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Gooseberries, red and white currants

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last updated Nov 12, 2012
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Ribes uva-crispa 'Greenfinch'. RHS Botany

Gooseberries, red and white currants are easy to grow soft fruits that cope with a wide range of soil conditions. They crop best in a sunny position, but will tolerate partial shade.

Cultivation notes Back to top

Gooseberries, red and white currants tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer a moist well-drained soil. They crop best in a sunny position, but will tolerate light shade.

Gooseberries, red and white currants can be grown either as bushes, or as upright cordons, which take up less space and can be planted closer together for a mixture of different varieties in a small garden. They can also be trained as fans against a wall. Standards or tree-like forms with a bushy head on a short trunk are also sold, especially gooseberries. These are obtained as grafted or budded plants with a clear ‘trunk’ of 1-1.2m (3½-4ft) high.

Planting

Select two- to three-year-old bushes with a well-balanced head of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10-15cm (4-6in). Cordons should have a good spreading root system.

Space plants as follows:

  • Bush plants: Space gooseberries 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart. Space red and white currants 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) apart.
  • Cordons: Space gooseberry cordons 30-38cm (1ft-15in) apart and red or white currants 38-45cm (15-18in) apart. Plant each cordon tied to a 1.7m (5½ft) bamboo cane that is secured to horizontal wires spaced 60cm and 1.2m (2ft and 4ft) apart.

See our advice on trees and shrubs: planting for soil preparation and planting technique.

Watering and feeding

Mulch the root area with organic matter to conserve soil moisture and water regularly during dry spells. To ensure good fruiting, apply sulphate of potash annually in late winter at a rate of 15g per sq m (½oz per sq yd). On poor soils and when bushes are not growing well, give a compound fertiliser such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone at 60g per sq m (1¼oz per sq yd) in late winter or early spring.

Harvesting

Birds love these berries, so protect the ripening fruit using netting.

Gooseberries will be ready for picking from early July. Green under-ripe fruits for jam making are gathered in June taking every other fruit, leaving the remained to swell into ripe sweet berries to gather in July. Pick fully ripened berries carefully as they are soft and likely to burst.

Harvest entire trusses (officially called strigs) of red and white currants when fully ripe, as picking individual fruits is impractical and damages the berries.  Use scissors to sever trusses from plants.

Pruning and training Back to top

Year one

Bush plants: In early spring of the first year after planting, select five main stems and prune them back to 15-20cm (6-8in), removing all other stems from the base.

Cordons: On planting, prune back the tip by a quarter, cutting to just above a bud. Remove all sideshoots that are 15cm (6in) from the ground or below, plus any suckers. Cut back all young side shoots to one or two buds.

Year two onwards: bush plants

  1. In mid-June to July, shorten the current season’s growth back to five leaves, except for those branches needed to extend the main framework. This pruning should not remove fruit, as fruit develops mainly on the older wood, not the current season’s growth.
  2. In winter, remove dead wood and low-lying shoots. Then spur prune all side shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward facing bud.
  3. Repeat step 2 each year as maintenance pruning.

Year two onwards: cordons

  1. From early June to mid-July, cut all young side shoots to five leaves and tie the growing tip to the cane as it extends.
  2. In late autumn or winter, after leaf fall, prune back the same side shoots to one or two buds. Cut back the tip by one-third.
  3. Once the cordon reaches 1.7m (5½ft) in height (the top of the supports), cut back the tip to five leaves from last year’s growth in the summer, and then back to one-three buds from last year’s growth in winter.

Standards

The head is pruned in the same way as a bush plant. Standards must be staked to keep them stable.

Propagation Back to top

Propagate by hardwood cuttings about 30cm (1ft) long. Use prunings taken from young plants. Older plants may carry disease, so are best not propagated.

Cultivar Selection Back to top

Gooseberry: 'Invicta' AGM (white culinary, good disease resistance), 'Leveller' AGM (yellow desert, good disease resistance), 'Rokula' and 'Lord Derby' (red desert, good flavour)

Redcurrant: 'Jonkheer van Tets' AGM (very early), 'Red Lake' AGM (mid season), 'Stanza' AGM (mid-late season)

Whitecurrant: 'White Grape' AGM (mid season), 'Versailles Blanche' (early), 'White Pearl' (mid season)

Ribes rubrum 'Jonkheer van Tets'  RHS Botany

Redcurrant, Ribes rubrum 'Jonkheer van Tets'

Problems Back to top

Watch out for pests such as aphids, currant blister aphid, capsid bug and gooseberry sawfly. Check for diseases such as grey mould (Botrytis), coral spot and American gooseberry mildew.

Use netting to prevent bullfinches damaging the buds in winter and to protect ripening fruit from birds in summer. Protect from frost at flowering time by covering the plants at night with horticultural fleece.

Quick facts

Common name Gooseberry, red and white currants
Botanical name Ribes uva-crispa (gooseberry), Ribes rubrum (red and white currant)
Flowering time Spring
Height and spread 60cm-1.8m (2-6ft) height and spread.
Planting time October to March
Aspect Open sunny position best, but will tolerate partial shade
Hardiness Fully hardy
Difficulty: Easy
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