How to Plant and Prune Currant Bushes

, written by gb flag

Ripe blackcurrants

The period from late fall until spring is quieter in the vegetable garden, so it’s the ideal time to lavish some attention on your fruiting plants – or include more in your garden!

Black, red and white currants are some of the most easy-going fruits to work with. If you’re keen to grow some undemanding yet rewarding crops on your plot, read on to find out how to plant and prune currants...

Planting Currant Bushes

During the cooler months while plants are dormant, currants are sold bare-rooted and in prime transplanting condition. In extremely cold regions it may be necessary to wait until spring before purchasing your bare-root plants. Currants burst into growth quite early in the season however, so it’s important not to delay planting for too long. The rest of us can go for it any time the soil is workable.

Currants can cope with partial shade but will crop more heavily and yield sweeter-tasting fruits in sunny spots, so bear this in mind when choosing a space to grow them. Currants, especially blackcurrants, prefer nutritious, slightly acidic soil that never dries out.

Currants like rich, slightly acidic soil

Soak bare-root plants in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting to rehydrate them. Then dig a hole about twice as big as the plant’s roots. The soil needs to be good and rich for currants, so mix a bucket of well-rotted compost or manure plus a handful of organic general fertilizer (for instance fish, blood and bone) with the excavated soil.

Plant the bush slightly lower than its previous soil level, indicated by the dark tan line on the stem. Backfill with the soil mix and firm it down with your foot, toes pointing towards the plant’s crown to avoid accidentally damaging it. Water well to further settle the soil. Cut all shoots back to one bud above soil level. Finally, mulch with more compost, manure or other organic matter such as wood chips or sawdust.

Please note that in some areas of the USA growing currants is restricted as they can host white pine blister rust, a disease that affects the lumber industry. Check local restrictions before sourcing plants.

Taking cuttings is an easy way to make more currant bushes for free!

Taking Cuttings from Currants

This is also a good time to take hardwood cuttings to propagate more currant bushes. Currants are quite possibly the easiest of all woody plants to propagate from cuttings. It’s a simple process, and can be done while pruning to get two jobs out of the way at once.

Use secateurs to prune off a 15-30cm (6-12in) long shoot of recent growth. Trim off the soft tip, making the cut diagonally just above a bud to enable rain to drain off easily (and also to make it obvious which end is up when you plant it!). Cut horizontally just below a bud to form the base of the cutting. You can dip your cuttings into hormone rooting powder if you wish, but it’s not usually necessary for currants. Insert your cuttings into the soil, and then be patient!

Expect to wait two to three years for your first fruits from plants grown from cuttings, as opposed to one or two years from one-year-old purchased plants.

Remove old wood from blackcurrants to make way for young, productive stems

How to Prune Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are grown as a ‘stool’, with most shoots arising from ground level or close to it. One-year-old shoots are the most productive. Two-year-old wood will produce some fruit but older wood becomes non-productive, so each year some stems need to be removed to make space for younger ones.

While winter is the usual time for pruning, smart gardeners can actually start the process early, at harvesting time. Cutting out the whole branch makes picking easier, and at the same time removes stems that will no longer be productive. This makes winter pruning faster and also helps improve air and light circulation.

Pruning any kind of woody plant first involves identifying and removing the 3Ds: dead, diseased and dying wood. Additionally, any stems that point inwards or hang close to the soil should be taken out. Prune strategically to prevent the centre of the bush becoming congested, as this can reduce airflow and encourage diseases such as powdery mildew. This may mean you need to remove some two-year-old wood – the greyish stems – as well as older wood. Retain eight to twelve of the best young stems for a good, healthy crop. Use secateurs, or loppers for thicker, older stems.

Prune out congested, unproductive growth to improve airflow and light penetration

How to Prune Red and White Currants

Unlike blackcurrants, red and white currants are not normally grown as stools. Instead, they are grown on a short ‘leg’. Remove any buds or shoots sprouting from the first 10cm (4in) above the soil to maintain the leg.

Red and white currants will fruit at the base of shoots, known as ‘laterals’, that grow out from the main branches. Prune in winter to leave between eight and ten healthy, strong main branches each year.

On one-year-old bushes, prune back new shoots by half. Prune to an outward facing bud to influence the direction that the shoot grows, aiming for an open-centred goblet shape. If the branch droops low to the ground however, an upward-facing bud is a better choice than an outward-facing one. The following winter, shorten new leading shoots by half.

Once they’ve reached full size or filled their allotted space, pruning becomes simpler. Each year, prune all the previous year’s growth back to a single bud. Remove any branches that have become unproductive, and replace them with a new shoot that will help to keep the shape of the bush. Remove any branches that hang low to the ground, as the fruits on these may rot or be eaten by pests. And that’s it!

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Show Comments


"Thank you for your interesting comments re pruning - first dry day I will be out to prune some of the bushes. It needs to be done immediately. Thanks for your web addresses also."
Maura Keane on Thursday 2 April 2020
"How do you distinguish the 2, 3 and old stems? Is there a difference in bark? I assume that 3 year stems are the ones with fruit, after harvest do I cut them out. Last year the harvest was huge, so will those stems not have any fruit this season and are the ones to cut away?"
Chef John V. on Monday 22 June 2020
"Chef John, one year old wood is smooth and pale, two year old wood is grey, while three year old wood is darker and will look rough. One year old wood will do most of the fruiting, and two year old wood will fruit too, but three year old wood is much less productive so is best removed from blackcurrants to improve air circulation and give more space to the younger wood. The new stems on red and white currants should be pruned back to a single bud on a framework of branches so that new, productive wood is produced every year."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 23 June 2020
"When do you stop watering fruit bushes and fruit trees after they have been fully harvested and are no longer producing fruit?"
Lynn on Friday 24 July 2020
"Hi Lynn. You shouldn't need to water fruit bushes and trees much at all unless you get a spell of dry weather."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 5 August 2020
"Is it possible to transplant blackcurrant bushes? I'd bevery grateful for any advice."
Noel Mayes on Monday 31 August 2020
"Blackcurrants are pretty tough Noel, so you should find they cope well with transplanting. This is best done when the bushes are dormant between autumn and spring, and like most plants it's best to make sure they don't get too dry during their first year in their new home. Cut all the shoots back and this will help give them a rest to settle in and put down strong roots. You should then be able to start harvesting again from the second year."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 15 September 2020

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