Currant bushes can often be a great choice for a garden. These fruiting shrubs can be grown in a range of settings and can often deliver high yields in a relatively small amount of space. To make sure you get the best possible results, however, pruning currant bushes correctly is important. So let’s take a look at pruning the most common currants grown here in the UK: blackcurrants and redcurrants:
Why is Pruning Currant Bushes a Good Idea?
First of all, you might be wondering why pruning currant bushes is a good idea. You might wonder whether pruning is really necessary, and what exactly this gardening job achieves. The truth of the matter is that currant bushes can still be productive without any intervention. But you can improve your yield of fruits and keep plants healthier and neater if you do prune the currant bushes in your garden.
One of the first and most important things to remember when pruning currant bushes is that different pruning is required for blackcurrants and redcurrants. You will need to prune differently depending on which type of currant bush you are growing.
Pruning blackcurrants is a relatively easy job. But how exactly you prune will depend on the age of the plant. Read on to find out more:
Pruning Newly Planted Blackcurrants
When you first plant a bare root blackcurrant bush, between autumn and spring, it is a good idea to prune back hard – cutting all the shoots back to around 2.5cm above the ground in early spring. This might seem extreme and will mean that you don’t get any fruit in the first year. But it will be beneficial in the longer term. But do not prune back hard if you are planting a pot grown specimen later in the season, when the plant will be actively growing.
For the first three years after a blackcurrant is planted, it is best to prune only lightly in autumn or winter if the plant is growing strongly. Simply remove low-lying or weak shoots in this case. However, if growth is weak, it can be a good idea to prune back hard – pruning off at least half of the shoots down to near the ground.
Pruning Established Blackcurrants
After the first few years, once blackcurrant bushes are well established, prune a little during picking if required. You can cut back sprawling branches which are laden with fruit to strong upright growth. However, it is best to delay the main pruning until the winter, when you should aim to cut out a quarter to a third of the branches annually. The goal is to remove any weak growth, and old, unproductive wood. Make the cuts low down wherever you can to encourage strong growth from near the base of the plant.
Renovating Mature Blackcurrants
If old and manure bushes are in need of renovation, you can rejuvenate them by cutting all but the strongest and youngest branches to within 2.5cm of ground level during the winter months. The new growth that results from this hard pruning will need thinning, and you should aim to leave around 12 strong young shoots.
Pruning redcurrants involves a different approach to that required for blackcurrants. It is important to understand that though they are closely related to blackcurrants, they are not pruned in the same way.
The most crucial 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.
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.
Pruning Newly Planted Redcurrant Bushes
Pruning newly planted redcurrants will usually involve light pruning – not hard pruning as is recommended with blackcurrants. The goal is simply to ensure that your plant develops into a well-shaped shrub, with an upright bowl shape. Make any cuts to an outward facing bud to avoid growing in the middle of the bush. Any new branches which sag can be removed in favour of upright canes which will better support fruit.
Maintenance Pruning Redcurrants
In the winter, look at the redcurrant bush. First of all, get rid of any shoots which are dead, damaged or diseased, cutting back to an outwards or upwards facing bud.
By looking at the bush you should be able to tell the age of the branches. As mentioned above, you are looking to maximise the number of peak fruiting branches which are 2-3 years old. You should be able to tell the age of the branches by looking at the bark and the thickness of the stems. The next step should be to prune out older branches right back to ground level. Or back to a main supporting stem.
In early summer, you can also consider keeping the size of the bush in check by pruning new growth back to two buds. Cut just above an outward facing or upwards facing bud.
Pruning Cordon Redcurrants
Redcurrants are sometimes grown as cordon plants, rather than as bushes. This can be a good choice for those who are particularly short on space.
Established cordon redcurrants should be pruned in early spring. Cut the new growth on the main vertical stem by a quarter of the previous year’s growth. Or by up to a half if growth has been poor. Cut to a bud on the opposite side to the growth of the previous year’s growth to keep the growth as straight as possible.
Once the cordon has reached a desired height, cut to one bud of new growth each year in the early summer. Prune the shoots growing out from the main stem to one bud to establish a fruiting spur system.
By pruning your blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes correctly, you can make sure that your currant bushes are productive. And ensure that they remain as productive as possible over the coming years.
Do you have any currant bushes pruning tips to share? Please do so in the comments below.
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.