Redcurrant plants are both productive and attractive, adorned with long clusters of glossy red fruits in summer. These shrubs can be grown in containers and are happy in sun or partial shade. They can also be trained into decorative and space-saving shapes, so really earn their keep, however small your garden.
Redcurrant Ribes Jonkheer van Tets
A bush can produce about 4.5kg (10lb) of vibrant, semi-sweet, tangy redcurrants, rich in vitamins and antioxidants. They’re great in fruity desserts such as summer pudding and have a high pectin content, so are easy to turn into redcurrant jelly. Birds love the fruits too, so protect your crop with netting or a fruit cage once it starts to ripen.
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You can choose from several redcurrant varieties, with different sizes of fruit, ripening times, shade tolerance and disease resistance. When choosing varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), as they performed well in our trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
For colour variations, you could also grow whitecurrants and pinkcurrants, which are both forms of redcurrant (Ribes rubrum), but with pearl-like or blushing fruits. They are all grown in exactly the same way and can look highly decorative when planted alongside each other.
What and where to buy
Redcurrants can be bought as bare-root plants (without a pot or soil around the roots) or in containers:
Bare-root redcurrants are only available during the dormant season, from late autumn to early spring, usually by mail order from fruit nurseries. Bare-root plants are usually cheaper than potted plants
Redcurrants in containers are available for most of the year from garden centres and online retailers
Redcurrants are usually grown as open-centred bushes or trained into space-saving cordons:
For growing as a bush, select two- to three-year-old plants with a short clear stem of 10–15cm (4–6in) and a well-balanced head of three to five main branches
For growing as a cordon, look for a vigorous main stem and a spreading root system. Alternatively buy cuttings or partly-trained plans from specialist online suppliers
Redcurrants can also be grown as standards – shaped like a lollipop, with a bushy head on a tall stem. For these, it’s easiest to buy a plant that has already been grafted and trained, as they take a while to train from scratch.
Redcurrants can be planted in the ground or in large containers. They prefer full sun, but can be grown in partial shade, such as against a north-facing wall, although the fruit will ripen slightly later and be less sweet. Choose a sheltered spot, out of strong winds, and avoid sites prone to late frosts, which can damage the flowers, resulting in fewer fruit.
Bare-root redcurrants – between November and March
Container-grown redcurrants – at any time of year, but they will establish better in autumn or winter
Planting in the ground
Redcurrants tolerate a range of soil conditions, but prefer moist, well-drained soil. Before planting, clear the ground of weeds and dig in plenty of well-rotted manure. Also add a balanced fertiliser, at the rate of 85g (3oz) per square metre/yard.
Redcurrants are easy to plant – just follow our step-by-step guide to planting a shrub.
If planting more than one, use the following spacings, depending on how you’ll be training them:
Bushes: 1.5–1.8m (5–6ft) apart
Cordons: 38–45cm (15–18in) apart
For more on training bushes, cordons and more, see Pruning & training, below.
Planting in containers
Choose a large container at least 45cm (18in) wide and fill with soil-based John Innes No.3 compost or multi-purpose compost.
Trained forms, such as cordons, need supports from the start, so put them in place before or at planting time. This is usually a system of horizontal wires, spaced 60cm (2ft) and 1.2m (4ft) from the ground, attached to posts or a wall or fence. Also insert a vertical bamboo cane about 1.7m (5½ft) tall to support the main stem.
Water newly planted redcurrants regularly throughout their first spring and summer, but long-established plants seldom need watering. With plants in containers, water regularly during the growing season as the compost can dry out quickly.
Ensure the roots of plants in pots don’t rot over winter by standing the containers on ‘feet’ or bricks to allow excess rainwater to drain out through the holes in the base.
Add a 5cm (2in) layer of garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure around plants after feeding in spring (see below), to deter weed growth and help prevent the soil drying out. Leave a gap around the base of the stem.
In early spring, feed redcurrants growing in the ground with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter one and a half handfuls per square metre/yard around the base.
With redcurrants in containers:
Apply a general liquid fertiliser every fortnight from late winter to early spring
You can also apply a high potassium liquid feed in summer while plants are flowering and fruiting
Every spring, scrape off the top few centimetres of compost and top up with a mix of fresh potting compost and controlled-release fertiliser granules
Repot containerised redcurrants every three years in late winter. Either give them a bigger container or return them to the same pot after removing a third of the roots and as much of the old compost as you can. Use fresh John Innes No. 3 compost, firm it in around the roots to remove any air pockets and water well.
You can propagate redcurrants by taking hardwood cuttings about 30cm (1ft) long. Use prunings from young plants, but not from older plants, as these may carry disease.
See our guide to taking hardwood cuttings
Pruning and Training
Redcurrants should be pruned twice a year, in summer and winter, to maintain a good shape and produce the best possible crop. Redcurrants bear their fruit on old shoots and at the base of new ones, just like gooseberries, and are pruned in the same way.
The most popular shapes for training redcurrants are:
Bushes – these are open-centred goblet-shaped bushes with up to ten well-spaced branches. They need more room than cordons, but produce a larger harvest
Cordons – these can be either single-stemmed or multi-stemmed, grown against a support, and are ideal if you have limited ground space
For details of how to prune all trained forms of redcurrant – bushes, cordons, standards and fans – see our pruning guide.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants: pruning and training
Cut whole fruit trusses and use immediately or store in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively, place in bags and freeze for later use.
Although redcurrants are generally trouble-free, several pests can cause problems, including aphids, currant blister aphid, capsid bug, woolly vine or currant scale and gooseberry sawfly. The fruit fly spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is likely to become an increasing problem.
Also be vigilant for diseases such as American gooseberry mildew, grey mould and coral spot.
Protect flowers from late frost by covering plants with horticultural fleece over night.
Grow redcurrants in a fruit cage or cover plants with netting in summer to protect ripening fruit from birds, and again in winter to prevent bullfinches damaging the buds.
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