Redcurrants are one of the popular ‘bush’ fruits that can be grown quite easily in almost any soil type. They are actually related to Gooseberries – another popular bush fruit, so not surprisingly, share some of the same cultural requirements.
Ribes rubrum - to give it its proper botanical name – also has a variant with white coloured fruits., realistically named the Whitecurrant! A good, well-established bush can produce around 8lbs (4kg) of luscious berries each summer, with the berries in trusses of up to 12 berries per raceme/truss.
I favoured the redcurrant at home as a child, as I could more easily and secretly pick a small handful – rather than black currants. For me, they tasted much better, though the slightly acidic taste does not appeal to all.
Redcurrant bushes are best planted where they can get a good helping of sunlight, though slightly dappled shade will also provide a good crop. Full sunlight though, is best. Soil type can be either acid or lime, though not to extreme of either – neutral being perfect. Medium loam is best, but they will also grow on lighter and heavier soils, but seem to resent being waterlogged in the winter.
They flower in spring to early summer with the berries cropping from mid to late summer depending upon season.
If planted in rows, allow for plenty of space between each bush, for they will grow to around 1.2m (4ft) across. The space between plants is good for air circulation, which helps keeping mildew at bay. Space also allows for sunlight and full ripening of all the fruits down the branches, for well grown plats will positively droop with clusters of berries. Some varieties of redcurrant will grow to 1.5m (5ft) tall -the main feature – brought about by proper pruning of redcurrant bushes – is the upright habit of growth.
Planting can take place almost any time in the year – as they are often sold as container grown, or containerized plants. They can also be bought through the winter as pre-packed or bare rooted plants. Choose the site according to that written above, and plant into hole with a good helping of potting compost or rotted organic matter. A handful of bone-meal per plant is always a good planting idea for all shrubs.
Keep them well watered after planting if planted in spring or summer. Autumn planted shrubs should normally fare well, but will still require watering in the first year during the drier spring months.
Caterpillars from the Gooseberry Sawfly will soon strip a bush of much of its foliage. They are not simply a once-off pest, for the breed well and can have two or three batches (hatches) of the little green pests throughout spring and early summer. A good spray at first sign with a fruit-friendly insecticide will do the trick once they have taken hold. It is far better to regularly inspect for the caterpillar larvae, which will be hiding on the undersides of the leaves. Rub them off by hand – not too gently! Follow up with the spray to be sure.
Birds of course enjoy a nice meal of succulent berries, so if you live in a rural area in particular, you might like to consider a fruit cage – what a pain – or simply netting wh8ilst in fruit.
Harvested fruits are bet used immediately – or can be stored for a while in the fridge or even frozen in the freezer.