how to plant, grow & care for blackcurrants
complete growing guide
Still regarded as one of the highest fruits for vitamin C, blackcurrants are a delicious and easily grown summer stalwart. All you need is space and reasonable ground, they will even fruit for you in partial shade although they will not be as sweet. The variety we prefer, Ebony, is an early cropper producing delicious and unbelievably sweet, large fruits. It has good mildew resistance, is self-fertile and very reliable.
- Common name Blackcurrant
- Latin name Ribes nigrum
- Type Edible shrub
- Height & spread 1.2m x 1m
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full sun
- Spacing 1m - 1.5m
- Yield 4-5kg
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Grow in a greenhouse? No
how to grow blackcurrants
where to grow blackcurrants
Soil type: Blackcurrants will do best in a moist free-draining fertile soil, although will still produce a good yield in a less than perfect position.
Aspect & Position: Pick a spot in full sun for your blackcurrant plants.
when to plant blackcurrants
Bare rooted plants can be planted any time in the dormant season (November to March). Containerised plants can be planted all year round.
how to plant blackcurrants
Plant in an open sunny site with plenty of organic matter in the soil, although they will still produce a good yield in a less than perfect position. You will need some space if planting more than one blackcurrant bush; you will need at least a metre, preferably 1.5m, between each plant.
Soak the plant well for 20 minutes before planting. Dig a hole a little larger and deeper than the pot or root ball. Incorporate some well-rotted organic matter in the bottom of the hole. Loosen the roots slightly if they appear pot bound. Plant the new bush about 5 cm deeper than the plants were at the nursery – this will encourage new wood to grow from below the soil. Back fill with garden soil. Water in well.
Your blackcurrant bushes may not fruit the first year but will provide currants for a good 10 years after that.
growing blackcurrants in pots
Blackcurrants can be grown in large containers (minimum diameter 50cm) in John Innes no 3 or multipurpose compost with added grit and plenty of drainage material in the base.
how to care for blackcurrants
Keep your blackcurrant bushes well-watered during their first few months and again during the growing season if the weather is dry. When the fruit starts to change colour, protect from birds by covering in netting.
Harvest blackcurrants by taking off each bunch of berries with a strong pair of scissors. Pick your berries when it’s dry – wet currants will go mouldy. They will keep in the fridge for up to three days and they can also be frozen. For jelly, pick them when they are slightly unripe as there is more pectin in the fruit and the jelly should set much better.
I actually find that with an established bush where the fruit tends to ripen all at the same time, the easiest technique is to prune and pick in one go. Select four or five of the oldest branches and when they are ripe and ready to pick, prune them out as low to the ground as you can and sit and pick the fruit in the comfort of a garden chair. The new branches will shoot from the base again and fruit for you next year.
Revisit the bushes in late winter and remove any weak, diseased, or crossing stems. Aim for a goblet shape to allow light and air to get into the whole bush, this is easier to see when the leaves have fallen.
After pruning apply a thick mulch of well-rotted compost (this is especially important with blackcurrants as they require more nutrients) - you can also feed with a general fertiliser in the spring.
If you would like to increase your harvest you can propagate blackcurrants very easily. In early winter cut off a healthy young shoot of about pencil thickness and about 30cm long. Trim just below a leaf node. Post into the ground around 15cm deep in a shady spot where it can make roots in its first year, then transplant into the sunny kitchen garden the following winter.
- Plant new bare root bushes by the end of March.
- Water during dry spells.
- Net against birds as fruit begins to ripen.
- Harvest ripe fruit.
- Prune when fruiting has finished.
- Mulch with well-rotted organic matter.
- Propagate from hard wood cuttings and carry out any further pruning.
pests, diseases & common issues
Small green and white flies will suck the sap of young leaves and exude honey dew which can result in sooty mould. There is also a specific Currant Blister Aphid which feeds underneath the leaves, leaving tell-tale blistering on the surface. None of them will cause major damage to the plant, so squash them when you see clusters appearing and this should attract the cavalry of ladybirds, lacewings and birds to come to your aid.
These small insects with hard cases rather like miniature turtles cling on to the older branches and feed on the sap. You can scrape them off with a fingernail or prune out and destroy the affected branch to allow a younger one to grow in its place.
blackcurrant gall midge
Blackcurrant gall midge is a tiny white maggot up to 2mm long that feeds on the newly emerging leaves. The plants grow distorted and puckered, then dry up and die. Remove affected leaves to stop the next generation of midges hatching out. If it is a persistent problem, choose one of the resistant varieties of blackcurrant.
big bud mite
These microscopic mites colonise the new buds causing them to swell up to about three times their normal size. Make sure you pick off any you see over the winter months and destroy them before they hatch out. If the plant is badly affected remove and destroy, replanting with a resistant variety.
blackcurrant reversion virus
This is a disease that is thought to be spread by the big bud mite above. It causes the whole plant to revert back to its wilder form, with much smaller leaves and fruits. Thankfully it is fairly rare in the UK, and can be avoided by buying certified virus free stock.
Gooseberry mildew can also affect its close cousin, the blackcurrant in a warm damp year, leaving a powdery grey coating on leaves and occasionally fruits. Cut out the affected branches and ensure that the whole plant retains a goblet shape so that there is good air circulation around and between plants.
why does my blackcurrant bush not fruit?
This could possibly be a shortage of pollinators in your garden. Alternatively, if you are a tidy gardener you might have pruned off the fruiting wood. Blackcurrants flower and fruit on new wood, so if you are constantly removing the new shoots you will stop it being able to fruit.
why are my blackcurrant leaves turning yellow?
Yellow leaves are usually a sign of nutritional deficiency. It is important to mulch your plants with well-rotted organic matter every year. It is also worth trying a foliar spray of seaweed liquid which should help provide the minerals that the plant is failing to find for itself.
frequently asked questions
how big do blackcurrant bushes get?
Some varieties do get quite big, so expect at least a metre high and the same in width.
how far apart should blackcurrant bushes be planted?
Allow plenty of space between the plants as they do need good air circulation, and you will need to get between them to pick the fruit. So at least 1 metre, preferably up to 1.5m.
how long do blackcurrant bushes last?
A healthy bush will remain productive for at least ten years if it is regularly pruned and mulched.
do blackcurrant bushes spread?
No, they do not have running roots or invasive shoots like a blackberry. They will layer themselves (root from a shoot) if you allow branches to droop onto the ground. But good pruning should keep them in bounds.
do birds eat blackcurrants?
They will, although generally they prefer the sweeter raspberries and strawberries. As you will get up to 5kg of fruit from a mature bush, you might be able to spare a few for the blackbirds!
are blackcurrants self-pollinating?
Yes, you only need one plant to get a good crop, but they do need insects to pollinate the flowers for you. So, grow plenty of pollinator friendly plants around your bushes to attract the bees in.