Blackcurrants are one of the top soft fruits – we discuss how to grow them effectively.
Growing Advice On Blackcurrants
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.
Most fruit is produced on those shoots that were grown last year with the remainder on the two-year old growth. The aim of pruning is to remove all the older shoots close to the base so that new, strong growing and fruiting shoots are encouraged to develop.
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.
- Remove all suckers growing from the rootstock base or from the upright stem or leg as its usually called. Remove by rubbing off such shoots as soon as they start growing.
- On established plants prune back to a 2.5 to 5cm stub about a quarter of the oldest shoots.
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 plenty 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.
Issues With Blackcurrants
Birds – will strip fruit when it is just ripening as with any currant. Protect by covering with net curtain or containing in a fruit cage.
Blackcurrant Big Bud Mite – causes the production of larger-than-normal rounded buds that are prominent in late winter and early spring. These will not open! Best to pick the buds off and destroy the affected buds as soon as they are spotted in winter. Badly affected plants always have to be destroyed. This mite also spread reversion disease which severely reduces vigour.
Currant Blister Aphid – pale yellow aphid feeding on the underside of leaves causes leaf puckering. the affected leaves develop reddish or yellow green tinges. Control with approved insecticides or nip off affected tips.
Mildew – blackcurrants can suffer gooseberry mildew with white mildew growth on young shoots and fruits. Products to use to treat mildew include RHS Bug and Mildew Control, Ecofective Bug & Mildew Control, Ecofective ‘Defender’, SB Plant Invigorator, Resolva Natural Power Bug and Mildew Control.
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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) production of their branded drink called Ribena before being released for general horticultural use. Most blackcurrant varieties from the Institute are named after Scottish mountains and like many of them carry the prefix ‘Ben’
Early and Early-Mid-Season Fruit
cv. Ben Connan – Heavy yields of large-sized berries on a medium to long strig. These can be up to 17mm in diameter. Good frost tolerance, resistant to leaf curling midge and mildew. Some resistance to big bud mite. Crops early July. Makes a neat compact bush. Ripens from early July.
cv. Ben Gairn – a modern disease -resistant variety with special resistant to reversion disease spread by big bud mite. Compact bush. One of the earliest to flower. Will not suffer cold damage. Early cropping – late June onwards. The fruit is uniform producing large crops of high quality, juicy fruit. Can be planted close together.
cv. Big Ben AGM- Vigorous and medium-sized bushes. 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.
Mid- and Mid- To Late-Season
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, producing medium sized berries with a good flavour, 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 Sarek – A widely grown variety forming a compact bush, making it ideal for smaller gardens and containers. Crops early July.
cv. Ebony – This new blackcurrant produces very large fruits. These may be eaten without sugar straight from the bush. Very high yielding and resistant to mildew. Ripens from early July.
cv. Wellington XXX. The berries are sweet, medium to large with a rough skin. heavy cropper. Growth is vigorous and spreading.
cv. Baldwin – Sharp flavour with a tough skin. The berries are medium and hang well without splitting. Cropping is moderate to good. The bush is medium and fairly compact. Suitable for small garden. Plant 1.5m (5ft) apart.
cv. Ben Alder
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.
Hybrid Varieties Including Blackcurrants
Jostaberry – A cross between gooseberry and blackcurrant hybrid. Easy to grow and generally trouble free. The jostaberry requires plenty of space and has a unique flavour which is a mix of both types of fruit.