Blackcurrants are one of the top soft fruits – we discuss how to grow them effectively.
Choose a fertile site for your blackcurrant bushes in a spot which is well-drained and reasonably drained and sunny. The crop is happy in partial shade as we grow these under plum trees.
Prepare the soil well, removing perennial weeds and digging in well-rotted manure or garden compost. Scatter 56g (2oz/sq. yd.) Growmore or pelleted chicken manure over the ground prior to planting.
Potted plants can be planted at any time soil conditions allow, but bare-rooted plants often establish faster and these are available between October and March.
When planting bury the base of the stems about 5cm (2in.) deep – branches usually emerge from below soil level – i.e. not on a short stem or trunk.
Supports are not generally necessary, although the bushes may sag under the weight of the crop and need some help prior to picking.
Growing In Pots
Blackcurrants can be successfully grown in large pots such as patio tubs. Some varieties are more compact than others and so are better suited to container growing. Choose a good, free draining compost such as John Innes No. 3 which will provide stability while retaining its structure long-term. Alternatively use a multi-purpose or loam-free potting compost and a little grit for drainage.
potted bushes will need more attention in terms of watering and feeding especially if placed near to a fence or wall, so check regularly and feed every two weeks with a tomato feed during the growing season.
Initial pruning consists of removing any broken stems and weak shoots. Retain all main branches and do not tip them back. Keep doing this in the winter when the plant is dormant for its first four years. Blackcurrants fruit best on the youngest shoots so after the initial four-year wait remove up to a third of the main shoots at ground level.
Although this is often recommended to be done in winter when the plant is dormant it can be done at harvesting time. This makes the fiddly job of removing the berries easier since the branch, fruit and all, can be taken indoors for removal.
Harvesting blackcurrants are fiddly. You can either take the whole branch as appropriate but remember not to take more than one third from established plants, or simply rake the berries with your fingers, removing a small number at a time.
It is possible to buy a specially designed, but reasonably priced picker which is a good investment if you have lots of bushes to pick at.
Some varieties may ripen over a period of several weeks and if the berries are wanted for eating raw rather than making into jams etc., it is best to pick over the plants in stages to get the fruit at its best. It is not uncommon to harvest 5kg of fruit from one plant.
The most popular varieties of blackcurrant were bred in Scotland at the James Hutton Institute which was formerly the Scottish Crop Research Institute. Many of these varieties were bred for GlaxoSmithKline’s (now Suntory’s) Ribena production before released for general horticultural use. They are named after Scottish mountains and like many of them carry the prefix ‘Ben’.
cv. Ben Sarek – A widely grown variety forming a compact bush, making it ideal for smaller gardens and containers. Crops early July.
cv. Big Ben – Very large berries almost twice the size of other fruit. very heavy yielding, producing up to 4.5kg (10lb.) of fruit per bush. Sweet flavour and best eaten fresh. Sweet and prolific – great for eating fresh. One of the newest varieties. Resistant to mildew and leaf spot. Crops in early July.
cv. Ben Gairn – a modern disease -resistant variety and resistant to reversion disease spread by big bud mite. Early cropping – late June onwards.
cv. Ben Connan – Heavy yields of large-sized berries which can be up to 17mm in diameter. Good frost tolerance, resistant to leaf curling midge and mildew resistance. Crops early July. Makes a neat compact bush. Ripens from early July.
cv. Ben Hope – Heavy cropping and good pest and disease resistance including big bud mite. Good for organic gardeners. It is one of the best flavoured varieties, exceptionally heavy yielding and also resistant to mildew, leaf spot and rust. the bush is vigorous and tall and therefore best planted in a sheltered site. Crops in mid-July.
cv. Ben Tirran – A very late ripening blackcurrant, useful for extending the cropping season. The bush is highly productive and the fruit quality is excellent. the medium sized berries are juicy with a good flavour. Ripens from early August.
cv. Ebony – This new blackcurrant produces very large fruits that can be eaten without sugar straight from the bush. Very high yielding and resistant to mildew. Ripens from earlu July.