How to grow redcurrant bushes

Val Bourne / 05 July 2012 ( 14 March 2017 )

Redcurrant bushes are very easy to grow at home. Gardening expert Val Bourne explains how.



Redcurrants (Ribes rubrum) are the easiest currant bushes to grow because they don’t demand high levels of moisture like their close relative the blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum).

This means that those on the drier eastern side of Britain, or those with light well-drained soil, can grow redcurrants. They crop more heavily, forming long trusses of fruit on last year’s wood, so it’s vital to support the laden branches with canes.

The glassy red berries need to ripen before you pick them and they can be eaten raw, or added to a fruit compote.

Redcurrant juice can be made into a fruit jelly or it can be added to strawberry jam to provide a redder colour and a better set.

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When to plant redcurrant bushes

Bare root redcurrant bushes can be planted in the dormant season between November and March. 

Containerised plants can be planted throughout the year but avoid very hot and very cold weather.

Where to plant redcurrant bushes

It’s best to avoid windy positions because soft fruit tends to have easily-damaged foliage, so plant redcurrant bushes in a sheltered site. A sunny position will result in better fruit.

How to plant redcurrant bushes

Make a hole wide enough for the roots, spread them out making sure the soil mark on the stem stays level with the soil.

Place the plant in the hole and back fill, firming gently with your feet. Then water well and spread a layer of well-rotted manure round the plant if possible.

Weed the area round newly-planted fruit bushes regularly and water in dry spells in the first growing season.

Plant each bush 1.5m (4 - 5ft) apart with 2m (6ft) between rows.

Water plants well in dry weather until the plant is well established.

Pruning redcurrants

Redcurrants grow on old wood so new wood should be trimmed back to keep bushes compact and productive. How you prune will depend on whether you want to keep your redcurrant as a bush or a cordon. Bushes produce more fruit than cordons but cordons are easier to harvest and take up less space so are ideal for a smaller garden, and can even be grown in a container.

Bushes

In June and July, the current season’s new growth should be shortened back to five leaves on the main stems. Do not remove any fruit. The new growth is obvious - it is softer and the foliage is lighter.

In winter, spur prune all the side shoots by cutting them back to between one and three buds. Shorten the tips of the branches by a third - to an outward facing bud. This encourages lateral growth and fruit buds.

Remove any branches close to the ground so that you create a short leg or trunk.

Always remove suckers.

Cordons

Summer pruning can be done from early June until mid-July. Cut all the young side shoots back to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane as it extends.

Once the plant is dormant, between late autumn and late winter prune back the same side shoots to one or two buds. Cut back the tip by one-third.

Once the cordon reaches roughly chest height (approximatelyy five feet) cut back the tip to five leaves from last year’s growth in the summer, and then back to one to three buds from last year's growth in winter.

Feeding

Give your plants a balanced granular fertiliser in spring to provide the plant with sufficient potash - this will ensure the bush flowers and fruits well.

How to propagate

Propagate by hardwood cuttings taking about 30 cm (1 ft) long sections of newer growth in early autumn. Use pieces taken from young plants. Older plants may carry disease, so are best not propagated.

Harvesting the fruit

Pick redcurrants in summer when the berries are firm and juicy. Use a large bowl and a fork and comb the fork through the trusses of fruit. If this is too back breaking pick the cluster and then use the fork. The trusses of fruit can be frozen for use in winter.

Redcurrants are rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants.

Pests

Redcurrants are irresistible to blackbirds so you must net your bushes.

If you are serious about growing soft fruit, consider investing in a fruit cage because bullfinches are adept at eating the fruit buds in spring.

Redcurrant varieties

Good varieties include 'Laxton's No 1' and 'Red Lake'. These varieties can be grown as bushes or trained as cordons against a wall in an open position.

If your garden is in a frost pocket opt for a later variety like 'Rovada' or 'Redstart'. You should get ten pounds of fruit per bush - if you net against the birds.

Use a fruit specialist as they will provide certified stock that is healthy.

'Jonkheer van Tets'
An early cropper which forms large bushes.

'Redstart'
A new late-flowering and cropping variety that avoids frosts. Low-growing and compact.

'Stanza'
Much darker berries than most others once they have fully ripened. Growth is compact so 'Stanza' is good for a small garden - flavour said to be good.

Using the fruit

Redcurrants can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury recipes. Try one of these:

Redcurrant cheesecake
Meringue with lemon curd, cream and berries
Flavoured syrup for summer fruit
Salmon fillets with rysteribs
Redcurrant and herb Barnsley chops

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.