Currants are one of the most traditional British fruits, but they 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 desserts 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.
- October – March
- Planting depth: Cover root ball
- Planting spacing: 1 m between plants, 1.5 m between rows (minimum)
- June – August
- Eat fresh, turn into jams and jellies, freeze
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. I like to dig down at least 40 cm or 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 well rotted manure, if available.
Your bushes will probably need a year to establish themselves, to 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.
After planting, it is worth placing a good mulch of well rotted manure around the base of the currant plants, 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.
Planting currants this way also makes netting them 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, then you will probably need more bushes.
There are three essential elements for caring for currants: water; feeding with manure or mulch; and netting. None of these elements 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 or July. It is essential that they are given a good feed in spring for it to provide a benefit for the fruiting period.
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 edge of the net.
Regarding watering, in dry periods and especially during the spring and 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 to provide 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 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.
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 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? 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.
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 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, I like to wait another month to allow further root growth, before re-pottting into individual containers.
When the plants go dormant and the leaves drop, this is the ideal to time to move them to their final positions, ready and waiting for the next spring.
See currant varieties.