Redcurrants

Redcurrants are easy to grow and enjoy a cool climate, so do well in colder sites and northern regions. They like sun but will also tolerate some shade. They can be trained into compact shapes and grown in containers, so are ideal if space is limited. The attractive glossy fruits have a tangy sweetness, delicious eaten fresh or cooked to make desserts, jelly or jam. 

Jobs to do now

  • Raise containers up onto pot feet to avoid redcurrant roots getting too wet and rotting

Month by month

Grow

Established redcurrant plants generally need maintenance, apart from pruning and feeding. Plants in containers require some additional attention, including regular watering, top-dressing and repotting.
 

Watering

Water newly planted redcurrants well in dry weather, 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 water to escape through the drainage holes in the base.
 

Feeding, mulching and repotting

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. Then add a mulch of garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure to deter weed growth.

Feed plants in containers with liquid fertiliser every fortnight from late winter to early spring. Then every spring, scrape off the top few centimetres of compost and top up with a mix of potting compost and controlled-release fertiliser granules.

Repot containerised plants every three years, either into a bigger container or back into the same pot after removing a third of the roots and compost.

 

Pruning

Trained redcurrants, such as single-stemmed or multiple-stemmed cordons and standards, are ideal if you have limited growing space. If you have more room, you will get a larger harvest by growing an open-centred, goblet-shaped bush with eight to ten well-spaced branches above a short stout stem, 10–15cm (4–6in) tall.

Redcurrants bear their fruit on old wood.

See our video guide to redcurrant pruning.
 

Pruning bushes in year one

  • In early spring after planting, select five main stems and prune them back to 15–20cm (6–8in), removing all other stems at the base.

Pruning established bushes

  • In winter, remove any dead wood and low-lying shoots. Then spur prune all side-shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward-facing bud.

  • In early summer, prune new growth back to two buds to keep plants compact. Leaders should be pruned to outward-facing buds unless the branches are bending, in which case they should be cut to upward-facing buds. This pruning should not remove fruit, as fruit develops mainly on the older wood, not the current season’s growth.

Pruning cordons in year one

  • On planting, prune back the tip by a quarter, cutting to just above a bud.

  • Remove all side-shoots that are 15cm (6in) from the ground or below, plus any suckers.

  • Cut back all young side-shoots to one or two buds.

Pruning established cordons

  • In early spring, cut 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.

  • In early summer, once the cordon is at the desired height, cut to one bud of new growth each year. Prune the shoots from the main stem to one bud, to build up a fruiting spur system. 

Standards

The head is pruned in the same way as for a bush. Standards must be staked to keep them stable.

Fans

See our guide to fan-training.
 

Propagating


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.

 

Plant

Redcurrants can be grown as open-centred bushes or trained into space-saving single-stemmed or multi-stemmed cordons. They can also be grown as standards – shaped like a lollipop, with a bushy head on a tall stem. These are usually bought ready-trained, using grafted or budded plants that have a clear ‘trunk’ of 1–1.2m (3½–4ft) high.

They can be planted in the ground or in large containers.
 

Buying new plants

Redcurrants can be bought as bare-root plants, without any soil around the roots, or in containers.

Bare-root plants are only available while they are dormant, from late autumn to early spring, usually by mail order from fruit nurseries. Potted plants are available for most of the year and are widely sold in garden centres as well as by online retailers. 

When buying plants in person, select two- to three-year-old bushes with a well-balanced head of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10–15cm (4–6in). Cordons should have a good spreading root system.

There are several varieties to choose from, offering 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), which shows they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.

 

Where to plant

Redcurrants tolerate a range of soil conditions, but prefer moist, well-drained soil.

They 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. They like a sheltered site, out of strong winds, but avoid planting in frost pockets as late frosts can damage the flowers.

Cordon redcurrants can also be planted in large containers – at least 45cm (18in) wide is ideal. Fill with soil-based John Innes No.3 compost, although multi-purpose compost is also satisfactory.
 

How to plant

Plant bare-root redcurrants between November and March. Container-grown redcurrants can be planted all year round, but will establish better if planted in autumn or winter.

Bushes: space 1.5–1.8m (5–6ft) apart.

Cordons: space 38–45cm (15–18in) apart.

See our advice on planting trees and shrubs for soil preparation and planting techniques.

Cordon plants need support, which should be put in place before or at planting time. This is usually a system of horizontal wires, spaced 60cm (2ft) and 1.2m (4ft) apart, attached to posts or a wall or fence. Also insert a 1.7m (5½ft) bamboo cane to support the main stem.

Common problems

Although redcurrants are generally trouble-free, several pests can cause problems, including aphidscurrant blister aphidcapsid bugwoolly vine or currant scale and gooseberry sawfly. The fruit fly spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is likely to become an increasing problem. 

Cover redcurrant plants with netting in winter to prevent bullfinches damaging the buds and again in summer to protect ripening currants from birds. 

Also be vigilant for diseases such as American gooseberry mildewgrey mould (Botrytis) and coral spot

Protect flowers from late frost by covering plants with horticultural fleece over night.
 
 

Gooseberry sawfly
Gooseberry sawfly

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.

Remedy

Inspect plants carefully from mid-spring onwards, examining the undersides of leaves and especially the centre of the bush. Remove larvae by hand.

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.

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

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.

Recipes

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.

Recommended Varieties

Get involved

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