How To Grow Currants
Currants are one of the most traditional British fruits, but are rarely seen in the supermarkets outside of the frozen fruit section. They are highly nutritious, easy to grow, and can inspire recipes from smoothies to delicious baked deserts and jams.
For the allotmenter, there are small differences in how to grow currants between the colours, but essentially the process, the fruiting season, and the care regime is very similar.
Growing blackcurrants is not fashionable. Blackcurrants have a strong, slightly bitter, mouth twisting flavour when eaten raw that some people love and many others prefer to cook or sweeten.
So why bother growing blackcurrants? The answer lies in their excellent nutritional qualities. Blackcurrants are reputed to be high in antioxidants as well as minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iron. They are also bursting full of vitamin C.
Redcurrants have a sweet, juicy, characterful taste when eaten raw and become even more delicious when turned into smoothies or heated gently with orange juice as part of a fruit salad.
Like other currants, redcurrants are reported to be highly nutritious with antioxidant properties, minerals, and full of vitamin C.
The delicate princess of the currant family, and the sweetest fruit, white currants are the easiest to eat in their raw unsweetened form of all the currants.
My personal experience is that the bushes are not as prolific in fruiting as my other currants, but their taste is worth the growing space.
How To Grow Currants – Planting
With good luck and good health currant bushes should provide their delicious harvest for well over 10 years.
It is worth giving their bed the best possible preparation. Start by digging a deep hole and fill it with well rotted compost or manure, mixed with some soil at about a 50:50 ratio. My advice is to dig down at least 40cm of so, if not more, and about 75 cm wide.
Currants send out plenty of roots, and if your young plants have a well developed root ball, it may be worth gently rubbing their roots with your hands to try and loosen out the root ends. Blackcurrants are the most hungry currant, so when planting blackcurrants it is worth adding even more good compost or manure if available.
When is the best time to plant currants? The ideal time is when they are dormant in late autumn. Early spring is another good time.
Your bushes will probably need a year to establish themselves and throw their roots deep into their surrounds before delivering their first delicious harvest. In general, the bigger and older the bushes you plant the better your first harvest will be.
The picture shows a redcurrant bush just after I planted it in November.
You can see that around the redcurrant bush I have placed tarpaulin. All currants are easy to grow and require very little additional effort, but to reduce this to an absolute minimum I use tarpaulin to prevent any weed growth.
Around the redcurrant plant it is worth placing a good mulch of well rotted manure, being careful not to create a mound of compost around the stems. The mulch serves a dual purpose of suppressing weed growth and feeding the bush.
At my allotment I have planted white currants, redcurrants and blackcurrants in pairs. Each pair is separated by about a metre, and each row of pairs has approximately a 1.5 metre gap between them – as shown in the photograph above.
Planting currants this way also makes netting currants easier – a vital step as birds love to eat them. Instead of needing to net each individual currant bush, it is possible to buy one big net to cover both bushes.
Since my first currant planting, I have now doubled the amount of currant bushes I have at the allotment. Two bushes of each variety is enough to savour fresh currants in puddings and smoothies in summer for three or four people, but if you are serious about either preserves or wine than you will probably need more bushes.
How To Grow Currants – Care
There are three essential elements for caring for currants: water; feeding with manure or mulch; and netting. None of these elements of care require much work.
The best time to apply a mulch is in early spring whilst it is still cold and weeds have not started to grow. Currants produce their crop quite early in the summer around June/July, so it is essential that they are given a good feed in spring for it to provide a benefit for the fruiting period.
The picture above shows well rotted manure lathered around my blackcurrant bushes. If required, before applying the mulch, give the bushes a really good soaking with water. The mulch will help with water retention.
The picture above shows a redcurrant bush covered with a net. Redcurrants are loved by birds. I have learned my lesson and I now net all my summer fruits.
Perhaps the cheapest way of doing this is to buy a big net that covers one row of two currant bushes. I use garden canes as the supports and wooden clothes pegs to fasten the nets to the canes. Large stones, or any leftover bricks, are useful to secure the bottom edging of the net.
Regarding watering, in dry periods and especially during the spring / early summer growing season I give a good watering once a week. Mature currant bushes will develop a strong and deep rooting system, but until this happens it is even more important with young fruit bushes to give them the water they need.
There is one potential problem that it is very difficult to deal with – a late spring frost. A great attribute of currants is that they provide their harvest early in the year. This also means that their delicate blossom happens relatively early too, and if these flowers are blighted by a late frost there is very little you can do.
Thankfully, I have only read about this in books. My personally experience is that my currant bushes have been prolific in the amount of currants they produce each year.
How To Grow Currants – Pruning
Although blackcurrants, redcurrants and white currants are very similar to each other in many ways, when it comes to pruning there is a difference.
Blackcurrants fruit best on one year old wood – in other words the fresh growth of this summer will be the currant bearing wood of next year. Older stems may also produce currants, but they will be less vigorous than the new growth. My advice is to cut out the wood that looks the oldest, but if in doubt, leave it on the bush!
Pruning redcurrants and pruning white currants is more straightforward. The only wood that does not fruit is new wood. This means that you can safely prune the bush to your desired shape.
When to prune currants? The best time is after the currant harvest in mid summer. This will be the easiest time, especially for blackcurrants, to see which stems are the new growth and which are the old.
In the picture above you can see the desired goblet shape that is recommended for currant bushes. This shape allows air to circulate between the branches helping to keep the plant healthy, provides plenty of space for currants to grow, and makes picking them easier.
I have found from experience that it is best to prune away any branches that are growing too laterally (horizontally) in favour of branches with a more vertical orientation. This is simply because horizontal branches can be dragged down to the ground (risking breaking) with the weight of the currants.
How To Grow Currants – Cuttings
At pruning time, or later during autumn, it is a good opportunity to take cuttings for new currant bushes.
The process is simple. Pick the youngest wood and cut them about 30cm down from the top of the stem just below a bud. Then as quickly as possible plunge the freshly cut end into some wet compost.
I do not use hormone rooting powder as I find success without it, but you may want to, and if you do just dip the cut end into the powder before putting the cutting into the fresh compost.
I put about 5 cut stems into a pot and hope that about 50% of the stems will take root. Ensure the compost does not dry out.
I find it hard not to become obsessive about cuttings! I find myself checking daily, morning and evening, for signs either of ill health or the greatly desired fresh new growth.
When I am absolutely sure that the cutting has taken, my technique is then to wait another month to allow further root growth before re-pottting into individual containers.
When the plants go dormant and the leaves drop, it is the ideal to time to move them to their final positions ready and waiting for the next spring.
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