Blackcurrants are easy to grow, producing bunches of dark purple berries in mid-summer, rich in vitamin C. With their tart flavour they can be made into pies and jams, cordials and even cassis. Short on space? Blackcurrants can be grown in containers.
Jobs to do now
- Water well, make sure container-grown bushes don’t dry out
- Harvest currants
Month by month
In mid-spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around the base.
Spread mulch (such as well-rotted manure or mushroom compost) around the plants to suppress weeds.
Avoid hoeing near the base of bushes because the hoe might cut through new shoots developing at the base.
Water blackcurrants during dry periods in the growing season.
Prune blackcurrants when dormant – from late autumn to late winter. They fruit best on younger wood, so when pruning aim to remove older wood, leaving the younger branches.
Up to and including the fourth year after planting, remove weak, wispy shoots, retaining a basic structure of 6 to 10 healthy shoots.
In year four, cut out about one-third of the older wood at the base, using a pair of loppers or a pruning saw. This will encourage and make room for younger, healthy wood. Also remove weak shoots and low ones leaning towards the ground.
Repot container-grown blackcurrants every two or three years in late winter. Trim back some of the roots and tease away the old soil replacing it with fresh John Innes No 3 compost. Pot back into the same container or one slightly larger.
Liquid feed in the summer months. Annually top dress with fresh compost and a general purpose feed such as Growmore.
Blackcurrants tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer well-drained, moisture-retentive sites. They prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade.
Always buy certified stock to avoid virus problems. One bush should yield about 4.5kg (10lb) of fruit.
You will see blackcurrants for sale in two forms: bare-root stock (as the name suggests, the roots are exposed when you purchase these plants) or in containers. The best time to plant is in the dormant season, November to March, but avoid periods when the soil is frozen or very wet. Containerised plants can be planted all year round.
Before planting, clear the soil of all perennial weeds and add generous amount of well-rotted manure. Add a balanced fertiliser (like Growmore) at the rate of 85g per sq m (3oz per sq yd).
Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, and spread the roots out when planting. Set each plant at least 6cm (2½in) deeper than it was previously. Deep planting encourages young, vigorous shoots to develop from the base. Firm in well before watering.
If planting in the dormant season, prune back all shoots to 2.5cm (1in). This will encourage shoot development, although you will sacrifice the first year's fruit. If you've planted a containerised plant in the growing season, don't hard prune.
If growing in a container, choose one that is 45-50cm (18-20in) in diameter. When planting, place a crock (small piece of broken concrete, clay pots, or polystyrene) over the pot's drainage hole. Use a good-quality compost (John Innes No 3 is ideal), or multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume of grit.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Blackcurrant gall midge
Tiny, white maggots feed on the shoot tips of blackcurrants and prevent leaves from reaching their full size. The affected leaves dry up and die. Shoot tips can also die back.
In minor cases you can pick off the infested leaves (you will be able to see the white maggots with the naked eye). But beware that removing too many leaves will impact on the crop yield. There is no chemical control. The blackcurrants ‘Ben Connan’ and ‘Ben Sarek’ are resistant to blackcurrant gall midge.
Big bud mite
These mites infest the buds of blackcurrant bushes. ‘Ben Hope’ is a resistant cultivar.
The affected buds of lightly infested plants can be picked off during the winter and disposed of away from blackcurrant plants. Dispose of heavily infested plants after the fruit has been picked and replant in autumn with clean new stock. Purchase certified stock plants, as these will have been inspected on the nursery and certified as being free of big bud mite and reversion. One mite-resistant cultivar, ‘Ben Hope’, is available.
This mildew causes a powdery grey and white fungus on leaves and stems. The mildew may also appear on fruit, causing problems with ripening.
Cut out any infected stems or leaves you see straight away and destroy. This mildew is worse if bushes are planted close together giving poor air circulation, so space bushes out when planting.
Blackcurrants ripen from early summer onwards, depending on the variety.
The easiest way to harvest modern varieties, such as the ‘Ben Sarek’, ‘Ben Hope’, ‘Ben Lomond’ and ‘Ben Connan’, is to cut whole fruit trusses (known as strigs) once the currants turn black.
Older varieties ripen less uniformly, with currants at the top of the truss ready first. In this case, pick ripe currants individually.
Eat within a few days of harvesting. Alternatively, blackcurrants can be frozen, cooked or made into smoothies, jam or jelly.
Nigel Slater's stewed blackcurrants make a decadent summer dessert with cream and yoghurt
Mary Berry suggests replacing the blackberries with blackcurrants in this fruit-based dessert.
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