HOW TO CARE FOR
By David Marks
Blackcurrants are a very easy fruit to care for requiring only minimum attention. The normal yearly tasks would include keeping the area weed free, watering when the soil becomes dry, application of a long-lasting fertiliser twice a year and pruning annually when the plants are dormant in the winter.
We have found that clever usage of newspaper and chipped barks or wood chips when the blackcurrant bushes are first planted can almost entirely eradicate the need for constant weeding and watering. Follow our simple instructions and easy to care for blackcurrants can be yours for the next twenty years or so!
CARE CALENDAR FOR BLACKCURRANTS IN THE AREA
Last chance to prune and plant new blackcurrant bushes up to
the third week of March. Apply a feed of blood, fish and bone in the third week of March.
Add more mulch around your blackcurrant bushes in the third week of April.
Water and weed when required.
A key month to watch out for watering. Fruit starts to swell and they need lots of water at this time of year.
Early blackcurrant varieties can start to be harvested in
Later blackcurrant varieties can start to be harvested in
SEPTEMBER to NOVEMBER
When stems are grey and the width of a pencil take hardwood cuttings.
WATERING AND WEEDING BLACKCURRANTS
Blackcurrants thrive best in a moist soil which drains well, moisture is especially important when the fruit is beginning to form. Weeding is also important because weeds will compete for moisture and strip the soil of valuable nutrients. Either you can weed and water whenever required or you can almost get round these tasks completely by following our method below.
First, plant your blackcurrants as described in the previous page or follow the instructions for established bushes. Line the ground for a metre or so around the bush with four layers of newspaper – you can view us doing this in our video which can seen here. Normal newspapers are fine but we have not tried this procedure with glossy magazine paper. Now spread out a layer of chipped bark / wood chipping to a depth of 5cm / 2in or more, up to 10cm / 4in is fine. Try to keep the bark / wood chip away from the stem of the blackberry bush.
This will kill any existing weeds, stop any future weeds for the next couple of years and vastly reduce the need for watering. We find that a top up every year or so with a thin layer of chipped bark is sufficient to keep the blackcurrant bushes weed free and moist in all but the warmest conditions. An alternative to newspaper and chipped bark is laying down a weed control fabric, but it’s far more expensive and doesn’t look as natural, it does the job though.
The feeding requirements of blackcurrant bushes is minimal. On heavier, more fertile soils, a spring feed of two good handfuls of blood, fish and bone powder scattered around each bush will do fine. Even on light soils blackcurrants grow well, although a spring and mid summer feed with a long lasting, slow release fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone or bone meal will do just fine.
Blackcurrant bushes prefer a slightly acidic soil so adding wood ash, which turns the soil alkaline, is not recommended.
Pruning of blackcurrant bushes is very simple. The time to prune is when they are dormant, mid-winter to early February is a good time for this garden job. Don’t prune for the first year of their life.
The basic principles behind pruning blackcurrant are to keep the plant within the space available, to encourage new growth on which they produce fruit and to keep the centre of the bush relatively open to allow the circulation of air and help avoid fungal diseases.
FIRST THREE PRUNINGS
Remove any weak branches and prune back any crossing branches.
FOURTH PRUNING ONWARDS
Identify older wood (two year old wood is grey, older wood is darker) and remove about a quarter of grey and black wood by cutting it down to the ground. Prune so that the centre of the bush is not overcrowded. Prune away any weak branches and any that are touching each other.
Remove any weak branches and prune back any crossing branches. If the bush is top heavy and has arched over significantly during the growing season, trim back the remaining branches by about a third or their length.
BLACKCURRANT BUDS APPEAR EARLY IN YEAR
In mild winters blackcurrant bushes sometimes prematurely produce buds in late December to mid January. They think that spring has arrived but in reality the harsh weather can still occur from late January to early March.
The temptation is to rub off some off some of the buds, fearing that they will be damaged by the following frosts. In tests we have conducted, premature blackcurrant buds are not damaged by later frosts. Only if flowers start to show during frosts will the forming fruit be damaged.
By rubbing off buds, this does not encourage new buds to form later in the year. You will simply be rubbing off buds which in all likelihood will successfully produce fruit in the coming year. In addition rubbing off buds does encourage new stems to form.
Older varieties of blackcurrants mature over a longer period compared to more modern varieties. This means that older varieties need to have their berries harvested individually. Modern varieties have berries which mature at the same time in bunches and it’s best to harvest these by cutting off whole bunches and keeping the berries on the stalks.
Always harvest blackcurrants on dry days to avoid fungi developing quickly which will spoil the fruits. Store in the fridge and remove any damaged fruits (eat them straight away!). The fruits should keep in the fridge for around four days. The fruits freeze well (they keep for 6 months in the freezer) although their shape will be lost, use frozen fruit for jams, smoothies, cakes, desserts and pies.
For our own simple, tried and trusted recipe for making blackcurrant jam click here. We have been making jam to this recipe for many years and it has never let us down.
COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS
|Date: 27 July 2016
|This year there are a huge number of green shoots coming from all over the plant. There is less fruit than usual. Is it a good idea to strip off the extra green shoots before picking the fruit?
ANSWER: No, don’t remove the green shoots. These will produce fruit next year. Less fruit this year could be due to several factors but if there is lots of green growth it sounds like the plant is basically happy.
|Date: 23 May 2016
|I’m new to growing blackcurrants. Do i need to put a net round to stop birds or other creatures eating them? i ask this because it looks like something has eaten the top tiny berries clean off.
ANSWER: In some areas birds can be a major problem with blackcurrants and it sounds like you are unlucky. Yes you do need to net them to prevent further damage. You need to use correctly sized netting to ensure that birds can’t get in and you also need to ensure that there are no gaps.
|Date: 25 March 2016
|The stems on my blackcurrants are getting long, do I shorten them at all? I prune out dead and old wood each year but am unsure about cutting back stems.
ANSWER: That depends on what you mean by long. And also different varieties grow to different heights. 1.5m high is about average. At that height a couple of our blackcurrant bushes do need some support for a few of the branches when the fruit forms. In general I wouldn’t prune one or two year old growth just because it seems long, the pruning you do seems about right.
|Date: 13 February 2016
|We prefer to eat organically. What feed should we use?
ANSWER: As recommended in the main article above. Use blood, fish and bone or bonemeal, both of which are entirely organic.
|Date: 1 February 2016
|I have 3 bushes which have always done well. The soil is heavy clay. Should I add lime ?
ANSWER: If they doing well then, no, don’t add lime. A mulch around them each year with well-rotted compost / grass clippings etc. will help to break down the clay over several years.
|Date: 26 January 2016
|From: Gill W
|I have a blackcurrant “tree” which is about 3-4 years old. Why I say “tree” is that it has a central stem and then a few branches after that. It has borne fruit, but not a lot – possibly about 30-40 blackcurrants each year. I am wondering whether a) I should pile earth higher than what looks like a graft so that I then get a bush and b) how should I prune the blackcurrant as all shoots are fairly new. I know I should be pruning now. I live on the borders of London/Kent. Looking forward to your advice.
ANSWER: Firstly, blackcurrants are not normally grafted, they grow extremely easily from cuttings on their own roots. 30 -40 blackcurrants from a three year old bush is very low. I suspect there is something wrong with it. Also you describe it as a “tree” which doesn’t sound correct. By nature and without any pruning, a 3 to 4 year old bush should be “bush” looking and starting to get crowded in the centre by stems.
If it has been planted too shallow this could possibly be affecting it although I have one in my garden growing on a single stem which has bushed out – it is just prone to being blown by winds. Another, probably more likely reason for the low crops is that it is suffering from a viral infection. Blackcurrants are particularly prone to this and there is no cure. Some of the discount suppliers do not take as much care with the plants they sell and the bushes are sold already infected with a virus.
My advice would be to mulch it with 8cm or so of well rotted compost / wood chip or similar and leave it to grow one more season. If that doesn’t work I would consign it to \ the rubbish bin. Buy a replacement blackcurrant bush from a reputable supplier and plant it in a different location to avoid it being infected. Why not try Big Ben (click here for a full description), Crocus sell healthy specimens of this variety at good prices – click here to go to their page. Good luck.
|Date: 6 September 2015
|Must say your website is very interesting with plenty of good advice. Reading about pruning blackcurrants, I agree with Greg (Jan 2015), different sites say different times but you have given good reasons why to leave it until Dec to mid Feb. I have purchased a young bush which has 4 x stems these have produced new stems full of leaves and I wondered how do I prune the older stems when there have new growth on them. I have also got this bush in a pot 11 inches square, 12 inches high, will this be okay until I find somewhere in the garden to put it or can I keep it in a container of a bigger size if need be.
ANSWER: If you prune in December to February as suggested in the main article, the stems will have no leaves on them. I would suggest pruning away stems older than 3 years regardless of whether they had leaves on or not. If the bush is in the container now I’m sure it will survive there for a couple of months longer.
|Date: 26 August 2015
|I planted my blackcurrant bush last year, it didn’t produce much fruit really only about 25 berries in all. What am i doing wrong please as i hope to produce more berries from it next year? Thank you.
ANSWER: You are doing nothing wrong! It is normal for a blackcurrant bush to take a year or two to establish itself before producing a decent amount of fruit. Expect more fruit next year and by the year after that it will be at maximum fruit production.
|Date: 19 August 2015
|From: Marina Wilson
|My blackcurrant bush fruited this year for the first time 4lbs. Do I prune it this year or wait until next year?
ANSWER: Well done on an excellent first year’s harvest. As it’s the first time it’s produced fruit I would go easy on the pruning this year. The branches that produced fruit this year will also produce a reasonable amount of fruit next year. This year remove any crossing and weak branches. If the centre of the bush is congested, prune a few stems away to allow good air circulation. The end of next year is the time to follow our pruning advice above for “fourth year pruning”.
|Date: 10 August 2015
|From: Robert Chamberlain
|This year I have had a blackcurrant harvest that is about five times the weight of normal. Has this been the case nationwide or in Yorkshire where I live. I have done the same things to my bushes this year as normal, roughly following your advice, but did not prune back the stems to about 2 feet as I normally do, I left them at about 3 feet, just cutting the middle and old ones out. Does this make such a difference?
ANSWER: Sounds very much like you have removed much of the old wood which won’t produce fruit but left a bit more of the productive newish wood. That’s the objective of the pruning instructions given. I wouldn’t put it all down to correct pruning because this year does seem to have been a good one for soft fruit such as blackcurrants. Five times the harvest is excellent!
|Date: 24 July 2015
|I am about to go on holiday for 2 weeks. My blackcurrants are almost ripe, but not quite (and not all of them). Will they be ok on the bush if I leave them, so that they will all be ripe when I get back? Or is it better to pick them now? (I live in Lancashire – weather not hot!)
ANSWER: I would pick them now if they are almost ripe. You can pick blackcurrants over a couple of weeks but they will start to fall off when completely ripe. If you pick them now you will need to freeze them, they will only store in the fridge for a few days.
|Date: 27 June 2015
|From: Jenny Bunyan
|My first year of growing black currants, now the currants are filling out should some of the leaves be removed to expose fruit to sunlight?
ANSWER: It’s not necessary, they will ripen just fine without any need to do anything.
|Date: 02 February 2015
|Can i treat all red, white and blackcurrants the same way?….thanks.
ANSWER: Red and white currants can be treated the same but blackcurrants are slightly different. The key difference arises because red and white currants fruit do not normally fruit on wood grown in the same year but blackcurrants can. Follow the instructions for pruning blackcurrants on this page and also read our advice for pruning redcurrants which can be found here.
|Date: 04 January 2016
|From: Greg Hasnip
|Hi i have read various articles and watched on line videos and there seems to be conflicting info on when to prune blackcurrants for future growth. Some sites say straight after growth stops in late summer/autumn. My blackcurrants were planted Nov 2012 then cut back to the ground. 2013 I pruned a little and last year I got a reasonable crop. what and when should I do now? any advice would be appreciated.d.
ANSWER: As a general rule prune blackcurrants from the end of December to mid February when they are dormant. I would not advise pruning “straight after growth stops in late summer/autumn” because the bush will still have leaves on at that time of year. The plant will still absorb energy if it has leaves on giving the roots the best chance of success the next year. Cutting off stems which still have leaves on them deprives the plant of some energy.
|Date: 02 December 2014
|From: David Urquhart
|I have a question for you: Can I feed my Black and Red Currant bushes with Slow Release Bone Meal Organic fertiliser and at what time of the year should I apply it? My plants (Red and Black Currant bushes are approximately 4 years old.
ANSWER: Yes, that’s exactly the best type of feed for them. A good handful per bush applied in spring and mid summer will do them fine.