Redcurrants are useful plants to grow in many gardens. Not only do they provide prodigious amounts of berries for fresh use or for use in preserves, they also make useful plants within sustainable garden designs – well suited to a range of different settings. In this article, you will learn how to grow redcurrants, as well as how to plant, care, harvest, and prune them, alongside essential recipe tips.
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What are Redcurrants and Why Grow Them in Your Garden?
Redcurrants are fruits in the Ribes genus. Going by the Latin name Ribes rubrum, these shrubs are native to western Europe. Ribes rubrum also gives us the white currant, which is a cultivar of the same plant.
A deciduous shrub which normally grows to around a metre or a metre and a half tall, it bears yellow-green flowers followed by bright red berries around 8-12mm in diameter.
The fruits are rather tart and somewhat astringent when raw, and so are often utilised in cooked recipes and preserves along with a sweetener of some kind. The berries are rich in beneficial nutrients and so are a very healthy inclusion for a homegrown diet.
Choosing the Right Redcurrant Plants to Grow
Redcurrants can be purchased as a bare-root plants or pot-grown specimens. There are numerous different cultivars to consider. Some highly regarded options for the UK include:
- “Jonkheer van Tets“
- “Red Lake“
- “Blanca” (White currant)
- “White Grape” (White currant)
All of the above have an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.
Ideas for Redcurrant Growing Locations – Redcurrants in Garden Design
Redcurrants (or white currants) can be useful for use within:
- Forest gardens.
- Fruiting hedgerows.
- ‘Edimental’ (edible and ornamental) garden beds and borders.
They can be used in projects of a range of scales, from larger food forests right down to the smallest of backyards, where redcurrants can be shaped or cordoned in order to fit them into the tiniest of spaces to make the most of every inch of space available.
Where space is especially short, redcurrants can even be grown in containers, providing these are of sufficient size.
Choosing the right spot for redcurrants means thinking about the environmental conditions that they require.
Though redcurrants can certainly cope with some light, dappled shade, or even partial shade, they will fruit best and produce the highest yields if placed in full sun. The fruits will also ripen a little earlier and be a little sweeter if these berry bushes are grown in a sunny location.
Redcurrants are unfussy about soil conditions in general, but they will do best in a moist but well drained soil, which is reasonably fertile and rich in organic matter. If growing in a container, it is best to fill that container with a peat-free, loam-based potting mix.
One other important thing to consider when deciding where to grow redcurrants is whether you are happy to share with wildlife and remain vigilant to make sure you get your own share of the harvest, or would prefer to net or cage the fruit and grow it more formally in order to maximise the yield you yourself can derive.
This, really, is a matter of preference and priorities. But note that birds can be a serious issue in some areas and may get all the redcurrants before you get the opportunity to gather in your harvest. So some form of barrier protection such as a polytunnel or fruit cage may often be a good idea.
You can plant out bare-root redcurrant bushes during the dormant period, some time between autumn/ fall and early spring. Or you can purchase a potted redcurrant bush and plant this any time except during the height of summer when higher temperatures and low precipitation can potentially make establishment more tricky.
Redcurrant bushes are planted in the same way that you would plant any other shrub. Simply decide where you will be placing the new addition, prepare the site making sure that you can meet the environmental needs of your new redcurrant or redcurrants, and make a generous planting hole or holes to accept your new plant or plants.
Firm the soil back around the base of the plant, making sure that the soil surface is at the same level as it was in the plant’s previous location or the container in which it came.
Water the plant in well, making sure excess water can drain away freely, and mulch around the base of the plant with some homemade compost, leaf mould, or other organic matter.
Caring for Redcurrants
Once established, redcurrants should typically be happy with natural rainfall in the temperate areas where they thrive, and will need to be provided with additional water only during prolonged periods of drought.
Of course, the exception to this is when these berry bushes are grown in containers, since when we grow in containers, we typically need to water much more frequently than we do when growing plants in the ground.
Once a redcurrant has been placed in the right spot, there is really very little that you will have to do. However, it can be a good idea to learn a little more about how best to prune these plants.
Redcurrants should be pruned in the dormant period, between autumn and late winter or early spring. It is important to prune before the sap begins to rise.
The most important thing to remember when pruning redcurrants is that these bushes bear their fruit on old wood. In other words, they fruit on branches which were produced in the previous years.
Branches will not fruit in the year they grow, but will fruit the following year, and the year after that. However, after the third year, branches will produce fruit still, but it will be of a poorer quality.
So you want to make sure you maximise the branches in peak productivity on the bush. This typically involves taking out some of the older branches to the base, leaving a well-balanced and open framework of healthy branches.
You might also consider pruning to restrict the size of a redcurrant and to cordon it, to grow it in even the smallest of spots. Pruning cordons is a little more complex, but is relatively straightforward and worthwhile if you want to maximise yield within limited space.
Aside from pruning, watering during dry spells, and feeding organically if growth is poor, these are plants that can pretty much be left to their own devices and they can be a good choice for a relatively low-maintenance garden.
Depending on your location and the variety of redcurrants that you are growing, the fruits will be ready to harvest from early-mid summer onwards. They are ready to harvest when they are richly coloured, juicy and firm.
Cut trusses from the plant and either use these up very quickly, place in the fridge for a few days, or, if you have too many to have all at once, freeze or otherwise preserve them for later use.
Redcurrant Recipe Ideas
One of the ways I use redcurrants from my garden to make a simple fruit syrup, which can be used to make a cordial or squash or poured over ice cream or other deserts.
I also use redcurrants to make glazes for vegetable loaves and include some of the berries in the dough when baking breads.
Redcurrants also work well in a range of other baked goods – from cakes to pastries. Why not make a redcurrant cake and serve it with a sauce made from summer berries? Or make a vegan redcurrant tart to enjoy with some vegan ‘nice’ cream?
Redcurrant jams and jellies are enduringly popular. I sometimes ring the changes by mixing redcurrants with other fruits to make preserves.
I also think redcurrants work well when dried and used in breakfast cereals etc.. and I also enjoy using some to make spicy condiments to enjoy with cheeses and in other ways. If you would like to find other uses for redcurrants, try these redcurrant recipes.
Be sure to check out some of our other growing and care guides, including:
- pruning blackberries.
- how to grow rocket.
- how to grow carrots.
- crab apple recipes.
- how to grow cranberries.
- how to grow blackcurrants.
- And many more, available at First Tunnels gardening.
Transform your garden by learning how to grow redcurrants
In conclusion, growing redcurrants can be a rewarding experience for any gardener. By providing the right conditions of well-draining soil, ample sunlight, and regular pruning, these vibrant and nutritious berries can flourish. With proper care and attention to pest management, one can savor the delight of harvesting their homegrown redcurrants, adding a burst of flavor to various culinary delights. So, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, pruning redcurrants can bring satisfaction as you witness the fruits of your labor flourish in your own polytunnel.
When is the best time to plant redcurrants?
Redcurrants are best planted during late autumn or early winter while they are dormant. This allows them to establish their root systems before spring growth.
Do redcurrants need a lot of water?
Redcurrants require consistent moisture, especially during dry spells and when they are fruiting. However, avoid waterlogged soil as it can lead to root rot.
How do I prune redcurrant bushes?
To prune redcurrant bushes, first, remove any dead, diseased, or weak branches. Then, cut back about one-third of the oldest stems to the base, leaving the younger, healthier ones. This helps in maintaining a productive and well-shaped plant.
Are there any common pests and diseases that affect redcurrants?
Redcurrants are susceptible to pests like aphids, currant bud mite, and currant fruit fly, as well as diseases like powdery mildew and blister rust. Regular inspection and proper pest management are essential for addressing these issues.
- Jacksons Nurseries. (n.d.). Redcurrant ‘Jonkheer van Tets’. Retrieved from https://www.jacksonsnurseries.co.uk/redcurrant-jonkheer-van-tets.html [accessed 21/07/23]
- Gardenia. (n.d.). Ribes rubrum ‘Red Lake’. Retrieved from https://www.gardenia.net/plant/ribes-rubrum-red-lake [accessed 21/07/23]
- Thompson & Morgan. (n.d.). Redcurrant ‘Rovada’. Retrieved from https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/redcurrant-rovada/cww3192TM [accessed 21/07/23]
- Chris Bowers & Sons. (n.d.). Red Stanza Currant. Retrieved from https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/product/red-stanza/ [accessed 21/07/23]
- Raintree Nursery. (n.d.). Blanca White Currant. Retrieved from https://raintreenursery.com/products/blanca-white-currant [accessed 21/07/23]
- RV Roger. (n.d.). White Currant ‘White Grape’. Retrieved from https://rvroger.co.uk/whitecurrant-white-grape/ [accessed 21/07/23]
- BBC Good Food. (n.d.). Redcurrant recipes. Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/redcurrant-recipes [accessed 21/07/23]
- Waddington, E., (2021). How to Cook with Garden Currants. [online] Retrieved from https://www.treehugger.com/how-to-cook-with-garden-currants-5194132 [accessed 21/07/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.