by picking off the caterpillars when you see them, an open bush makes this much easier.
To achieve the goblet shape prune out any stems growing up inside the bush and any lateral branches growing in towards the centre. Also remove any dead or dying wood as it is unproductive and can be a starting point for disease. Currants also produce the best quality fruit on the previous years wood so any branches 3 or more years old will also need to be removed.
Next remove any low or ‘hanging branches’ growing outward from around the base for the plant as they will impede access at harvest time and result in spoiled lower fruit.
Seasonal care is the same as that for blackcurrants.