Hartley Magazine

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Now is the perfect time to prune (and even start growing) blackcurrant bushes

Almost all of us will be familiar with blueberries, but fewer people are probably aware of the delights of blackcurrants, whether it's growing them or eating them.

It's largely because blackcurrant cultivation was banned in most US states during the 20th century due to a fungus that had been lurking in the bushes and damaging pine trees.

However, that was a long time ago and the ban has been lifted for the most part, so now could be the perfect time to start getting to know this versatile crop.

Blackcurrants are much smaller and more tart than blueberries, but they are great in pies and jellies, as well as cordials and for cassis. They are also really easy to grow with simply a few garden tools.

Now is a great time to plant some blackcurrant bushes so that you have a bumper harvest of fruit come the summer. You can get them in either bare root or containerized varieties, with the latter happy to be planted any time of year and the former keener on being bedded in during late fall to mid-winter.

The Royal Horticultural Society recommends placing them in well-drained, moisture-retentive conditions, with full sun if possible.

You'll need to plant blackcurrants in a hole measuring twice the diameter of the root ball in depth – getting them nice and deep encourages good shoots from the base.

Fill the hole in with well-rotted organic material and then pat it in firmly. If you're growing blackcurrants in a pot, make sure it is 18 to 20 inches in diameter.

If you already have blackcurrant bushes, they will need pruning soon – now is the ideal time to do it as the bare branches mean it's easy to see what you're doing.

Older branches do still bear fruit, but their quality declines as they get older so the bushes need renewing every year after four years. Doing this can also prevent pests and disease.

Pruning is all about maintain a balance between young and old wood, so you should be looking to remove about a third of the plant when you tackle it, taking the very oldest stems down to the ground. You'll know which are the oldest as they will be almost black and may be lower to the soil because they are weaker.

Once you've got the job done, apply a good layer of mulch to the bush – preferably well-rotted manure from a farmyard, although don't leave it actually touching the stems.

Pruning should ensure your blackcurrants have the space they need to send out strong young shoots and to bear plenty of fruit next year.