Currants are small, tangy, cold climate treats, their sweet, sharp-flavoured berries are the number one choice for fruit jellies and jams. They can be eaten raw in fruit salads and on muesli but are more often found inside summer puddings and preserves. Currants grow on bushes that can grow to heqd height and about as wide. They only grow well in areas that have cold winters so take them off your list if you are in a warm part of the North Island that gets no winter frosts – having said that, if you were to try them in a warm area, go for black currants. Bushes lose their leaves through winter and are able to withstand winter temperatures down to -5 degrees centigrade. Currants are self-fertile – meaning the can be pollinated by themselves so you don’t need more than one but with red, black and white varieties available one might not be enough. Currant bushes make nice loose hedges and are often grown together to make protecting them from birds with mesh a little easier.
Companions Marigolds to draw predatory insects like ladybugs and hoverflies
Quantity 1 - 3 bushes or more per household – depending on how much you like currants!
Sharp and sweet, this jelly keeps for ages, but store in frig once opened.
White Versailles a white currant producing large translucent fruits in mid summer. Great for jams.
Giant Ruby a red currant with large tasty berries that are delicious raw as well as being a good jam and jelly currant.
Sefton a black currant that may be tried in warmer areas as it requires less winter chilling. Produces large sweet fruit in Summer.
Plant container grown currant bushes in winter and spring.
Currants like morning sun and afternoon shade with protection from strong drying winds that can burn and shred foliage. Where space is tight, currants can be grown in containers.
Currants like cool, rich soil that holds onto some moisture at all times without becoming water-logged. Something with a good mixture of soil and rotted organic material.
Plants should be spaced a short stride apart to make a hedge or a full stride apart if being grown as individual specimens. Soak the roots of currant bushes in water before planting them.
Prepare the planting area. Soil should be weed-free and well dug through to at least a full spade’s depth. Dig a hole that is just larger than the container the plant is in Add a spade full of sheep pellets or a sprinkling of blood and bone meal to the soil in the bottom of the hole and mix well. Place red and white currant bushes in holes so that container soil level and surrounding ground level are the same, black currant bushes should be planted so that their soil level is about a thumb’s depth below surrounding soil level. Back fill around root ball making sure there are no air pockets. Water well and mulch with sawdust, pine needles, old straw or shredded bark.
If planting in a container choose something large enough – half barrels look good and offer sufficient space for a long-term planting. Mix equal quantities of rich organic compost with some topsoil and then add a couple of spades-full of grit. Ensure containers drain well and do not collect water. Fill container to within a thumb’s depth of the rim. Plant currant bush in the centre with container and plant soil levels the same as above for red and white and lower for black – but still a thumb’s depth below the rim. Water well and mulch with sawdust, pine needles, old straw or shredded bark.
It is important to keep plants weed free and to maintain constant soil moisture in the growing season. Always water at the base of plants – avoid splashing foliage as this can spread fungal disease. Watering is reduced as fruit start to ripen.
Feed: Sprinkle untreated wood ash around the base of plants in spring to boost flower and fruit – you can also use an application of liquid seaweed. Currants don’t need too much feeding if soil has been well-prepared but you can give them about a handful of citrus feed in spring – sprinkled onto the soil in a band around the outer limits of the foliage. Alternatively, make a mulching layer of worm compost, straw and sheep pellets and apply instead of citrus feed. Don’t over-feed, too much nitrogen causes soft leafy growth that can make plants susceptible to fungal diseases and attractive to aphids.
Flowering: Currants are an early spring flower in the garden. They are self-pollinated but bees and insects can help to improve pollination and increase yields.
Care: New shoots can be spindly and may need support. Currants in containers can be grown through a metal frame with hoops to support stems. In the garden black currants are always grown as bushes but red and white currants can be trained against walls and fences with stems carefully pruned into fans and tied to training wires.
Fruit are formed from late spring though to autumn. Red and white currants are borne in long trusses or ‘sprigs’ each with 10-20 berries. These are often snipped off stems with scissors rather than individual berries being picked off one at a time. You can then use a fork to pull the berries from the ‘sprigs’ when back in the kitchen. Black currants grow in shorter clumps that are easy to snip off stems. Try to harvest in dry weather as wet fruit will deteriorate quickly.
Storage: Currants do not keep if fresh. Best eaten immediately or cooked. Currants can be frozen for use in cooking or preserving at a later date. Spread them out on plates or trays in the freezer until frozen and store in bags
Black currants produce fruit on stems that have grown in the same season. When first planted, all stems are cut back to two buds from their base so plants look like a collection of small stumps. These will soon grow into new stems. No more pruning happens for two summers until in the second winter you cut out up to a quarter of the stems – chose the older ones. This ‘quarter' prune is repeated thereafter every winter – as a general rule, plants should be restricted to 9 or 10 stems.
Red and white currants produce fruit on stems that have been growing for two years. Pruning aims to create a healthy framework that is geared to good fruit production. Plants are pruned to form an open, goblet-shape that allows good airflow and lets light into the center. It is a bit technical but should make sense if you only apply each step at the recommended time.
After planting, pull off any shoots – or suckers – that are growing from beneath soil. Cut back to the main stem any lower side branches so the main stem is clear for about a finger’s length from ground level. This will give your plant a short leg or ‘stool’. Cut back all remaining branches to a third of their original length, making your cuts just above an outward facing bud. Thereafter, pruning takes place in summer as soon as fruit have been harvested. All side shoots are cut back to 5 leaves from their base. When the upwards-growing main stems that form the goblet shape have reached the height you want for your currant bush, cut them back in the same way to 5 leaves from their base. Repeat this every summer.
If you get their growing conditions right currants should be trouble free. They are susceptible to mildew where they dry out in summer and aphids can be a problem at the tips of soft young shoots. In winter hungry birds eat the young developing buds and they’ll also strip plants of ripe fruit in summer. Cover with bird mesh or grow currants with other berry fruits in a fruit cage.