Whitecurrants

Whitecurrants are easy to grow in sun or light shade and can be trained into various space-saving and attractive shapes, and even grown in containers. They produce bunches of pale berries in mid-summer, rich in vitamin C and with a refreshing, tart flavour – great for jellies and jams, or mixed with other berries and fruits in various desserts.

Jobs to do now

  • Weed around base of bushes

Month by month

Grow

Grow

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

Feeding

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 place a mulch (such as well-rotted manure or mushroom compost) around the plants to suppress weeds.

Feed plants in containers with liquid fertiliser every fortnight from late winter to early spring. You can also apply a high potassium liquid feed while plants are flowering and fruiting.

Every spring, scrape off the top few centimetres of compost and top up with a mix of potting compost and controlled-release fertiliser granules.
 

Weeding

Keep the ground around the stem free of weeds, but avoid hoeing as it might cut through new shoots developing at the base.
 

Watering

Water newly planted whitecurrants in dry weather, but established plants rarely need watering.

Plants in containers must be watered regularly throughout the growing season, as the compost can dry out rapidly.

Over winter, ensure the roots of plants in pots don’t rot by standing the containers on feet, or bricks, to allow water to drain out freely through the holes in the base.
 

Repotting

Repot container-grown whitecurrants every two or three years in late winter. Trim back some of the roots and tease away the old soil, replacing it with fresh John Innes No. 3 compost. Pot back into the same container or a slightly larger one.
 

Pruning

 

Pruning bush forms

  • Prune when dormant, from late autumn to late winter. They fruit best on younger wood, so when pruning aim to remove older wood, leaving the younger branches

  • ​Up to and including the fourth year after planting, remove weak, wispy shoots, retaining a basic structure of six to ten healthy shoots

  • In year four, cut out about one-third of the older wood at the base, using loppers or a pruning saw. This will encourage and make room for younger, healthy wood. Also remove weak shoots and low ones leaning towards the ground
     

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 has reached the required 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

Prune the rounded 'head' in the same way as for a bush. Make sure the bare stem is supported with a sturdy cane, to keep the plant stable. 

Fans

See our guide to fan-training.
 

Propagating

You can propagate whitecurrants by taking hardwood cuttings about 30cm (1ft) long. Use prunings from young plants, but not from older plants, as these may carry disease.

Plant

Whitecurrants can be grown as open-centred bushes or trained into space-saving single-stemmed or multi-stemmed cordons, and fans. They can also be grown as standards – with a bushy head on a tall stem. They can be planted in the ground or in large containers.
 

Buying new plants

You will see whitecurrants for sale in two forms: bare-root (as the name suggests, with the roots bare of any soil) or in containers. Bare-root plants are generally only available from fruit nurseries, usually by mail order, and only during the dormant season, November to March.

Containerised plants are more widely available for most of the year, from garden centres and online retailers.

They can be bought as bushes or as trained forms such as cordons. When buying plants to grow as a bushes, select two- to three-year-old plants with a well-balanced head of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10–15cm (4–6in). Cordons can be either single or multi-stemmed, and should have a good spreading root system.

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.

Always buy certified stock to avoid virus problems.

Where to plant

Whitecurrants like moist, well-drained soil, but will grow in a range of soil conditions.

They crop best in full sun, but will also grow in partial shade. They are a useful fruit to grow against a north-facing wall, although the currants will ripen later than in sun and be 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 whitecurrants can be planted closer together, allowing you to grow several different currant varieties in a small space. Trained forms such as cordons and fans need support, so are best planted against a fence or wall. 

Whitecurrants can also be planted in large containers, especially the more compact cordon forms.
 

How to plant

Plant bare-root whitecurrants between November and March, but avoid periods when the soil is frozen or very wet. Container-grown whitecurrants can be planted all year round, but will establish better if planted in autumn or winter.

Before planting, clear the soil of all perennial weeds and dig in a generous amount of well-rotted manure. Then add a balanced fertiliser at the rate of 85g (3oz) per square metre/yard.

Dig a hole that’s twice the diameter of the rootball. Set the plant at least 5cm (2in) deeper than it was previously growing and spread the roots out. Deep planting encourages young, vigorous shoots to develop from the base. Firm in well, then water generously.

Space bushes 1.5–1.8m (5–6ft) apart and cordons 38–45cm (15–18in) apart. 

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 and attached to a wall or fence. Also insert a 1.7m (5½ft) bamboo cane to support the main stem.

If planting in the dormant season, prune back all shoots to 2.5cm (1in). This will encourage shoot development, although you will sacrifice the first year’s fruit. If you’ve planted a containerised plant in the growing season, don’t hard prune.

When planting in containers, choose one that is 45–50cm (18–20in) in diameter. Place crocks (broken pieces of clay pot or polystyrene) over the drainage hole, then fill the pot with soil-based compost (John Innes No 3 is ideal) or multi-purpose compost mixed with plenty of grit (one-third by volume) to improve drainage.

See our advice on planting trees and shrubs for more planting details.

Common problems

Whitecurrants are generally trouble-free, although they can be affected by a few pests, 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. 

Over winter, cover plants with netting to prevent bullfinches damaging the buds, then repeat in summer to protect ripening currants from birds. 

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

In spring, if a cold snap is forecast, protect flowers from late frosts by covering plants with horticultural fleece over night.

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

Harvesting

Harvest the fruit of modern varieties such as the ‘Blanka’ and ‘White Grape’ by cutting the whole strigs (bunches of fruit) as they turn white. On older varieties, the currants at the top of the strig ripen first, so the fruit should be picked individually. 

Once established, a bush should produce about 4.5kg (10lb) of whitecurrants per year.

Eat fresh whitecurrants within a few days of harvesting. Alternatively, they can be frozen or made into jams, jellies or other delicious desserts.

Recommended Varieties

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