Most people are only familiar with the dried version of the black currant, sold in boxes alongside raisins in the supermarket. Smaller and a little more tart/tangy than raisins, they make a flavorful addition to baked goods and hot cereals. The fresh fruits are a tasty alternative to grapes and are ideal for making preserves.
Growing from seed is hit or miss, so leave the propagation to the horticultural experts. You can grow black or red currant bushes (or both, if you wish, for a nice flavor variety) as edible ornamentals. Nature Hills Nursery sells Consort Black and Red Lake varieties that are delivered live to your door.
Be sure to read Growing Fruit 101 in conjunction with this post.
Best Climate to Grow: Currants fare better in cooler climates, protected from wind. If you live in a warmer climate, plant your currant bushes on the north side of your house in order to protect them from too much direct sunlight and intense heat.
Light Requirements: Partial shade is ideal.
Soil Requirements: Double-tilled soil that is rich in organic matter and retains moisture without getting boggy. The ideal pH level is slightly acidic at 6.5. Amend the soil as needed prior to planting.
Feeding and Water Requirements: Black currants require lots of nitrogen, so in addition to amending the soil prior to planting, fertilize with hydrolyzed fish, bloodmeal and bonemeal every Spring (and once more during the Summer if needed). Mulch regularly with compost or rotted manure. The soil should remain moist at all times, so drip irrigation is recommended.
Red currants need lots of potassium and will require a potassium-rich fertilizer (such as seaweed) every Spring, in addition to a rich compost mulch. The soil should remain moist at all times, so drip irrigation is recommended.
When to Plant: Any time.
Planting Depth and Spacing: For black currants, dig your planting hole about 2 inches deeper than the nursery container your currant bush arrived in – transplanting it 2 inches deeper will facilitate the growth of new shoots, as will pruning the existing shoots down to the soil line as soon as you are done planting. Fill in the hole, press down firmly, water thoroughly, and mulch.
For red currants, dig a planting hole that is the same depth as the nursery container. Prune each shoot by half. Fill in the hole, press down firmly, water thoroughly, and mulch.
Both black and red currant bushes take up a lot of space – you need to allow at least 6 feet between each plant if you intend to plant more than one or interplant them with other shrubbery.
Container Requirements: Growing currants in containers will take extra care due to their size and their heavy feeding requirements. A large container at least 1 foot deep is ideal. Drip irrigation specifically for containers is recommended. Frequent fertilization and mulching is a must.
Pruning: For black currants, you will prune the shoots back to the soil level upon planting. During the first year you will only need to prune any growth that is damaged or diseased…or dead. Thereafter, from the second year forward you want to prune in late Summer after each harvest, cutting the branches that fruited back to the soil level to allow the new shoots to produce fruit the following year.
For red currants, you will trim each shoot by half. Thereafter, you will be pruning for shape in addition to encouraging new growth. You want to make sure that the bush doesn’t become too dense. After harvesting prune any new growth on the main branches and remove all but one bud on each side shoot.
Harvesting and Storage: Harvest entire fruit clusters as they become ripe (you could combine harvesting and pruning, actually). Currants will store for only a few days fresh in the refrigerator. If you have a dehydrator, you can make your own dried currants. They freeze well and also make excellent preserves.
Pests to Monitor: Aphids, Big Bud Mites, Birds, and Sawflies. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.