How to Grow Currants & Gooseberries
Both Gooseberry and Currant are of the Ribes genus because of this similarity it means that both types of small fruit plants are a secondary host to a fungus Cronartium ribicola called White Pine Blister Rust (WPBR) that needs a Ribes plant to complete its life cycle before it attacks a White Pine. In some areas there has been a ban on planting Gooseberry and Currants to prevent the spread of WPBR and save White Pine trees. There are varieties that are resistant to WPBR that can be planted in gardens if you are concerned about White Pine trees on your property. Gooseberry and Currants shouldn't be planted within 1,000 to 3,000 feet from a White Pine if they are WPBR susceptible.
Growing Conditions, Habit and Zone
They will tolerate a range of soil types but prefer a rich, moist well drained soil high in organic matter. It is best to avoid water logged soils and areas that have low spots where a frost may settle in the spring. Northern exposures are a good location that will provide afternoon shade but it must be an area with good air circulation to prevent disease. Disease and insect resistance varies according to variety and type. They are either upright or spreading and range from 3-6 feet in height depending on type. Leaves of currant and Gooseberry are similar but only Gooseberry will have thorns. Most currants are hardy to Zone 3 with a few varieties being more cold tolerant. Gooseberries are hardy to Zone 4-3 depending on cultivar.
Different Varieties and Types
Black Currant Resistant to White Pine Blister Rust (WPBR)
- Consort is an early mid-season variety that is fairly productive but susceptible to mildew and leaf spot. The currant berries can be shaken off the plant. Roughly 3-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
- Titania is a mid season variety with large firm berries and produces a consistant crop as a vigorous plant. It is resistant to powdery mildew and has high juice quality. Hardy to Zone 2a-2b.
Red Currant (some find them less susceptible to WPBR)
- Jonkeer Van Tets is a red currant variety resistant to WPBR and is a popular variety with early brilliant red fruit with excellent flavor.
- Red Lake is a mid season producer with clusters of large mild flavored berries, considered one of the best red currant varieties. High juice quality however it is prone to powdery mildew and not tolerant to late spring frosts.
- Primus is a variety resistant to WPBR with translucent white berries that have a yellow tint to them. Vigorous upright growth with good sweet flavor to long clusters of berries.
- Blanka very easy to grow and reliable with heavy yields of long clusters of large opaque beige berries. Flowers mid spring and has some resistance to frosts in the spring. Vigorous spreading growth habit producing in mid season and resistant to mildew.
- Hinnomaki Red is a maroon colored berry with a thin tart flavored skin and sweet flesh inside. It is 3-5 foot tall and wide plant producing in mid summer. Upright plant that is very productive and heavy yielding. Hardy to Zone 4. Resistant to powdery mildew and WPBR.
- Pixwell has pinkish medium sized berries produced in clusters on a shrub with few thorns on the branches making it easy to harvest. Vigorous and bushy plants that are 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Hardy to Zone 3.
Black Currants require pollination from insects such as bees due to the structure of the flowers, and will bear a heavier crop if there is cross pollination from a different black currant near by. Gooseberries, Red and White Currants are self fruitful and don't require different types of cultivars nearby for cross pollination. Since they flower early in the spring good air drainage is required to prevent frost damage when they are in bloom so avoid planting in low spots.
Season of Harvest
Remove the flowers during the first season of your plant to avoid fruit production and encourage root growth. By year 3 you will have a heavy crop. Gooseberries and Currants produce fruit on 2-3 year old shoots and very little fruit is produced on four year old so pruning is important to obtain a continuous harvest from year to year. The plants should remain productive with pruning for 8-10 years. The berries will ripen over a two week period and can stay on the bush for a week without risk of dropping when ripe. Gooseberries will turn red to pink when they are ripe and be picked individually but beware of thorns. Currants can be picked in a long clusters. There is some trial and error to know when they are ripe and they can be stripped from stems later.
In late winter or early spring when your plant is dormant you can prune. Leaving 3 to 4 shoots from each years growth so in total you should have 9-12 shoots. Remove 4 year old growth to encourage new growth. Also remove any branches that are low or touching the ground to keep the fruit from being damaged. Also remove any branches that are slow leafing out or are sick with diseased tips, make sure to destroy these branches and not put them in your compost.
Powdery Mildew: Some varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew a white fungus that covers new leaves and shoots as well as the Gooseberry fruit. It will stunt the growth of the plant but can be controlled with fungicide and good air circulation can prevent it from occurring on your plants. It will appear in your garden after humid weather.
Anthracnose: Also know as leaf spot it frequently effects black currant plants, less frequently red currants and Gooseberries. It appears as small brown spots on the leaves in mid summer-late fall and can cause defoliation even reducing the potential for growth for the next season. Since the fungus survives the winter it is best to clean up fallen leaves and destroy them in the late fall or early spring before the buds burst.
Currant Borer: Contrary to the name this pest will also affect Gooseberries as well. In mid June moths appear and lay eggs. The larvae bore into the center of the shoot (pith) and feed on the plant. The leaves become sickly and if you prune them there will be a dark hole in the center of the stem which is their tunnel. The best solution is to prune until there is no longer a dark hole in the stem.
Scale Insects: These pests suck juices from tender wood of the plant both currant and gooseberry can be effected by either round or oyster shell scale.
Aphids: Red currant is particularly susceptible to aphids that will fed on the underside of the leaves and the tips of the shoot. They suck the sap from the plant and sometimes ants will farm them for the honey dew they secrete which can cause sooty mold. Aphids come in a range of colours green, black and peach coloured insecticidal soaps can be effective.
Currant Sawfly: They are able to strip the plant of all its foliage so it is best to monitor the plants in the spring and kill any greenish worms with black spots about 20mm long. They feed on the edge of the leaf.
Currant Fruit Fly: A pest that over winters in the soil that will result in a maggot in the center of every berry. When the currants are blooming the adults emerge from the soil and the female lays her eggs in the flowers that will develop into a berry. These eggs become maggots that feed in the berry causing it to ripen prematurely and many will drop to the ground before harvest time.