Bursting with vitamin C, blackcurrants are an easily grown soft fruit. They make a great jam, health-promoting drinks and are a vital ingredient to ‘summer pudding’. Redcurrants are really tart, but make great jams and jellies. Whitecurrants are sweet enough to be eaten fresh from the plant and taste similar to white grapes.
All three currants can be grown as bushes that usually reach about 1.5m (5ft) tall and the same wide, although redcurrants and whitecurrants can also be grown as vertical cordons. They all appreciate a sunny position, although dappled shade is acceptable. Expect the fruits to ripen in July/August. Mature plants will produce 3-4kg (6-9lb) of fruit each year.
Plant bare-root plants in late autumn (October to November) or in March if this is not possible. Leave 1.8m (5ft) between currant bushes. Dig a hole 60cm x 60cm and 30cm deep. Add a layer of Organic Blend Soil Conditioner to the base of the hole and dig in. Place the roots of the blackcurrant bush in the planting hole so that the old soil mark is now at least 8cm (3in) below the new soil level. This will encourage a continuous production of new stems from below ground level. With redcurrants and whitecurrants the old soil level should match with the new one.
Now mix in more soil improver to the soil and fill in the planting hole. Work into the soil surface a couple of handfuls of Gro Your Own Vegetable & Fruit Plant Food. Water well and add a mulch layer 5cm (2in) deep of well-rotted garden compost or bark chippings around the root area.
|Crop type||Suggested varieties|
|Blackcurrant||Ben Lomond and Ben Sarek are traditional heavy yielding, while Ebony and Wellington are much sweeter. Jostaberry is a huge cross between blackcurrant and gooseberry.|
|Redcurrant||Red Lake has very large fruits. Laxton’s No.1 is a heavy cropper. Rovada produces huge strings of large fruits and also available in cordon form.|
|Whitecurrant||White Grape has the best taste, but White Versailles carries a heavier crop.|
Feed the plants each spring with Gro Your Own Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food and replenish the mulch layer of organic matter.
Avoid using a hoe to control weeds as this tool could easily damage the shallow rooting system. Instead, spray Weedol Rootkill Plus carefully to just wet the weed leaves.
Plants will need watering during dry weather, especially as the fruits are swelling. As soon as the fruits start to turn colour, birds will be attracted to the plants. Drape nets over the bushes in June to keep them away.
Most currants will ripen during July. Pick fully ripened fruits in stages. The fruits at the top of the truss will be the largest and will ripen first. Pick every week during dry weather – if the fruits are wet they will not store well, but turn mouldy. All currants freeze well.
Pruning and training
Although they come from the same plant family, redcurrants and whitecurrants are pruned totally differently to blackcurrants.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants
Fruits form on fruiting spurs (stubby sideshoots) so pruning is designed to encourage more of these. During winter cut back the new leader growth put on in the previous summer by a half. Then reduce side shoots growing from these main branches to about 5cm (2in) in length. During summer (June) cut back all new side shoots so they carry just 4 leaves.
The main annual pruning should be carried out in winter when plants are dormant. Start 2 years after planting by cutting out weak branches and twiggy stems. Cut out completely about a third of all old stems to encourage new growth from below ground level. During subsequent winters do the same pruning so that no wood on the bush is more than 4 years old.
Mildew can be a problem, especially if the soil is dry, so keep the soil moist and mulch with mulching material to help maintain soil moisture levels.
The big bud mite can get inside developing buds of currant bushes to turn them from pointed growths to swollen, round orbs that will eventually die. Pick off any swollen buds during winter to reduce the infection.