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BLACK CURRANT

  How To Grow Black Currant


PLANT TYPE: Perennial
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ribus nigrum
ZONE / HARDINESS: Hardy to zone 2
MATURE PLANT SIZE: Average up to 6 feet high
LIGHT: Sandy Loam to Some Clay
FLOWERING PERIOD: Mid Spring to Early Summer
SOIL TYPE: Well-drained, fertile soil
pH RANGE: 4.8 to 7.0
KNOWN PESTS: Aphids and red spider mites
KNOWN DISEASES: Mildew and leaf spotting diseases


OVERVIEW:

Black currant bushes need constant renewal to ensure heavy crops. Older branches will bear fruit, but quantity and quality decline with age. For this reason new bushes are planted deeply to form a stool that produces vigorous young branches annually from below ground. These are then used to replace older ones cut out after harvest.

Each year remove about one third of the oldest stems - the bark is very dark to the point of being black - and any that are weak or very low. Always cut back to ground level or to a strong new shoot. You can combine pruning with picking the fruit, or wait until winter.

Choose a sunny location that has good air movement to reduce disease problems. Black Currants can be long lived so be sure to prepare the soil well before planting. Add compost or well-rotted manure to the hole before planting. Plant the canes slightly deeper than they were growing previously (look for soil mark on stem). Plants should be spaced 3 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Prune back to 2 buds so as to encourage vigorous growth. It is important to have 2-4 inches of mulch around the plants as they like cool, moist soil. Straw, bark, or grass clippings all work well. Plants should be pruned in late winter or early spring when the plant is dormant. Black currants will bear fruit on 1 year old wood, so each year, older canes should be removed. About 12 canes per plant is an ideal number to maintain.


PROPAGATION:

Hardwood cuttings of black currants root readily so long as each eight to twelve inch long piece is set deep enough in the ground so only the topmost bud is exposed. Set cuttings either in early spring, autumn, or even at the end of the summer, in the latter case leaving the topmost leaves on the cuttings attached and making sure plants do not dry out before rooting.

Softwood cuttings also root easily. Three-inch tip cuttings, given shade and a clear plastic tent or mist, grow roots in three or four weeks.

Drooping branches of black currants often layer themselves. If only one or two new plants are wanted, this layering habit can be encouraged by bending a low branch to the ground and covering it with some soil and a stone.


PLANTING / SOWING:

Dig plenty of organic matter, animal manure or commercial fertiliser into the soil before planting. Plant with roots spread out. Trim cane to 12 inches after planting to prevent cane fruiting early. Allow 54 inches between rows.


CARE & GROWING:

Black currants thrive in cool, well-drained, fertile soils. In warmer regions, bushes will grow better and produce better fruit in heavier soils, which retain more moisture and keep cooler. an organic mulch is beneficial, both to protect the shallow roots and to keep the soil cool and moist. The bush will thrive in full sun or in partial shade. In warmer summer areas, plant the bushes in partial shade or on a north-facing slope.

The best soils for black currants are those that are rich in organic matter and slightly acidic. Supply nitrogen with a yearly mulch of strawy manure or some fertilizer that supplies about four ounces of nitrogen per square yard. Potassium, another important nutrient for black currants, is needed at the rate of a half-ounce of actual potassium to the square yard.

Currants leaf out very early in the spring, so they should be planted either in the fall (with a mulch to prevent heaving during the winter) or very early in the spring. Set plants slightly deeper than the depth they grew in the nursery so that plenty of buds, and, hence, new shoots will arise at and below ground level. One source (Bush Fruits) recommends cutting off all branches to within an inch of the ground right after planting to induce plants to grow strong shoots and roots. Others prefer not to remove all canes when planting, believing that the leaf canopy develops quicker and provides more vigor when one year old canes are left.

To grow black currants as individual bushes, space them six feet apart. These currants also can be planted as hedges, in which case, set them only three feet apart in a row.


PRUNING:

Black currants are different in their growing habits to the red and white currant, in that the black currant produces most of its fruit on the previous years growth. Thus the bush should be pruned to encourage a supply of new wood each season. To do this, cut all stems of the newly planted bush to about two buds above soil level. New shoots emerge from these in the first season and will bear some fruit in the second. The bushes from a clump of canes which, each season, make new suckers from the base. Once the bush is established, (ie. in the second season), prune out some of the older canes by cutting back to just beyond a strong new shoot near the base to make way for new growth. Leave about six or eight upward growing main shoots to form the bush. Follow this routine each winter. No shoot rising from the base of the plant should remain in place longer than three years. Keep the centre reasonably open at all times.


HARVESTING:

Pick black currants while they are dry and still firm, taking the whole strig unless the fruit is to be used immediately. For fresh eating, make sure the berries are fully ripe.


USAGE:

Black currant is a popular fruit, both for its flavor and for its extremely high concentration of vitamin C. The plant is little known in America. The European black currant has a strong flavor, and those people who enjoy the flavor eat the berries "out of hand." The best cultivars for fresh eating are those such as 'Blackdown', 'Brodtorp', 'Goliath', and 'Silvergieters', which have mild and sweet fruits. Even people who do not like the fresh flavor enjoy black currant juice, jams, tarts, and wines. In the Bordeaux region of France, black currant is made into a liqueur called cassis.


NOTES:

Black currants require some cold winter chilling. They are best grown in areas that have winter minimum temperatures as low as 0 degrees C. Black currants (and all currants) are unrelated to the small raisins sold commercially as "dried currants" or "black currants." These raisins are called "currants" because they are made from 'Black Corinth' grapes, a small grape that has been dried and shipped for centuries from the Greek port of that name.












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In the past, it was illegal to grow black currants in many states. Some northern states still restrict the cultivation of black currants. Check with your local garden shop if you are not sure.





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