These juicy berries, packed with vitamin C, are a real treat. Make them into summer puddings or serve freshly picked with ice cream. With their stems dripping with jewel-bright fruits, they make an attractive shrub for any garden border.
Growing currants through the year
Despite being closely related, redcurrants and whitecurrants have a different growth habit to blackcurrants. All three will tolerate most soils, apart from wet or poorly drained. They prefer a sunny spot that’s sheltered from cold winds, but redcurrants and whitecurrants will cope with partial shade.
Bare-root plants can be planted between October and early March in mild spells. Pot-grown plants can go in any time. Prepare the soil by digging in organic matter, such as well-rotted garden compost. Add a general-purpose fertiliser (follow pack instructions) to the planting hole. Blackcurrants like to go in deep – 6cm deeper than the soil mark on the stem.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants prefer to have the top of their rootball level with the soil surface. Firm down the soil around the roots and water well. Leave 1.5m between the plants and 1.8m between rows.
After planting, cut back the stems of blackcurrants to one bud above ground level to encourage new growth. If planted in summer, wait until winter before doing this.
Tending the crop
Feed plants with pelleted chicken manure in spring, then cover the roots with a 5cm mulch of garden compost to hold in moisture and suppress weeds.
While blackcurrants are hungry plants, redcurrants and whitecurrants will grow too fast if overfed. Water in dry spells, but not while the fruits are ripening as this may cause the fruits to split.
Blackcurrants fruit on young wood. For the first two years, remove any weak or whippy shoots; after that, remove a quarter of the two-year-old (grey) stems and older (black) ones in winter, cutting back to the base.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants fruit on old wood. In winter, cut back old or diseased stems; at the end of June, prune new growth back to two buds, to keep the plant compact.
Harvest whole trusses, rather than individual berries. They’re ready to pick when they’ve coloured up but are still firm and shiny. Pick currants on a dry day, as wet currants will quickly go mouldy.
Store unwashed bunches of currants in the fridge for up to five days. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and whitecurrants all freeze well.
Preparation and uses
To prepare currants, strip them from the stalks by pushing a fork down the length of each bunch.
Sprigs of currants make a pretty garnish, alhough you may need a sprinkle of sugar to take the edge of their tartness. Cook them in pies and sauces or make into jams and jellies.
Put netting over bushes to stop birds stripping all the fruit. Blackcurrant gall midge causes leaves to dry and drop off. Control it with an insecticidal soap.
It’s easy to propagate currants from hardwood cuttings taken during winter. Prepared lengths of stem will root readily when simply planted into the soil. Plants raised from cuttings will fruit in three years.
Currant varieties to try
- ‘Ben Nevis’ – pick the well-flavoured fruits in late July. Frost- and mildew-resistant
- ‘Ben Sarek’ – a compact plant with a heavy crop in July. Resistant to mildew, frost and leaf-curling midge
- ‘Rovada’ – heavy crops of big berries in long trusses
- ‘Stanza’ – gives a large mid-season crop. Compact, so ideal for small gardens
- ‘Blanka’ – the heaviest cropping whitecurrant, with long trusses of large, pearly white berries
- ‘White Versailles’ – early, heavy crop of large, sweet berries in long trusses