Blackcurrants crop best in a sunny location but will also do well in light shade
Blackcurrants like a sunny spot, but will tolerate a little shade. They’re generally robust, healthy and trouble free, and once established need little attention apart from pruning annually in winter, which is a quick and simple process that will keep them cropping well for many years. Also, be sure to protect the ripening fruits from birds.
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Different varieties offer a choice of plant sizes, flowering/harvesting times and fruit size, abundance and sweetness
If you have space to grow several plants, select varieties that fruit from early to late season, to provide harvests for most of the summer. Look in particular for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should crop reliably – download our list of AGM fruit and veg.
What and where to buy
Blackcurrants are usually sold as two-year-old plants, either bare root (without soil around the roots) or in pots. Bare-root plants tend to be cheaper, but are usually only available from specialist suppliers, and for a limited period, from October to March. Potted plants are more widely available, in garden centres and online, all year round. Always buy good quality plants that are certified virus-free – look for ‘FPCS-certified’ on the label.
Preparing the Ground
Blackcurrants prefer well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, although they will cope in most other soil conditions. They fruit best full sun, but will still do well in light shade. Avoid sites prone to cold winds or late frosts, which can damage the flowers and reduce the crop. Modern cultivars generally flower later, so are a better choice in cold locations. Consider planting inside a fruit cage to protect your crop from birds.
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 if you have light soil, to improve its ability to retain moisture. You can also add a balanced fertiliser.
Blackcurrants are quick and easy to plant, whether they are bought bare root or in a pot. The best time to plant both types is during the dormant season, from late October to March, although avoid periods when the soil is very wet or frozen. Unlike bare-root plants, those bought in containers can be planted all year round, although if you plant in spring or summer, take extra care to keep them well watered during any hot dry spells.
Planting in the ground
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 on the stem or use the top of the potting compost as a guide. Deeper planting will encourage strong shoot development from the base. Plant standard-trained plants at the same depth as previously grown.
Bare-root plants can dry out rapidly, so should be planted as soon as possible after delivery
Firm the plants in well to get rid of any air pockets around the roots, then water thoroughly. Space plants 1.5–1.8m (5–6ft) apart, using the wider spacing for vigorous cultivars. Lay a thick mulch of garden compost over the surrounding soil, to help retain moisture and deter weed growth. Blackcurrants should be pruned straight after planting – see Pruning and training, below.
Planting in a container
Blackcurrants generally don’t perform well in pots long term, due to their size and growing habit. But if you’re short on space, they should be fine for a few years, especially more compact varieties such as ‘Ben Sarek’ and ‘Ben Gairn’. If they start to fruit poorly, transplant them into the ground.
Choose a pot that’s at least 45cm (18in) wide and deep. Use a soil-based compost such as peat-free John Innes No. 3, then add 20–30% by volume of peat-free multi-purpose compost and 10% perlite, sharp sand or horticultural grit to improve drainage. Alternatively, use peat-free multi-purpose compost mixed with about 20% perlite, sand or grit. See our planting guide below.
Water newly planted blackcurrants regularly during their first summer. Once well rooted in, blackcurrants generally only need watering in dry spells, ideally at ground level rather than from overhead. But avoid heavy watering when the fruits are ripening, as this can cause the skins to split.
In late winter, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or fish, blood and bonemeal. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around the base. Weak plants may benefit from an additional high nitrogen feed, such as ammonium sulphate, at 25g (¾oz) per square metre/yard.
After feeding in late winter, 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 from the soil. Leave a gap around the base of the stems, to deter rotting.
An organic mulch, such as home-made compost, is a great way to add nutrients and valuable micro-organisms to your soil. It also holds in moisture and deters weed germination.
Protecting flowers from frost
If frost is forecast while blackcurrants are in flower, cover bushes with an old bedsheet or hessian over night, then remove in the morning to allow pollinators access to the flowers.
Protecting fruit from birds
Grow blackcurrants in a fruit cage to protect the crop from birds
Looking after plants in containers
- Water blackcurrants in pots regularly throughout the growing season, as the compost will dry out quickly
- Feed with a liquid fertiliser during the summer months
- Top-dress annually in spring – remove the top 5cm (2in) of potting compost, ideally with your hands to avoid any root disturbance or shoot damage. Replace with fresh peat-free potting compost mixed with a granular general fertiliser
- Repot blackcurrants every two or three years in late winter. Trim back a few of the roots on the outside of the rootball and remove some of the old compost, replacing it with fresh peat-free John Innes No. 3. Pot back into the same container or a slightly larger one
Insert blackcurrant cuttings around the edge of a pot or into the ground
You can make new blackcurrant plants from hardwood cuttings taken from young, ideally newly planted, virus-free plants in mid-autumn to winter. Taking cuttings from older plants is not recommended, as they may have viruses that will reduce the vigour of any plants propagated from them. The cuttings should be about 20cm (8in) long. See our guide below for full details.
Pruning and Training
Established bushes (aged four years or older) are best pruned every winter to keep them fruiting strongly. This is a simple process – cut out up to a third of the oldest stems down at the base. These are easy to distinguish, as they are darker in colour and thicker – and usually require loppers or a pruning saw to cut them cleanly. Cut just above an outward-facing bud, if you can see one. Removing these older, less productive stems encourages new ones to sprout from the base, which will fruit well for several years, until they in turn become less productive and should be removed.
Younger blackcurrant bushes need slightly different treatment:
Newly bought blackcurrants – if planted while dormant (from autumn to early spring), prune these straight after planting. Be brave and cut all the stems down to 2.5cm (1in) above soil level. This may seem drastic, and means you won’t get fruit in the first year, but it will give you a better plant in the long term, encouraging more stems to sprout from the base
In the first three years after planting – if growth is strong, give young blackcurrant bushes just a light prune in autumn or winter to remove any weak or low-lying shoots. But if growth is weak, prune hard, cutting at least half the shoots down to the base, to stimulate more new stems to grow
Richly flavoured, tangy currants can be eaten fresh, added to smoothies or breakfast cereals, or cooked as desserts and jams
With modern varieties, such as the ‘Ben Connan’, ‘Ben Hope’ and ‘Big Ben’, the whole bunch of currants (also known as a strig) ripens at the same time, so simply cut it off once the currants turn black. You can then remove them from the stems in the kitchen. Older varieties ripen less uniformly, with currants at the top of the bunch ready first. In this case, pick ripe currants individually. Handle them gently, as they’re easily squashed and the juice can stain your fingers.
Eat within a few days of harvesting, keeping in the fridge if necessary. Alternatively, blackcurrants can be frozen, raw or cooked, or made into preserves.
Blackcurrant plants are generally healthy and problem free, but can occasionally develop viruses or mildew that affect their vigour, or suffer damage from insects, although fortunately many modern varieties are resistant. However, as with most fruit crops, the main problem is birds, which will devour the ripening currants unless they’re protected with netting.
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