Grow Your Own

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are easy to grow, producing bunches of dark purple to black fruits in mid-summer. Blackcurrants have a tart flavour and provide an invaluable source of vitamin C. In the kitchen use them in pies and jams, to make cordials and even cassis. Short on space? Blackcurrants can be grown in containers.

Blackcurrants

Grow

Water blackcurrants during dry periods in the growing season. In late winter, feed with a balanced fertiliser (like Growmore) at 100g per sq m (4oz per sq yd).

Hand weed and place a mulch (such as well-rotted manure or mushroom compost) around the plant in late winter to suppress weeds. Avoid hoeing near the base of the bush because the hoe might cut through new shoots developing at the base of the plant.

Repot container-grown blackcurrants every two or three years. Pot back into the same container or one slightly larger. Trim back some of the roots and tease away the old soil replacing it with fresh John Innes No 3 compost.

Prune blackcurrants when dormant – from late autumn to late winter. Fruit forms on young wood, so when pruning aim to remove older wood, leaving the young shoots.

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.

Plant

Always buy certified stock to avoid virus problems. One bush should yield about 4.5kg (10lb) of fruit.

Blackcurrants tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer well-drained, moisture-retentive conditions. Blackcurrants prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade.

You will see blackcurrants for sale in two forms: bare-root stock (as the name suggested, the roots are exposed when you purchase these plants) or in containers. Bare-root plants should be planted from late autumn; containerised plants can be planted at any time of year, as long as the soil is not too wet.

A few weeks 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 (2.25in) deeper than it was previously. Deep planting encourages young, vigorous shoots to develop from the base. Mix the soil from the hole with well-rotted organic manure and backfill the hole. Firm it in well before watering.

If growing in a container, choose one that is 45-50cm (18-20in) in diameter. When planting, place some crocks (small pieces of broken concrete, clay pots, or polystyrene) in the bottom of the containers to retain moisture. Use a good-quality compost (John Innes No 3 is ideal), or multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume of grit.

Common problems

Birds

Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.

Remedy: 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.

More info on Birds

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.

Remedy: 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.

More info on Blackcurrant gall midge

Big bud mite

Big bud mite: These mites infest the buds of blackcurrant bushes. ‘Ben Hope’ is a resistant cultivar.

Remedy: 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.

More info on Big bud mite

Gooseberry mildew

Gooseberry mildew: This mildew causes a powdery grey and white fungus on leaves and stems. The mildew may also appear on fruit, causing problems with ripening.

Remedy: 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.

More info on Gooseberry mildew

Harvesting

Harvest the fruit on modern varieties such as the ‘Ben Sarek’, ‘Ben Hope’, ‘Ben Lomond’ and ‘Ben Connan’ by cutting the strigs (bunches of fruit) as they turn black. Older types of blackcurrant varieties ripen at different times, with the currants at the top of the strig ripening first. The fruit should therefore be picked individually.

Eat fresh blackcurrants within a few days of harvesting. Alternatively, they can be frozen, cooked, or made into smoothies, jam or jelly.

Recipes

Nigel Slater's stewed blackcurrants make a decadent summer dessert with cream and yoghurt

Baking guru Mary Berry suggests replacing the blackberries with blackcurrants in this fruit-based dessert.

Varieties

‘Ben Sarek’ AGM:A good choice for the small garden as this is a compact, high-yielding bush growing only to about 1.2m (4ft) high. It offers resistance to mildew and frost. ‘Ben Sarek’ produces large berries.

‘Ben Lomond’ AGM:An upright blackcurrant with some frost resistance because of its late flowering. Produces heavy yields of large, short-stalked berries, which are ready to harvest in late summer.

‘Ben Hope:An excellent grower with heavy yields of medium-sized, delicious currants. It is resistant to mildew, leaf spot, and gall midge.

‘Ben Connan’ AGM:This compact plant is suitable for a small garden. It has resistance to mildew, frost, and gall midge. The berries are large with good flavour.


Buy now

Do now

  • Water in dry spells
  • Weed around base of bushes
  • Pick currants as they ripen

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