Blackcurrants

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

  • Weed around base of bushes

Month by month

Grow

Feeding and watering

Blackcurrants generally only need watering in dry spells, ideally at ground level rather than overhead. But avoid heavy watering when currants are ripening, to prevent skins splitting.
In late winter (February) feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around the base. Alternatively use blood, fish and bonemeal. 
Weak plants can benefit from an additional high nitrogen feed, such as ammonium sulphate, at 25g (¾oz) per square metre/yard.

Weeding and mulching

After feeding in late winter (February), apply a 5cm (2in) layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or mushroom compost, around the base of plants to suppress weeds and help to reduce water loss. Leave a gap around the base of the stem, to deter rotting. Avoid hoeing close to the stems, so you don’t damage new shoots developing at the base. 

Plants in containers

Plants in containers need regular watering throughout the growing season, as they dry out quickly. 
Mix in a slow-release fertiliser or apply liquid feed during the summer months. Top dress annually in spring. Start by gently removing the top 5cm (2in) of compost - usually with your hands to avoid any root or shoot disturbance. Replace with fresh potting compost mixed with a granular general fertiliser. 

Re-pot container-grown blackcurrants every two or three years in late winter. Trim back a few of the roots on the outside of the rootball and tease away some of the old compost, replacing it with fresh John Innes No. 3. Pot back into the same container or a slightly larger one.

Protecting flowers from frost

On nights when frost is forecast, protect bushes in flower by covering them with fleece or cloth.

Propagation

Blackcurrants can be propagated from hardwood cuttings taken from newly planted certified virus-free plants in mid-autumn to winter. The cuttings should be 20cm (8in) long.

Pruning information

Blackcurrants crop best on strong young growth made the previous year, so they are usually grown as a multi-stemmed bush, with stems sprouting from the base. To encourage new stems, they need to be pruned annually in winter.

Standard-trained blackcurrants are useful if space is limited. Standards, or half-standards, look like lollipops, with a single straight stem, 60–100cm (2–3¼ft) tall, and a bushy top.

Pruning blackcurrants at planting

When planting in autumn to early spring, cut all the shoots back to 2.5cm (1in) above soil level in order to encourage fresh strong growth from the base. Although this seems extreme and the first year’s fruit will be lost, it will be beneficial in the long term. On well-developed plants, you can retain half of the shoots, which will give a small crop. 

Do not prune container-grown plants hard on planting if planted later in the season when they are actively growing. Standard-trained plants do not require hard pruning after planting.

Pruning young blackcurrants bushes

For the first three years after planting, prune lightly in autumn or winter if growth is strong, just removing any weak or low-lying shoots. But if growth is weak, prune hard, cutting at least half the shoots back to near ground level.

Pruning established blackcurrant bushes

Some pruning can be done at picking time. Prune sprawling branches laden with fruit for easy picking, cutting back to strong upright growth, but delay the main pruning until winter. Cut out a quarter to a third of the branches each year, aiming to remove old unproductive wood, weak growth and low-lying branches. Make the cuts low down wherever possible to stimulate strong growth from or near the base, and remove weak shoots and any dead wood.

Reviving old neglected bushes

If they are otherwise healthy, old bushes can be rejuvenated by cutting all but the strongest and youngest branches to within 2.5cm (1in) of ground level in the winter. The subsequent new growth will require thinning to about 12 strong young shoots.

Pruning plants trained as standards

On established plants, cut back about a quarter of the oldest shoots to a stub, to encourage new shoots. Also remove any shoots sprouting from lower down the main stem as soon as they appear, to keep it as a lollipop.

Plant

Blackcurrants are usually sold as two-year-old plants, either bare-root (without soil around the roots) or in containers. Always buy FPCS certified plants to avoid virus problems.

There are many excellent varieties to choose from – look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably. See our list of AGM fruit and veg.
If you have space to grow several plants, select varieties that crop from early to late season to provide harvests for most of the summer.

Where and when to plant

Blackcurrants prefer well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, although they will cope in most other soil conditions. They prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade. Avoid sites prone to cold winds or late frosts, which can damage the flowers and reduce the crop. Modern cultivars show better cold resistance.

The best time to plant is during the dormant season, from late October to March, but it’s best to avoid planting in the middle of winter if the soil is either very wet or frozen.

Containerised plants can be planted all year round and are available in garden centres, nurseries or online for most of the year. If you do plant in spring or summer, keep them well watered during hot dry periods. 

How to plant

Before planting, clear the area of perennial weeds and dig in a generous amount of well-rotted manure or garden compost. This is particularly important on light soil. You can also add a balanced fertiliser. 
Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the rootball, and spread the roots out. Plant both container-grown and bare-root bush plants 5cm (2in) deeper than previously growing – look for the soil mark at base. This will encourage strong shoot development from the base. Plant standard-trained plants at the same soil depth as previously grown. Firm the plants in well, then water thoroughly.Space blackcurrant plants 1.5–1.8m (5–6ft) apart, using the wider spacing for vigorous cultivars. Blackcurrants should be pruned straight after planting – see Prune, below.

Planting in a container

Blackcurrants generally don’t perform well in containers long term, due to their size and growing habit. But if you are short on space, they should be fine for a few years, especially more compact cultivars such as ‘Ben Sarek’ and ‘Ben Gairn’. If they start to underperform, transplant them into the ground. 

Choose a sizeable container about 45cm (18in) wide and deep. Use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No.3, then add 20–30% by volume of multi-purpose compost and 10% perlite, sharp sand or horticultural grit. Alternatively, use peat-free multi-purpose compost mixed with about 20% perlite, sharp sand or horticultural 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.

Blackcurrant gall midge
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.

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.

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.

Harvesting

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.

Recipes

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.

Recommended Varieties

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