Redcurrants, and their less well known cousins, whitecurrants are some of the most useful, and most easily grown fruit bushes available to the gardener. Not only do they produce tasty nutritious fruit, crammed with Vitamin C and anti-oxidants but they have good ornamental value and, being extremely hardy, they will grow in colder spots and on poorer ground than most other fruit. Every garden should have redcurrants, so here are some tips and tricks to help grow them successfully.
Varieties first. For redcurrants, Junifer is early and excellent while Rovada (which is one of the best tasting redcurrants there is) crops later. Whitecurrants are thinner on the ground but I like Blanka which yields better than Versailles (don’t turn your nose up at whitecurrants – their jelly is sensational). All the varieties named have good disease resistance.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants are both completely self-fertile, so there is none of the poring over books needed to decide what goes with what.
As with almost any plant, redcurrants and whitecurrants produce best in good, well-drained soil, ideally with a pH 6 to 7. But that is the ideal and they will fruit in even the poorest ground (provided there is some drainage). It might sound silly, but a couple of redcurrant and whitecurrant bushes planted in parts of the garden that get little attention will not only look good, but they will bring in the birds. Obviously, if you are planting to produce fruit, it makes sense to improve the soil by digging in plenty of well rotted compost or horse manure . Adding a handful of bonemeal per square yard will not go amiss either.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants are usually produced from cuttings (very occasionally from layers). These are grown on and then generally sold bare rooted as one or two year old plants. I would always recommend buying from a specialist mail order nursery as their stock is likely to be more freshly lifted than that of a garden centre, and bare root plants are very much cheaper than container grown ones. Reputable suppliers would include Ashridge Trees, Blackmoor Nurseries, Chris Bowers, Ken Muir and Unwins.
In the UK it is safe to grow redcurrants in full sun. In warmer climates however, they flag badly in hot summers and therefore tend to be grown so they get morning sun but are in dappled shade – usually cast by fruit trees – in the afternoon. Your view of climate warming will lead you to choose which you prefer! What is important however is that they are kept out of the wind; they need moisture to produce large fruit and drying winds affect berry size.
Spacing with currants is important – they should be grown about 120cms (3-4ft) apart in the row with 150cms (4-5ft) between rows. The best time to plant is between November and the end of February. As with all bare root shrubs and trees, keep the roots damp, but not drowned (in a plastic bag with some wet straw or newspaper will do) right up the time they are put in the ground. At planting time, when you take a plant out of the bag, cleanly trim any damaged roots back to just above the breakage and cut the branches of the plant back to about 15 cms (6 inches) if they have not already been. Dunk the roots in a bucket of water and set the plant in ahole plenty big enough for its roots so the crown finishes 3-5 cms (1-2 inches) below soil level. This is important as new growths in future years come from below ground level, not off the trunk of the plant. Return the soil, firm the soil down wth the ball of your foot and water them well.
After care is pretty straightforward. Weed control is important; weeds (including grass) compete for moisture and nutrients and so reduce yields. You can kill about three birds with one stone by weeding well in early spring, and then muching the plants heavily. Redcurrants and their cousins do well when mulched with straw, but any organic matter will do. The mulch helps suppress weeds, improves water retention and ultimately rots down to provide humus and improve the soil. It also helps prevent root damage as all currants are shallow rooted.
Water well until you have picked your crop. Once the fruit is gone, you can water less so as to toughen the plants up for winter. On the assumption October is dry (looks unlikely this year) give them a final water in November and then leave them until it is time to prune them.
Red and whitecurrants need pruning to crop well. They carry their fruit on two or three year old fruiting spurs. The best time to prune is in February or very early March just before the buds begin to swell on a day when no frost is expected for 24 hours. First, take out all wood that is over three years old at ground level. Then thin out the wood that remains so that each bush has a total of nine strong canes – three canes of three year old wood, three canes of two year old wood and three canes of one year old wood.
The most common afflictions of redcurrants in the UK are aphids and fungal infectons. Aphids are a fact of life in Britain and you will already have worked out how best to deal or live with them. Mildew and leaf spot can be dealt with by the application of a proprietory fungicide. Remember these are fruit plants and the instructions on the packet must be followed. However good hygiene, mulching, proper spacing and clean pruning (and disposal of the prunings) will all help keep your plants are disease free.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants are carried in strings – clusters of 10-20 berries. When completely ripe, they are quite soft and a deep, rich red . The best way to harvest them is to take off each string, rather than trying to pick the berries individually – I find a small pair of scissors comes in handy here. If you want to eat redcurrants fresh, or use them in jams, syrups, juices and pies they are best picked when they have fully ripened. A neat trick, if you want them for jelly is to pick them when they are still a little unripe as there is more pectin in the fruit and the jelly sets better. Early croppers such as Junifer redcurrants ripen over a period of two to three weeks while a maincrop variety such as Rovada will carry fruit for a couple of weeks longer. Redcurrants deep freeze very well and they are also delicious dried.
These plants are an outstanding and hugely rewarding long term investment. A fully productive redcurrant can yield up to 5 kgs (11lbs) of fruit in a season. Price that up in a supermarket against a plant that will cost you about £4.50! And then remember it will carry on doing so for 20 years.
Redcurrants and Whitecurrants – Top Tips for Successful Growing by Julian Bosdari is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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