Guide to Growing Red and White Currants

The red currant, and its pale-fruited variety, the white currant, are excellent and tasty bush fruits. Coming at the height of the summer season, red currants served fresh with cream and sugar seem to embody all the goodness of summer soft fruit.

The smooth-skinned red currant berries have a sharp acid flavour, and because of their high pectin content, are very popular for making jam. The flavour combines well with other fruit, and red currants can be added to assist the ‘setting’ of jams and jellies. They can also be stewed, put into tarts or used in relishes.

White currants originated as seedlings of red currant bushes; the fruit of these seedlings lacked red pigment. Like white grapes, white currants are not actually white but vary in colour from cream to yellow. The flavour of white currants is quite different from red currants, being sweeter and lacking in acidity. These are usually eaten raw, served with cream and sugar. Except for being slightly less vigorous than red currants, they have the same growth and fruiting habits and the same cultivation requirements. Pink currants used also to be available from nurserymen but are now only to be seen in collections at research stations.

Although not as popular in England as the blackcurrant, red currants are immensely popular and widely cultivated on the Continent and in the United States. Red currants give slightly lower yields per bush than blackcurrants, but have several good points in their favour. Red and white currants do not need as rich a soil or as steady a supply of water as blackcurrants. As long as they are properly cultivated, red currants are relatively free from pests and diseases. Lastly, red currants are much more amenable to training than blackcurrants, which are almost universally grown as bushes. Red and white currants can be pruned to form standards, single or double cordons, espaliers or fan-shaped specimens. These trained forms take up relatively little room and are ideal for the mm m smaller garden. Cordons, espaliers and fan-trained bushes can grow quite comfortably in a 30 cm (1’) wide border at the base of a wall, and standard forms can have a low-growing crop, such as lettuces or strawberries, underneath them. Standard red currants can also be grown in flower beds, where they make attractive features. Because they are self-fertile, a single bush can be planted on its own and will still give a good crop.

Because birds find red and white currants most attractive, the bushes are usually grown in a fruit cage. Bushes grown in the open can easily be netted during the fruiting season; those growing against walls can be protected by nylon mesh netting hung from wall brackets fixed above the bushes.

Suitable site and soil

Although red and white currants prefer a sunny position, they will grow well in partial shade. As long as there is sufficient shelter they will crop reasonably well when grown against a north-facing wall.

The bushes need shelter from cold winds because insects will be unable to pollinate the flowers on very windy sites, and also because the young shoots of red and white currants are easily blown out. Exposure to strong winds in late spring and early summer can be particularly damaging.

Red and white currants do not need as rich a soil as blackcurrants. They will not, however, tolerate excessively wet soils, particularly when newly planted. The ideal soil for red and white currants is light, deep, slightly acid loam which contains sufficient vegetable matter to retain moisture in summer. Lean dry sandy soils are not suitable unless they are heavily mulched and watered. Very acid or very alkaline soils will give poor yields; test your soil and correct any pH problem before planting; the soil pH should be in the region of 60 to 6-8.

About a month before planting, dig the soil one spit deep if it has been under cultivation, otherwise double dig it. Dig in a 9 L bucket of suitably rotted organic matter for each bush about a week before planting. Work in 30 g (1 oz) of sulphate of potash per sq m (sq yd) to the top few centimetres; red and white currants are particularly sensitive to potash deficiency. Get rid of all perennial weeds completely during the soil preparation, or they will be troublesome as long as the currant bushes are there.

Planting

Because they are not grown commercially on a large scale, there is no certification scheme for red and white currants. Nevertheless, it is very important to buy young healthy bushes from a reliable nurseryman, to avoid diseased stock. Two-year-old bushes are best. These are usually grown on a short leg (trunk), like a miniature tree. However, they are extremely amenable to training, and may easily be grown as single cordons, U-shaped cordons, or double U-shaped cordons.

Late autumn planting is best, as soon as the plants are dormant, but they can be planted any time until late winter, as long as the soil is friable and not too wet or cold. Red and white currants will not tolerate waterlogged conditions at planting time. Set the bushes at the same depth as they were in the nursery, as indicated by the soil mark on the stem. Spread the roots out well, cut back cleanly any which are broken or torn, and rub off any suckers on them, or buds on the ‘leg’. Bushes should be spaced 1.5 m (5’) apart each way, single cordons 37.5-45 cm (15-18”) apart and double cordons 90 cm (3’) apart in the row. If planting more than one row, leave 1.5 m (5’) between rows. Give cordons support at the time of planting by tying loosely with soft string to a bamboo cane.

09. July 2013 by admin
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