Pruning currants: professional instructions & tips


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

Currant bushes can bear fruit in large quantities. However, for a good harvest they also need regular pruning.

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

Perfect for preserving or just snacking on in between – growing currants (Ribes) in your own garden is always worth it. The berries of the gooseberry plant (Grossulariaceae) come in different colours, which have quite different care requirements. For a bountiful harvest, annual pruning of currants is of great importance, otherwise the bushes will age. We show you when and how best to prune your currants.

Pruning currants

The longest clusters, with the largest red or white currants, are produced on the one-year-old side shoots that extend from the main shoots, which are usually two to three years old. Therefore, the goal of pruning is to always grow enough of these side shoots, which will bear fruit the next year. Likewise, there must always be enough young main shoots because after about three years shoots only form isolated side shoots with a few small fruits. In the first few years, plants still grow enough young main shoots and side shoots through pruning. Here, educational pruning, done in the first year or two after planting, ensures that six to eight main shoots form a beautiful bush. Then, from the third to fifth year, the older shoots must be removed so that the shrub is stimulated to grow new ones. However, in the case of currants, which form their fruit mainly on the side shoots of one-year-old shoots, even greater care must be taken to ensure constant regrowth of new main shoots.

Pruning currants: educational pruning

As already mentioned, the purpose of educational pruning is to establish main shoots – these are the shoots that start from the ground, and then the fruit-bearing side shoots are formed. They give the bush its bushy shape. Five to six shoots are usually left when planting currants. Then, in the year after that, a few more will form. In the summer or autumn of the year after planting, no later than the following February, the currant bush can be looked at more closely. Beautiful, outward-growing main shoots are left in place, while weak, inward-growing shoots are cut off.

A row of currant bushes
After two to three years a beautiful bush should emerge [Photo: Olexandr Panchenko/]

In the process, shoots that are growing in completely the wrong place because there is a nicer shoot right next to it are removed close to the ground, whereas shoots that are potentially growing up out of the ground in the right place but have developed in the wrong direction are to be cut off above the lowest, outward-facing bud. This is also how you proceed the following year. After two to three years, you should have reached the goal of being able to call a beautiful bush with six to eight main shoots your own.

The right time to prune currants

Just as with educational pruning, all future pruning should be done after harvest or in February, if possible. When pruning in February, it is important that you do it before the foliage shoots. In the summer before the harvest, motivated gardeners additionally thin out the currant bush. This promotes the formation of flower buds on the remaining shoots for the coming year due to better exposure to light.

Pruning currants: instructions

When pruning currants, it is first important to know exactly what kind it is. Red (Ribes rubrum) and white (Ribes sativa) currants bear their fruit mainly on the one-year-old side shoots of the two to three-year-old main shoots. In blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum), fruits grow predominantly on the side shoots of the main annual shoots. This is of great importance when pruning.

Whicker basket with red and black currants
To cut currants, it is important to know exactly which species they are [Photo: Bo Starch/].

Generally: Whenever enough new, young main shoots have grown, the old shoots are cut off close to the ground without a stump, because this reduces the risk of infection by disease. If not enough new shoots have grown from the rootstock, cut back an old shoot to a low-lying side shoot to the last outward-facing bud or to a stub. The goal of these pruning methods is that the pruned shoot will resprout.

Instructions for pruning red and white currants

  1. The goal is 8 – 12 strong, two to three year old main shoots.
  2. For red and white currants, cut back all main shoots older than four to five years to low-set, strong side shoots or cut them off close to the ground (if no suitable side shoots are present or enough new shoots have grown from the rootstock). Old shoots can be recognised by their darker wood. Markings with planting wire in different colours also help to identify old shoots.
  3. After removing the old shoots, select the 8 – 12 strongest shoots and cut the remaining shoots close to the ground.
  4. For the selected 8 – 12 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 that have not yet borne fruit, leave up to 8 pencil-thick shoots per main shoot, growing as flat as possible. Higher side shoots are preferred to deeper ones (less light). If there are more, they are cut off directly on the main shoot.
  5. All thin, weak or diseased ground shoots are removed near the ground, even if there are only 7 main shoots, for example.
  6. For low-growing plants, shorten one-year-old shoots by about one-third. This improves branching, that is, the formation of new side shoots.
Using secateurs to cut away old canes
Old canes can be recognised by the darker wood [Photo: rodimov/]

Instructions for pruning blackcurrants

Black currants bear fruit mainly on the one-year-old shoots. Thus, the goal of pruning is to promote new main shoots.

  1. When enough young shoots grow up from the rootstock, remove the harvested shoots close to the ground. If less than 8 new shoots have grown, divert the old shoots to young side shoots. You therefore cut off the shoot immediately above a strong, deep-set side shoot. Similarly, removing a shoot immediately above an outward, deep-set bud can encourage the formation of a new shoot.
  2. Then, remove any weak and diseased shoots, as well as disturbing side shoots that hang down, grow too steeply or set very low.
  3. The target is about 10 young main shoots.

Pruning currants: summer pruning

Summer pruning, as briefly mentioned, serves to improve exposure, promotes the formation of flower buds for the next year and is carried out before harvesting. The procedure is as follows:

  • Shorten the shoots that bear fruit.
  • Remove excessively steep, excess shoots (leave a total of about 10 two to three-year-old shoots; 10 new shoots for black currants) or injured new shoots.
  • Do not go overboard with thinning. Ripening fruits that are suddenly exposed to the sun in a strong way can be damaged by it.
Bright red currants on the bush
Summer pruning is carried out before harvesting [Photo: Tatiana Volgutova/]

Pruning standard currant trees

Currant trees are raised in the early years so that a strong central shoot – virtually the continuation of the stem – has four to six side shoots. Education is about leaving in place those side shoots that form a beautiful crown and cutting back to two or three buds those that grow from this ideal. Later, the older side shoots are always shortened to about three buds, and in the case of very weak growth – two buds. The bud which is being cut back to should always face outward. Lastly, for the right look, you can remove any overhanging branches so that your currant tree grows nice and compact.

Pruning currants for rejuvenation

Currant bushes that have not been pruned for years and now bear only a few tiny fruits definitely deserve a rescue attempt. Here, the old, dark shoots are radically cut off either directly above deep-seated, young side shoots or shortened to one or two buds. As always, it is necessary to cut back to buds pointing outward.

Cutting back old canes to help growth
Rejuvenation pruning involves radically cutting back old, dark shoots

With proper fertilisation in early spring, this radical pruning should because the currant bush to resprout properly the following year. If only one or two weak shoots develop, then, unfortunately, the rescue attempt may have failed and the shrub has had its day. It is better to plant a new currant bush instead of wasting time and effort on it.

Combine currant pruning with transplanting

If you decide to replant your currant bush in the garden, you should also prune it. Be sure to note that, as a rule, it is only worth transplanting younger specimens because older plants are severely affected by the move, and their yield suffers. The ideal time – just like planting – is autumn. If you transplant the currant, you should prune the plant fairly heavily. Remove everything except for the one-year-old shoots. After transplanting, the shrub then needs two to three years to regenerate.