Growing Currants

Currants are an easy crop to grow in the garden which is good because they are still quite rare in the supermarkets. Home grown, they are almost free and packed full of anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin C. 

Currants are more tolerant than many fruits of their site and soil conditions. What they do like though is a moist soil, but not water logged. They need the moisture for the fruits to develop.

Their ideal site is in full sun, but the effect of partial shade does them little harm. Avoid frost-pockets; their flowers can be damaged by a late frost which will of course result in a lower yield of fruit.

Their ideal soil is a rich, well-drained soil which will not dry out. They prefer a slightly acidic soil - around pH 6 to 6.5. They will grow well, however, in most normal soils.

The best varieties of Currant bushes are available in pots or bare-rooted from CurrantC.com or 1-800-Currants. They are shipped bare-rooted through the mail.

Dig the soil to a spade's depth before planting. Add a generous amount of well-rotted compost and dig it in well. Mix in a good handful or so per square yard of bone meal or a 5-10-5 fertilizer.

The best times to plant currants bushes is September-early October and April-early May. The plants should be spaced about 6 feet apart. Dig a hole wide enough to take the roots without cramping them. 

The depth of planting is quite important with currants. The bushes of black currants naturally produce a large number of stems from just below ground level (unlike red and white currants). To encourage this growth, plant the bushes roughly 2 inches deeper than they were in the pot or at the nursery if bare-rooted. Fill around the roots with soil and firm it down with your foot. When planted, trim every shoot to within two buds above soil level. This may sound drastic, because it will result in the plant only being about 2in high. However, it will encourage a strong root system as well as sturdy growth above ground. 

Care of Currants
Watering, weed prevention and pruning are the key requirements for currants. They will appreciate watering when conditions are dry and especially when the fruits are forming. Keep the weeds at bay to prevent competition for moisture. An annual mulch of wood chips will make easy work of both.

A good two handfuls of bone meal in spring, spread around each plant will also do a whole lot of good. 

Do not prune the plants in the first winter after planting. In the second and subsequent winters, prune to encourage new growth. Firstly, remove any stems which are damaged, diseased or crossing each other. Then, trim away 20% of the central part of the plant to leave the center more open. Finally, remove about 15% of the remaining old wood. 

Harvesting and Storing Currants
Currants are ready for harvest when the fruits of the black currants are very nearly black and the red, white and pink are brightly colored. Always try and pick them in dry conditions - wet currants store very badly and will mold quickly.

If the intention is to store the currants fresh for a few days, it's best to pick an entire strig which will keep for longer. Currants will keep best dry in the fridge and will last for five or six days.

For North-East Growing information please visit the USDA Plant Hardiness Map

Diseases and Insects

Cause Symptoms
 
White Pine Blister Rust At first, WPBR causes red spots to appear on the top of the leaves, followed by yellow spots on the underside of the leaves, eventually turning black. NOTE: Always purchase and plant WPBR resistant varieties of all Currants and Gooseberries.

Symptoms of White Pine Blister
Rust on the underside of a black Currant leaf

Close up of Telia and some uredia on
the underside of a black currant leaf
 
Powdery Mildew A light grey powdery substance appears mainlyon the stems, but spreads to the leaves and possibly the fruit.

Severe powdery mildew
on black currant stems
and leaves

Powdery Mildew on red currant fruit
 
Aphids (green/black fly) Lots of small black or green insects especially concentrated around
tender new shoots. The upper surface of leaves have raised bubble like areas
which can turn red or brown.
Aphid damage on leaves Lady bugs are excellent predators
of aphids
Aphids on the underside of leaves

For more information on insects and diseases of currants and gooseberries, click on:

http://www.ars-grin.gov/cor/ribes/ribsymp/ribsymp.html