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Blackcurrants Growing Guide

Blackcurrants Growing Guide

With the vitamin-packed blackcurrant fruit a rare sight in shops (more than 90 percent of the country’s commercial crop is used in Ribena) – why not secure an affordable stash of this sought after soft fruit by growing your own? Growing blackcurrants in the UK is easy; and once we reach harvesting season this summer fruit is delicious in blackcurrant jam recipes, whipped into a blackcurrant sorbet and even in blackcurrant gin.

However, if you grow blackcurrants ‘by the book’ and plant and prune them properly, you will get more fruits and they will be of a better quality. You will also be able to restrict the bushes to a height and spread of 120–150cm, meaning they can be grown in fairly small spaces. Furthermore, they should stay productive for at least a decade and you can expect 10–15 pounds of fruit per plant each season.

If you have never grown a blackcurrant before, or just want to expand your collection, then early winter is an ideal time of the year to plant some new specimens in the fruit garden. It’s also a good opportunity to prune established specimens to ensure a heavy crop next year.

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Blackcurrants quick links

How to grow Blackcurrants

How to grow blackcurrant bushes in the UK

The popularity of these deciduous bushes is probably due to their self-fertile nature (so you only need one bush on the plot to supply lots of fruits), the fact that they tolerate most soils (but not dry or badly-drained ground) and are hardy in all parts of the country.

They are also extremely robust and very reliable. Just about every grow-your-own gardener will know of someone who has inherited or grown a blackcurrant that regularly forms a crop of fruits despite years of neglect.

How big do blackcurrant bushes grow?


If you grow blackcurrants ‘by the book’ and plant and prune them properly, you will get more fruits and they will be of a better quality. You will also be able to restrict the bushes to a height and spread of 120–150cm, meaning they can be grown in fairly small spaces. They should stay productive for at least a decade and you can expect 10–15 pounds of fruit per plant each season.

If you have never grown a blackcurrant before, or just want to expand your collection, then early winter is an ideal time of the year to plant some new specimens in the fruit garden. It’s also a good opportunity to prune established specimens to ensure a heavy crop next year.

A sheltered spot with a reasonably fertile, moisture-retentive and well-drained soil is preferable for blackcurrants. If it has a slightly acidic pH (around 6–6.5 – testing kits are cheap and widely available) that’s all the better, but it’s not essential. Avoid placing them in frost pockets, as a late frost can damage the flowers and lead to a smaller harvest.

Although blackcurrants will tolerate partial shade, the fruits taste better when exposed to plenty of sunshine, and shaded bushes may become weak and leggy. A few weeks before planting, always clear the ground of weeds, especially perennial types such as dandelions or docks, and enrich the soil with plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.

You’ll find most blackcurrant bushes for sale in garden centres as bare-rooted plants. The ideal time for getting them in the ground is late autumn to early winter. Any time up to mid-March is also fine (as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen) but they will have less time to settle before starting into growth.

Blackcurrants grown in containers can also be purchased from garden centres or nurseries and planted throughout the year – but whenever possible, opt for the autumn, early winter or spring.

Whatever the month, planting should always be avoided if the ground is very dry, frozen or waterlogged due to heavy and persistent rain or poor weather conditions. For the best results, select bushes that are certified as virus and disease-free and have at least three obvious stems.

Spacing requirements when planting blackcurrant bushes

Space the bushes 1.5m apart in the ground, and set them about 5cm deeper than they were planted in the nursery – an obvious soil mark is usually visible on each plant. This will encourage the stem bases to form roots as well, and eventually give the bushes more support.

How to prune blackcurrant bushes

Annual pruning should begin two years after an autumn planting, as established blackcurrants produce by far the greatest part of their crop (and the best fruits) on the previous season’s stems.

Regular cutting-back also prevents the plants becoming unkempt and overgrown, a state which would otherwise encourage pests and diseases to make inroads and also make harvesting difficult.

The ideal time to prune blackcurrants is between November and March as this is the plants’ dormant period. If you’re unsure how to cut back blackcurrant bushes, it’s not too challenging.

First, remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems, as well as those that are weak and spindly or crossing in the centre of the plants. Next, cut back one-third of the oldest stems (these are usually thicker and darker in colour) to ground level, as this will leave enough room for healthy replacement stems to grow.

As you can imagine, with the need to cut it back so regularly, a blackcurrant cordon isn’t something that is advisable.

When carrying out pruning work always use a pair of clean and sharp secateurs (or handheld loppers) and do not leave any snags on the stems, as they can be a likely point of infection for various diseases.

Afterwards, clear weeds from the area and surround the base of each bush with a thick mulch of garden compost.

Blackcurrant pests and diseases

Unfortunately, currants are sometimes sought out by hungry birds (especially pigeons) and the developing and mature fruits may need protecting by covering with a sheet of fine netting. Alternatively, protect from these blackcurrant pests by dangling old CDs from string nearby or hang thin strips of recycled tin foil from the stems – these will glint in the sunlight and rustle in the slightest breeze to frighten away any passing birds.

If you’re finding leaf curl on blackcurrant bushes, it’s likely that you might have an infestation of gall midge, which can cause leaves to dry up and die. Adult midges that have been over-wintering in the ground during colder months, emerge from the soil during late spring, and lay eggs in the folds of unfurled leaves.

The larvae feed on leaves and shoot tips, which if the infestation gets bad, can severely damage new growth. Digging over the ground around the bush when dry from spring through to autumn may be one non-chemical method for keeping numbers down, by subjecting pupae to drying conditions, opting for resistant blackcurrant cultivars like ‘Ben Connan’ and ‘Ben Sarek’ may also help.

One of the major blackcurrant diseases is gooseberry mildew, though as its name suggests is more of a problem for gooseberry plants. Leaves and stems develop a powdery mildew, impacting growth and ripening of blackcurrant fruits. Stay vigilant to this fungal disease and prune and cut out any infected stems that show symptoms, ensuring blackcurrant bushes are spaced a considerable distance from one another will improve air circulation and reduce risk.

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Growing Blackcurrants month-by-month

January

Whilst the weather is cooler it’s time for planting blackcurrant bushes, spacing them a reasonable distance to allow room for growth. Prune established bushes.

February

Continue to plant new blackcurrant bushes and prune back the older wood of dead branches to the ground of established ones.

March

You can still prune established plants and get in new bushes. Standard blackcurrant plants will benefit from an organic fertiliser. Keep the ground weed-free.

April

Top up mulches around established plants, keep the ground weed-free and water the bushes in dry weather. If the blackcurrants are in flower and a hard, late frost is forecast, protect them with fleece.

May

Continue to top up mulches around established plants, keep the ground weed-free and water the bushes in dry weather. If the blackcurrants are in flower and a hard, late frost is forecast, protect them with fleece.

Must do this month!
June

Keep the ground weed-free and water the plants in dry weather. If the soft fruits are just starting to swell, feed the bushes with a liquid fertiliser.

July

The arrival of summer means it’s blackcurrant season in the UK! Start picking ripe currants from early to mid-July and use bird protection if necessary to make sure you get some of your crop.

August

Continue to pick the ripe blackcurrants and weeding and watering as needed. If the fruits are just starting to swell, feed the bushes with a liquid fertiliser. Watch out for pests and diseases of blackcurrants, particularly hungry birds.

September

Remaining fruits should be harvested now. Keep the ground weed-free and water the plants in dry weather. Order new blackcurrant bushes for late autumn, winter or early spring planting.

October

Take hardwood cuttings of around 20cm (8in) in length from established healthy blackcurrant bushes. Order new ones ready for next year.

November

Plant new bushes and prune established specimens during the dormant season. Take hardwood blackcurrant cuttings, which are easy to propagate new plants from.

December

If you had a glut of fruits in summer and preserved them with a blackcurrant jam recipe, these make an excellent little festive gift for loved ones.

Caring for your Blackcurrants plants + problems

New and established blackcurrant bushes must be kept well-watered during long spells of dry spring and summer weather, and weed control is vital all year round. However, the plants have a wide-spreading, shallow root system and so using a spade, fork or hoe around them could mean you can damage it accidentally; a combination of hand weeding and mulching is less likely to cause damage.

For bumper crops, feed the bushes with an organic fertiliser (applied at a rate of approximately 100g per square yard) in the early spring and top-up the mulch of compost and manure around each plant every April. The plants can also be given a boost by applying an organic liquid fertiliser when their soft fruits are starting to swell in the summer.

In harsh winters, the roots (or rootballs) of new bushes can sometimes be lifted out of the ground by hard frosts. If this happens, firm them back in immediately. The flowers of some varieties (notably older types) are prone to cold damage and, if a frost is forecast while they are blooming, it is a good idea to carefully drape horticultural fleece over the bushes.

How to harvest Blackcurrants

Blackcurrant fruits are ready for picking in the mid to late summer (July and August) and are at their best about seven days after they have turned blue-black. They can be gathered individually or, if you want them to stay fresh for a little longer, you can harvest them as whole trusses. If possible, pick the blackcurrants in dry conditions, as wet fruits often don’t store well and may turn mouldy. The fruits can be eaten immediately, or stored in a fridge for one to two weeks. Alternatively, they can be frozen for eating later – they should last at least six months this way.

Varieties of Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants varieties to try

‘Ben Connan’

This RHS AGM blackcurrant is resistant to mildew, leaf spot and leaf curling midge, and a very large, easily picked fruit with a good flavour.

‘Ben Tirran’

A variety with good resistance to mildew, and great distinctive flavour. Flowers late giving good frost-resistance. This blackcurrant is compact but vigorous with an upright habit.

‘Ben Sarek’

Resistant to frost and mildew, this ‘Ben Sarek’ blackcurrant bush is an RHS AGM variety that is compact but produces heavy yields of easily picked fruit with a good flavour.

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