Tips for Growing Red and White Currants
RED AND WHITE CURRANTS
I have no hesitation in saying that these are the most under appreciated of all soft fruit, being far less widely grown than blackcurrants and even less than gooseberries. Both red and white currants have a distinctive flavour, similar to each other but different from blackcurrants.
They are also remarkably heavy cropping and one plant of each, even a cordon, will provide sufficient for most people’s needs. They are equally enjoyable, fresh or frozen and I hope that I can persuade all gardeners to give these very easy and rewarding plants the benefit of a trial.
HISTORY AND TYPES OF RED AND WHITE CURRANT
Despite their markedly different colours, red and white currants are more closely related to each other than either are to blackcurrants, and are generally cultivated in exactly the same way as the gooseberry. Botanically, they are complicated because at least three wild species are involved in their ancestry, the individual species having given rise to distinct groups of cultivated varieties. Ribes petraeum, Ribes rubrum and Ribes vulgare are the three main species concerned, the latter two occurring wild in Britain, but unlike the other edible wild Ribes, they don’t seem to have been either grown or collected as food until relatively recent times.
By the sixteenth century, however, red and white currants were certainly popular in Holland, as they still are, and most varieties originated either from there or from France. Red currants, in particular, have become popular in North America, and are generally more widely grown there than are blackcurrants.
In all respects, the procedures that I’ve suggested for the cultivation of gooseberries applies to the growing of both red and white currants.
So prolific are these plants that a double cordon of each, which is all that I have in my own fruit cage, gives more than enough for fresh and frozen use. Additional plants would of course be needed for juice production. A single bush should produce about 4-5kg (10-15 lb) of fruit, a single cordon about 0.5-1kg (1-2 lb) and, as they are not prone to reversion disease, they should crop well for at least 10 years.
Always pick the fruit on the strig and separate them later if needed. You will simply squash them if you try to pull them off the plant individually.
The main disease problem is leaf spot and the main pests are gooseberry sawflies and red currant aphids which give rise to reddish blister-like swellings on the leaves. The latter are most readily controlled by routine use of a tar-oil winter spray.