Although redcurrants are closely related to blackcurrants, they are in fact grown more like gooseberries. These cool-climate plants do well in northern regions and will tolerate part shade, although the fruits will ripen more quickly and taste sweeter if given some sun.
Jobs to do now
- Harvest whole trusses and use immediately, or store in the fridge for a few days
- Alternatively, place trusses in bags and put into the freezer for later use
Month by month
Water newly planted bushes well in dry weather, but long-established plants seldom need watering. For potted bushes, ensure compost does not dry out.
Hand weed or hoe carefully to keep the soil free of weeds.
In early spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter one and a half handfuls per square metre/yard around the base. Then add a mulch of garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure to prevent weeds growing.
Redcurrants bear their fruit on old wood. Prune bushes by removing diseased or very old branches in winter, then prune new growth back to two buds in early summer to keep plants compact. Leaders should be pruned to outward facing buds unless the branches are bending, in which case they then should be cut to upward facing buds.
In early spring, prune established cordons. Cut the new growth on the main vertical stem by a quarter of the previous year’s growth, or by half if growth is weak. Cut to a bud on the opposite side to the previous year’s cut to keep the growth straight. Once the cordon is at the desired height, cut to one bud of new growth each year in early summer. Prune the shoots from the main stem to one bud to build up a fruiting spur system.
Ensure the roots of plants in pots don’t rot over winter by placing containers on feet to allow excess water to escape through the drainage holes in the bottom.
Feed plants in pots with liquid fertiliser every fortnight, from late winter to early spring. Every spring scrape off the top few centimetres of compost and top up with a mix of potting compost and controlled release fertiliser granules. Every three years repot, either into a bigger pot or back into the same pot after removing a third of the roots and compost.
Plant bare-root redcurrants between November and March in well-drained soil. Allow 5ft (1.5m) between bushes and 5ft (1.5m) between rows. Container-grown bushes are available to buy and plant all year round, but will establish better if planted in autumn or winter.
Plant in a sheltered site, out of strong winds, and avoid frost pockets. Redcurrants do best in full sun, but can be grown against a shady, north-facing wall, although this will result in fruit that ripens later and is less sweet.
When strapped for space, choose a single stem or multiple cordon redcurrant, but if you have more room you will get a better yield by growing as an open-centred, goblet-shaped bush with 8 to 10 well spaced branches above a short, stumpy leg of between 10-15cm (4-6in).
As an alternative to planting in the ground, grow cordon redcurrants in a large container – at least 45cm (18in) is ideal. Fill with soil-based John Innes No.3 compost, although multipurpose potting media are satisfactory.
Pale green, caterpillar-like larvae cause rapid and severe defoliation of plants, often reducing bushes to bare stems by harvest time. Damage starts in mid to late spring, but there can be three generations of the pest a year, so problems can continue through the summer.
Inspect plants carefully from mid-spring onwards, examining the undersides of leaves and especially the centre of the bush. Remove larvae by hand.
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.
Redcurrants are ready to pick from early summer onwards, when richly coloured, firm and juicy. Cut whole trusses (or strigs) and use immediately, or store in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively, place trusses in bags and freeze for later use.
Nigel Slater's redcurrant tart is large and sweet with a crumbly pastry and vanilla filling. Perfect with a little icing sugar sprinkled over the top before serving.
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