Currants: Everything from planting to harvest

Theresa
Theresa
Theresa
Theresa

I am studying crop science and have always enjoyed gardening, despite the fact that my first attempts as a small child were rather unsuccessful. With the skills and knowledge gained from my studies, I am now enjoying much more success - I find topics like intercropping, raised beds and composting particularly fascinating.

Favourite fruit: cherries, plums and pears
Favourite vegetables: broccoli, chard and peas

Currants are a must in any garden. You can learn more about planting, care and harvesting here.

Red currants on the bush
Currants are high-yielding and low-maintenance shrubs

Growing currant (Ribes) in your own garden is worthwhile for several reasons: in the supermarket or even at the weekly market, they are rarely available and if they are, then the quality often leaves much to be desired. However, currants taste best when they are very fresh when their valuable vitamin C has not yet evaporated. Besides this, currants really do not make much work and delight us for many years. We tell you how to plant currants correctly and what to consider when pruning and fertilising etc.

Currants: characteristics and origin

Currants belong to the gooseberry family and originally come from Central and Northeastern Europe. Its name probably comes from St. John, whose name day falls on 24 June and thus roughly coincides with the ripening of currants. The deciduous shrubs grow from one to a maximum of two metres high, depending on the variety.

Red and black currants in a whicker basket
Depending on the variety, the berries can be harvested between June and August [Photo: Bo Starch/ Shutterstock.com]

The berries, which can be harvested between June and August depending on the variety, grow on clusters. Compared with raspberries (Rubus idaeus, aggregate fruits) or strawberries (Fragaria, aggregate fruits), the fruits of the white (Ribes sativa), red (Ribes robrus) and also the black currant (Ribes nigrum) are true berries.

Currant species and varieties: overview

Currants are distinguished by their colour – so there are red, white and black specimens. The different coloured currants vary in their composition and thus also in taste. Below is a brief overview of the different types of currant, as well as some of the best varieties of each.

  • Red currants: Highest content of fruit acids compared to white and black currants; they usually taste sweet and sour to sour; eaten fresh, as juice, jam or as a cake; the best varieties are a matter of taste – for example, we recommend ‘Jonkheer van Tets’ and ‘Rotet’.
  • White currants: They are somewhat milder and sweeter than red currants; very appreciated for processing into berry wine; proven varieties include ‘White Versailler’, ‘Primus’ and ‘Witte von Huismann’.
  • Black currants: They are less often eaten fresh, although they contain five times as much vitamin C as white or red currants; often made into jelly, juices or dessert wines because of their tart taste; we have had very good experiences in the garden with the varieties ‘Bona’ and ‘Ometa’.
White, red and black currants on a dish
Currants are distinguished by their colour [Photo: marcin jucha/ Shutterstock.com]

There are also blood currants (Ribes sanguinum), although these are grown as ornamental plants and not for consumption. Their few fruits have little flavour. Although they are not poisonous, they are still not suitable for consumption but due to its beautiful spring flowers, blood currant is still popular. ‘Snowflame’, for example, is a beautiful variety.

Buying currants or propagating?

Currant bushes can be purchased in hardware stores, garden stores, and also on the Internet. Anyone who does not want to buy new plants can propagate their own currant plants although it takes a little patience until the first harvest of the delicious little fruits.

Buying currants: What to consider

When buying currants, by choosing healthy plants of a robust, rain-resistant variety, you can save yourself a lot of work later. As a rule, these plants are less likely to be affected by diseases. It is always worth considering which currant varieties are suitable for your own garden before buying. After all, there are many criteria to consider from taste to harvest time, fruit size or colour, and resistance to various diseases.

Self propagating currants

The easiest method for propagating currants yourself is to take cuttings. In this process, the mother plant is virtually cloned, so the cuttings will belong to the same variety as the mother plant. The correct term here is wood cuttings, as the shoots used for propagation are usually already much woodier than herbaceous cuttings.

Sunlight shining through the red currant bush
Red currants prefer a sunny location [Photo: Ivanova Viktoriya/ Shutterstock.com]

How to propagate currants by cuttings in a nutshell:

  • Cut off 20 cm cuttings with at least 2 – 3 buds
  • Prepare a nutrient-rich, humus-rich growing bed or pot
  • Insert cuttings so that at least 2 buds still protrude from the soil; make sure that the buds point upwards
  • Water sufficiently and keep moist for a few weeks
  • When the first shoots are 5 – 10 cm, cut off the tips of the shoots
  • After 6 – 12 months, transplant into a larger pot or to the final location
  • The first harvest will be after about 3 years

Planting currants: when and how?

Below you will find all the important information on how to successfully grow currants in your garden.

The right location

Currant plants prefer a slightly acidic, medium-heavy and humus-rich soil. Since they are forest and swamp plants, they also need a uniformly moist soil. To better ensure this, they are often covered with a layer of mulch, for example, grass clippings, manure or bark mulch. This mulch layer also protects the roots of the plant from frosts in winter.

In this location, currants feel comfortable:

  • Sunny to partial shade (for partial shade we recommend white currants)
  • Soil does not need to be deep; therefore, a large planting trough or a low bed (40 cm) is also sufficient
  • In case of heavy frosts and a high risk of late frost, mobile plant troughs and tubs are the better choice; if there is a risk of frost, for example, push or carry them into the garage
  • Soil should be able to retain moisture well; therefore, a medium-heavy soil is ideal
Red currants in the sun
Currants prefer a sunny location [Photo: Ivanova Viktoriya/ Shutterstock.com]

When is the best time to plant?

Currants root best when planted in autumn after leaves fall or in early spring before new shoots appear. At these times, the soil is usually well moistened, the water requirement of the plants that have not yet sprouted is still significantly lower, and there is less danger of the young, poorly rooted plants drying out. But in principle, planting is possible almost all year around. In that case, you should only pay attention to a good water supply after planting.

Planting currants: instructions

Planting currants basically works the same way as with other berry bushes or fruit trees. The only difference you should note is that the plants need to be placed a little deeper into the ground – red and white currants a few centimetres, and black currants even a hand width. This promotes the formation of new young shoots, which is especially important for black currants because they bear fruit only on the one-year-old shoots.

Planting currants – step by step:

  1. Free the soil of weeds, so that they do not grow into the rootstock later on.
  2. Dig a planting hole and loosen the soil next to it and under it with a digging fork.
  3. The strongest and most beautiful five to six shoots, growing preferably in different directions, are selected and cut back to one-third of their shoot length. But you should still leave three to five buds per shoot. Cut off the remaining shoots.
  4. Briefly immerse the root ball in water so that it is fully soaked.
  5. Place red and white currants a few centimetres deeper than in the original pot and black currants a hand’s width deeper than before in the planting hole.
  6. Fill the planting hole with compost, lightly press the soil and water generously.
  7. Cover the soil surface with mulch (bark mulch for calcareous soils, grass clippings, straw, manure, etc.).

Tip: Pile up some soil around the plant. When watering, this dam prevents the water from running away, ensuring it can reach the roots of the plant.

Seedling of a currant bush with a trowl
The planting hole should be filled with compost [Photo: Elena M. Tarasova/ Shutterstock.com]

Important for standard trees: Before planting, a stake should be driven into the planting hole, to which the standard tree is attached after planting. Incidentally, currants grown as standards bear far fewer currants than a well-developed bush, even after a few years. So here you have to choose between optics and yield. In addition, standards also need to be pruned more drastically and regularly, so that they retain a beautiful shape. This means they require a little more work.

You can also find detailed information and tips on planting currants here.

Transplanting currants

When transplanting currants it is necessary to take into account the age of the plant. After transplanting, it takes two to three years for the shrub to fully recover and hopefully bear berries as abundantly as before. Therefore, such a procedure is worthwhile only for younger bushes. The best time for transplanting in this case is autumn. At this time of the year, the soil dries out less quickly and the roots, which first have to re-anchor themselves in the soil, are able to find enough water.

The procedure is quite similar to planting currants, but when transplanting, you should also slightly prune the roots of currants. The planting hole should be of a generous size and the digging should be carried out over a wide area. Use a spade to poke a circle around the plant that is larger than the diameter of the shrub, and use a digging fork to try to loosen the soil as deep as possible under the shrub. Then lift the currant plant and cut back any damaged roots to the healthy tissue. Now move the plant to its new location and generously fill the planting hole with compost.

Watering and fertilising

Currants do not root deeply, but prefer moist soil that rarely dries out – and if it does, then not too long. This places very special demands on the water supply. We give you tips and at the same time tell you what is important in the proper nutrition of currants.

Currant bush being watered
Currants prefer a moist soil [Photo: Alexsander Ovsyannikov/ Shutterstock.com]

Watering currants correctly

Especially in the warm and dry summer months, currant bushes want adequate watering. Since in many varieties the roots do not penetrate very deep into the soil, regular watering is essential in the absence of rain. However, the frequency and amount of watering are strongly dependent on soil conditions. As a general rule, due to better water retention, currants on heavy, more loamy soils do not need to be watered as frequently as on sandy sites. By the way, the water requirement of any plant is highest during flowering and fruiting, but in the time in between there should not be prolonged dry periods. So after the harvest, as a rule, you do not have to worry about your currants. If it rains very little in autumn, the plants will be glad of a little extra water every few weeks, but in a regular autumn with occasional rainfall, the low water demand will be well met at this time.

Plantura tip: Mulching currant bushes – for example, with straw, grass clippings or bark mulch – reduces the evaporation of soil water and thus keeps plants more moist. However, be aware of the consequences that mulch materials such as straw and bark mulch have on the nutrient supply of your plants.

Fertilising

It is best to fertilise currants as early as February. A natural fertiliser that unfolds its effect gradually provides the currants with many nutrients over a long period of time from early spring, when shoot growth begins, until fruiting. Due to this desirable long-term effect, we recommend organic fertilisers such as red manure, compost or our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food.

In addition, plant-based fertilisers promote active soil life and are much more environmentally friendly than mineral, fast-acting varieties. We do not recommend horn products, because they contain too little potassium, and thus provide currants with an insufficient supply of nutrients.

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Watering and fertilising currants in pots

Because plants in pots dry out more quickly due to the smaller volume of substrate, currant bushes in pots need to be watered more often than in the open ground. Specimens in pots should also be fertilised in February, but with much smaller amounts than plants in the open ground. This is because pot-grown plants cannot form as many shoots, nor as many fruits as plants that are free to spread. Therefore, they can not utilise as much fertiliser as their siblings grown in beds. We recommend using slightly less than the minimum recommendation for fertilisers. With the Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, of we recommend 90 to 140 g per currant plant, 60 g is already well enough for a small potted plant and 80 g for a large one.

Pruning currants

To harvest a lot of berries every year, it is worthwhile taking good care of currants. In addition to watering and fertilising, this includes regular pruning. Such pruning stimulates the growth of new shoots bearing fruit. The old canes that no longer bear fruit are removed so that the young ones can receive more light and form aromatic fruit. In addition, well-aerated shrubs are also less susceptible to fungal diseases.

Pruning a currant bush with secateurs
For a good harvest, currant bushes need to be pruned regularly [Photo: Oleksandr Chub/ Shutterstock.com]

When to prune?

Currants are usually pruned in the summer after harvest or before bud break in February. In summer, the currant bush is sometimes additionally thinned before harvesting. This will allow you to promote the formation of flower buds on the remaining shoots due to the better exposure.

Pruning currants: instructions

When pruning currants, you should pay attention to whether they are red, white or black varieties. White and red currant varieties form most of their fruit on the side shoots of the one- to three-year-old main shoots. Shoots older than three years form only a few side shoots with small fruits and must therefore be replaced by younger shoots. Black currants bear their fruit mainly on one-year-old shoots, which means the growth of new, young shoots must be encouraged even more.

Pruning currants in a nutshell:

  1. For red and white currants, cut off all main shoots older than four to five years old. With black currants, you can also already cut back the one-year-old shoots that have borne fruit this year.
  2. As a rule of thumb, between eight and twelve main shoots are ideal for the plant. Cut off any remaining shoots that are weak and growing inward.
  3. This step should be observed especially in the case of red and white currants: For the selected eight to twelve shoots, the side shoots that have borne fruit this year are cut back to the main shoot except for a stub. Of the newly grown side shoots, leave up to eight per main shoot. You should cut off any remaining (low-set, thin, steeply growing, drooping) side shoots directly on the main shoot.
  4. Also remove any diseased and withered branches.
  5. For red and white currants: For low-growing varieties, shorten one-year-old shoots by about one-third. This improves branching, i.e. the formation of new side shoots.
Using secateurs to prune the currant bush
Between eight and twelve main shoots are ideal [Photo: rodimov/ Shutterstock.com]

For more information on the ideal pruning of currants and summer thinning pruning, see our expert article. 

Harvesting currants: when are currants ripe?

Depending on the variety, red and white currants usually ripen between June and August. Black currants begin to bear ripe fruit in July. But it is not so easy the exact time when the fruit is ripe for picking. The berries take on their varietal colour and become slightly softer as they ripen. However, quite soft fruits are often overripe and even fall off the bush. If you still notice some resistance when plucking the fruits, you should wait a few more days. When the fruits can be easily detached, they are usually ripe. A sweetish taste also suggests harvest maturity. Here, however, there are also great differences in varieties.

Plantura tip: Harvest only on dry days, because wet fruits tend to rot. Therefore, we also advise you to always wash the fruit immediately before eating or processing.

Currants can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. However, they are healthiest when they are very fresh and the vitamin C, which is sensitive to light and heat, is still present in full. Because of their high content of fruit acid currants are particularly suitable for making cakes, pies, jams, and jellies.

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