Redcurrants

Now imagine me saying that with the same poor, cockney twang of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins ... sorry, I’m meandered away from the point of this post which is based around growing red currants, how easy it is and why eating redcurrants are good for you. Here goes ...

A Bit Of Red Currant History

Red currants (ribes rubrum) are just one species of currant available – you can also grow black, white or pink currants.

The word ‘currant’ is relatively new – we only have records showing this word being used from around 1550. Before this time the word ‘ribes’ would have been used.

Blue green leaves on the red currant bushes, suitable for planting in your garden

Red Currant Bushes

You shouldn’t need a lot of space in your garden if you fancy growing red currants. With each bush growing to between 5-6 ft high and wide, a healthy currant bush will produce between 3-10lbs of fruit. So you could quite happily add just a couple into your garden and still enjoy a glut of fruit during the summer.

The bushes themselves are fairly ornamental. Fast growing, these deciduous shrubs have three to five-lobed leaves in a deep blue-green colour. You can grow the bushes as standards or try growing them as cordons or fans.

Planting and Propagation

Plum roma tomato plants howing new fruit

Find The Best Position

Although the leaves of the bushes are attractive, they are damaged by very strong sunlight. So when choosing where to grow your currant bushes try to find a spot where they’ll get to enjoy the morning sunshine, a little shade in the afternoon and are not restricted for air flow.

There’s not too much to worry about in regards to the type of soil you’ve got, although they do prefer heavier soils – so they’ll cope with clayey soils whereas you’d be advised to bulk up fine or sandy soils.

The reason for this is that currants like to be kept moist – so clay soil with well rotted manure incorporated (as they still need good drainage) is good whilst sandy soils dry out too quickly. One thing to watch out for is that they do NOT like alkaline or salty soil – so you’re best to check your soil for these (if you’re unsure of your soil type use a simply soil test kit to check before planting).

Planting

The roots of the currant are fairly fine, so take care when planting as they are easily damaged.

When planting you’ll need to dig a hole large enough to allow the roots of the bush to spread out – to give them the best start carefully spread out the roots in the hole you dig. Hold the bush in place whilst you fill in the hole with a mix of soil and organic matter (well rooted manure – or if that’s not available compost will do as you’re basically added nutrients into the ground). Once you’ve filled in the hole, water thoroughly and use your feet to firm down the soil (removing any trapped pockets of air and making sure the bush stays in position).

Propagation

Currants are a very simple fruit to propagate and you’ve got two ways of increasing your plant stocks:

Taking Cuttings

Just take hardwood cuttings about 12” long from the mature wood and plant into pots, leaving about 4” out of the soil. Roots will take from different places along the cutting. If you’re feeling a little cautious, dip the end of the cuttings in a hormone rooting powder or gel before planting. Keep these new cuttings protected until the following year.

Try Layering

An even simpler way of propagating currants is to simply take a low growing cane and bend onto the ground, cover over with soil and weigh down to hold in place. Once the roots start to grow strongly, simply remove from the main bush and replant. You can propagate in this way in autumn or spring.

Growing A Good Crop

Fast growing, currant bushes have a sudden flush of growth in the spring. Here are just a few tips to help you enjoy healthy crops year after year.

Keep Them Well Watered

Currant bushes need to be kept well watered. The number and size of the leaves will be reduced when water is scarce and the plants could become affected by mildew. However, although you need to water currant bushes often, because they have fine, fibrous, shallow roots you’ll be able to set up a simple drip watering system to keep them moist.

Using weeping garden hose for this type of watering is good idea, or where mains water is not available why not use a drip watering system running from your water butt – quick and easy to install either of these systems will save you time watering and will ensure your currants remain well watered.

It’s also advisable to provide your currant bushes with an annual mulch of well rotted manure or good quality compost which will both help your plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. You should also ensure there are sufficient nutrients in the soil by applying some balanced compound fertiliser and high potash fertiliser to the surrounding ground.

Prune Every Year

The flowers – and therefore the all important fruit - on currant bushes is produced at the base of one year old wood and on the spurs of two and three year old wood. So this should help you when pruning – every autumn you should prune back the canes which are four years old. This way you’ll only have canes that are going to crop. This means, by pruning every year you’ll be increasing the crops and keep the bushes in good order.

Flowering

Currant bushes are attractive when in flower as each of there flower buds opens up to reveal up to twenty delicate flowers, all on the same 5-6” stem – technically called the ‘sprig’. Insects will pollinate the bushes, with most varieties having self-fertile flowers. Depending on the variety, the currants will ripen from 70-100 days after pollination. If you want to increase the number and size of currants you’ll get you’ll need to cut off the ends of the sprigs whilst they’re in flower.

Cropping

Red currants are ready start to ripen from mid summer (so about now). You’ll know the currants are ripe as the berries are a distinctive clear red and should be anywhere between 8-12mm in diameter.

If you’ve not collected red currants before you don’t need to pick off every berry individually – simply remove the entire cluster.

Make Sure You Get To Enjoy The Fruit

When the currants start to ripen they will be attractive to the birds as well as you. If you can make the initial investment, protect your crops with a fruit cage. 6ft high cages will completely enclose the bushes whilst leaving you space to water and harvest.

If you don’t want to make the initial investment – even though a well made cage will provide years of service – then try some forms of bird scarer – from the traditional scarecrow to the more modern methods of plastic bottle, tinfoil dishes or old CD’s strung up amongst the plants.

Nutrients

Like most fresh fruit, red currants are good for you. They contain a high amount of vitamin C, together with vitamin B, iron, phosphorus and fibre. They also have a relatively low calorie count at just 25 calories per 4oz (100g). Unfortunately, most people find the taste of red currants to tart so they tend to get used for garnishes, in preserves (jams or jellies) or cooked dishes rather than the berries being eaten raw.