Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

King of the soft fruits

A single, well established healthy blackcurrant bush will yield 10lbs of fruit every year and will stay productive for 20 years. It is what makes it one of the most popular of all the soft fruits grown in our gardens.

Blackcurrant bushes are very easy to please. And boy do they show their appreciation of being looked after!

Ten pounds of fruit per bush is a very generous supply of blackcurrants from which you can make countless jars of jam from, and the fruits are also ideal for freezing, juicing, adding to yogurts and so on.

Any soil is suitable; they can tolerate heavier and more poorly drained sites than other fruit bushes, and even a little shade. Generous hearty soil, plenty of sun and a good feeding regime makes all the difference. But a blackcurrant bush will also shrug off less promising conditions and still yield fairly well.

Disease became a problem some years ago and in many older stocks harboured significant disease. The way round this is to make sure you buy healthy stocks from reputable growers to get the best start. If possible, buy a two-year-old plant - once planted it will remain productive for almost 20 years.

HOW TO PLANT

Always buy certified stock to avoid virus problems. 

Blackcurrants tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer well-drained, moisture-retentive conditions. 

You will see blackcurrants for sale in two forms: bare-root stock as the name suggests, the roots are exposed when you purchase these plants or in containers. Bare-root plants should be planted from late autumn; containerised plants can be planted at any time of year, as long as the soil is not too wet.

A few weeks before planting, clear the soil of all perennial weeds and add a generous amount of well-rotted manure. 

Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, and spread the roots out when planting. Set each plant at least three inches deeper than it was previously. Deep planting encourages young, vigorous shoots to develop from the base. Mix the soil from the hole with well-rotted organic manure and backfill the hole. Firm it in well before watering.

If growing in a container, choose one that is 20 inches in diameter. When planting, place some crocks (small pieces of broken concrete, clay pots, or polystyrene) in the bottom of the containers to retain moisture. Use a good-quality compost -John Innes No 3 is ideal- or multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume of grit.

An average blackcurrant bush will require a spacing of five feet and it will grow the same in height. Some varieties are slightly more or less vigorous than this and of course it is also dependent on soil.

The blackcurrant scene is dominated by ‘Ben’ prefix varieties and these have revolutionised blackcurrant production in this country. They are defined by extra frost hardiness as well 
as bountiful crops.

WHEN TO PLANT BLACKCURRANTS

You can plant all year round. Planting of bare rooted bushes during the dormant season, from October to April is to be preferred because the bushes establish will little intervention or aftercare and receive little shock at this time. They are impervious to the elements and thoroughly hardy once they are in the ground. If you need to plant at another time, during the spring and summer, then this is also perfectly possible but at this time you will be planting pot grown bushes. Regular watering as described above is necessary to get them going but thereafter establishment is usually quick and satisfactory; the bushes will be well placed to make more significant growth the next year and they will be well established before winter.

After planting you should cut all the shoots back to 2” from the base. This may seem drastic but don’t worry, having brutalised your brand new bushes they will come back all the stronger and basal buds will form strong new shoots next season which will be much better placed to yield well the year following.

SUBSEQUENT FEEDING AND AFTERCARE

Blackcurrants are vigorous growers and prolific fruiters so a hearty feeding regime will give them the strength and impetus to gift you the best results possible.Apply mulch as often as you can -blackcurrants like to remain nice and moist during the summer. Consider extra watering from June to September when the bushes are most active, water with a hose as the mature bushes will have an extensive root system so really puddle that water around the base of the bushes for the most effect and extra luscious large berries.

Weed control is important because they compete with the bushes for nutrients and water. So be vigilant and remove any weeds as they appear. Because blackcurrants are fairly shallow rooted (another reason why extra watering is an advantage) it is best to lightly hoe or hand weed.

GROWING BLACKCURRANTS IN POTS

Although not the first choice that comes to mind when thinking of fruit to grow in containers it is possible to grow them in pots. ‘Ben Sarek’ is by far the best variety for container growing because it is much more compact in growth and requires less pruning. Any other variety is suited to this method of cultivation as well, but the rangier growers will look untidy. Pruning is the same as for bushes grown in the ground and regular hearty feeding is important to ensure a reliable supply of young growth to continue the fruiting cycle. Beware the same bugs and diseases as for bushes grown in the open ground.

Blackcurrants in containers ought to produce well for four to five years in a good big pot. You will probably need to re-pot and this should take place in the winter. Shake off some of the compost from the roots – you can be quite robust in this – cut all of the growth back to near the base and allow the bush to start again and rejuvenate, re-potting it in the same container with fresh compost. You should then be able to cultivate the same bush in a container for up to seven or eight years.

Ben Sarek¹ AGMWHAT TO GROW

‘Ben Sarek’ AGM: A good choice for the small garden as this is a compact, high-yielding bush growing only to about four ft high. It offers resistance to mildew and frost. ‘Ben Sarek’ produces large berries.

‘Ben Lomond’ AGM: An upright blackcurrant with some frost resistance because of its late flowering. Produces heavy yields of large, short-stalked berries, which are ready to harvest in late summer.

‘Ben Hope’: An excellent grower with heavy yields of medium-sized, delicious currants. It is resistant to mildew, leaf spot, and gall midge.

‘Ben Connan’ AGM: This compact plant is suitable for a small garden. It has resistance to mildew, frost, and gall midge. The berries are large with good flavour.

BIRDS ARE ALWAYS THE BIGGEST THREAT 

Blackcurrants aren’t the favoured snack for birds. Maybe it’s the colour, or the strong aroma, but they would much rather go for gleaming redcurrants, strawberries or raspberries if available. But that’s not to say they won’t tackle blackcurrants, they will if there isn’t a more attractive option. So protect the bushes as the berries begin to ripen with netting, or various other bird scaring devices.

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