Native to northern Europe, red currants began to be cultivated in Britain with the introduction in the early 17th century of improved Dutch cultivars by plant hunter Tradescant the Elder* (Gareth Richards, ‘Keeping up with currant affairs,’ RHS, The Garden, July 2015, p.80.)
* The sarcophagus of John Tradescant (c.1570 – 1638), plant explorer and gardener to Henrietta Maria Medici who was queen to England’s King Charles I, is located in the courtyard terrace of The Garden Museum. It’s a really lovely, tiny museum located just on the side of the Thames in Lambeth, London, just down the river from Lambeth Palace – home to the head of the Church of England. I whole-heartedly recommend a visit to the Garden Museum. The museum, as is fitting, has a lovely garden of its own as well as an enclosed terraced courtyard. And as a point of horticultural interest, the post tops of the Lambeth bridge feature large golden pineapples, to mark the first successful propagation and growth of pineapples in hothouses in London.
Interestingly red, white and pink currants (Ribes rubrum) are distinct from blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum).
It is important to note that although they all have broadly similar growing requirements, their pruning requirements are quite different. Prune black currants by up to a quarter of old growth in mid- to late-winter according to the RHS guidebook Pruning Plant by Plant.
Fertilise with blood, fish or bone meal in early spring and early autumn.
Leave the currants on the bush for as long as possible to eat raw, or semi-raw, for the most intense flavour. Earlier in the season they can be made into a jelly – they are very high in pectin.
Plants need regular water when soil is dry or drying out.
Black Currants (Ribes Nigrum)
These are highly productive fruit bushes, but can become straggly if left unpruned. Prune well to produce a constant supply of new fruiting stems from the base.
Pruning black currants: In established bushes, remove a quarter of the stems down to 2.5 cm (1 inch) from ground level to promote young, fruitful shoots.
Propagating black currants: After all leaves have fallen and the plant is dormant take hard wood cuttings to easily increase your black currant patch.
Red & White Currants (Ribes Rubrum)
Pruning red & white currants:
- In winter, prune out dead wood and shoots growing near ground level.
- Cut all side-shoots back to 1 to 3 buds from the base of longer stem branches. Shorten all branch tips by a quarter, to outward facing buds.
- In summer, shorten new growth back to five leaves.
- Fruit develops mainly on older wood, so is not affected by summer pruning.
For more info about red currants – including specifics about pruning – see The Garden, July 2015, pp 80-82.
** We have a redcurrant bush planted in front of the white rambling rose in the back patch beds (which leads towards the rhubarb patch). This has been left to grow wild and must be trimmed back and even possibly relocated into a more open, light location to promote better fruiting.