Currants and gooseberries in the home garden
On this page
- About currants and gooseberries
- Red, pink, and white currant
- Black currant
- Helpful hints
- Getting started
- Initial pruning
About currants and gooseberries
Currants and gooseberries, although closely related, can easily be distinguished by examining the canes and fruit. Gooseberry canes normally produce a spine at each leaf node and bear roughly grape-sized berries singly or in groups of 2 or 3. Currant canes lack the spines and bear 8 to 30 pea-sized berries in clusters. A mature currant or gooseberry shrub can produce up to four quarts of fruit annually. Most commercially available cultivars have adequate winter hardiness for the majority of the Upper Midwest, many to USDA hardiness zone 3a.
Red, pink, and white currant
Red, pink, and white currants are the same species, Ribes sativum. Pink and white currants are albino selections of red currant. The fruit of pink and white currants is generally less acidic and is considered by some to be better for fresh eating. Red, pink and white currants are self-fertile, meaning one plant will set fruit without any other currant cultivars nearby.
The European black currant is Ribes nigrum. Black currants have a strong and unusual flavor. They are widely grown in Northern Europe for their high vitamin C content. Some cultivars are self-fertile. Those that are not would require a second cultivar to ensure good fruit set. Black currants are ripe when the fruit has a deep, purple-black color.
Gooseberries of American origin are Ribes hirtellum or hybrids derived from this species, while the European species is Ribes uva-crispa. Gooseberries are self-fertile, so you'll get plenty of fruit with just one plant. Gooseberries have translucent skin. Depending on the cultivar it might be light green, pink, or even red when ripe. The wilted flower that precedes the berry often hangs on throughout the season. Pluck that off before eating.
The jostaberry (pronounced yust-a-berry) is a cross of black currant and gooseberry. It's sweeter than gooseberry, thornless, disease resistant and easy-to-grow. What a perfect combo!
- Currants and gooseberries will grow in full sun to partial shade. You'll get more fruit if the plant is in full sun.
- Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
- Most currants and gooseberries are self-fruitful. One cultivar will set fruit on its own.
- Prune annually to remove weak or dead canes and to open up the canopy.
- Expect to get fruit 1 to 3 years after planting.
- Remember, gooseberry bushes are spiny and will become dense thickets without regular pruning.
Red Lake currant is readily available in most garden centers and boasts deep garnet berries with tangy sweet flavor.
These cultivars are recommended based on disease resistance, fruit quality, overall plant performance, and availability. Many other cultivars are available, however those listed here have performed best in trials and are well-suited to the home garden and landscape. The following tables are divided into red, pink, white, and black currant, gooseberry, and jostaberry cultivars.
Red currant cultivars recommended for northern gardens. University of Minnesota releases are in bold and include date of introduction.
|Zone 4||Zone 3|
|Red Lake (1933)||Excellent||Very good||Susceptible||Widely available. Vigorous plants. Large, bright red berries. Good quality fruit.|
|Rovada||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Large, aromatic berries, borne in long clusters. Very reliable, as it is late to flower, avoiding frosts.|
|Honeyqueen||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Long harvest period of tender, juicy fruit with good flavor.|
Pink and white currant cultivars recommended for northern gardens.
|Zone 4||Zone 3|
|Blanka||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Large berries have a mild, sweet flavor. Flowers late, avoiding frosts. Foliage is ornamental red and green.|
|Pink Champagne||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Pink berries have very good flavor for fresh eating, but yields can be low. Good disease resistance.|
|Primus||Excellent||Very good||Susceptible||Translucent white fruit with a sweet, intense flavor. Red-tinged foliage.|
|White Imperial||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Pinkish white berries are medium sized, sweet, juicy, and rich-flavored.|
Black currant cultivars recommended for northern gardens.
|Zone 4||Zone 3|
|Ben Sarek||Excellent||Very good||Susceptible||Heavy yields of large berries on compact plants. Highly resistant to white pine blister rust. Tolerates some frost during bloom. Ideal for the home garden.|
|Crandall||Excellent||Very good||Susceptible||A cultivar of the clove currant, Ribes odoratum, this variety has a different and milder flavor than other black currants. Vigorous, very resistant or perhaps immune to blister rust, and very ornamental, with clove-scented flowers in spring and brilliant fall foliage. Canes may be weak, breaking or drooping to the ground under full crops; may need trellising.|
|Crusader||Excellent||Very good||Susceptible||Immune to blister rust. Large fruits of fair quality on a vigorous shrub. Not self-fertile; must be planted with another black currant cultivar to produce fruit.|
|Titania||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||High yields of large high-quality berries are borne earlier - within three years of planting - than other cultivars. Very vigorous, tall plants (to 6 feet) are immune to blister rust and have good resistance to powdery mildew. Self-fertile: no other cultivars need be planted to get good crops from Titania.|
Black currant-gooseberry recommended for northern gardens.
|Zone 4||Zone 3|
|Jostaberry||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Large, vigorous, thornless canes bear clusters of sweet berries with a hint of the characteristic black currant flavor. Hardy, heavy yielding. Resistant to white pine blister rust.|
Gooseberry cultivars recommended for northern gardens.
|Zone 4||Zone 3|
|Captivator||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Large, sweet, reddish fruit on tall, hardy, mildew-resistant plants bearing few spines.|
|Colossal||Excellent||Very good||Tolerant||Fruit are very large and deep red when fully mature. Vigorous, hardy, and tolerant of white pine blister rust.|
|Hinnomaki Red||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Sweet, flavorful berries have tart skin. Productive, moderately vigorous plants have resistance to powdery mildew. May fruit the year of planting.|
|Invicta||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Very high yields of large green berries on vigorous, very spiny plants. Fruit has a mild flavor. Good resistance to powdery mildew, moderate resistance to blister rust.|
|Poorman||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||An excellent choice for the home gardener. Large fruit has good flavor and ripens over a long harvest season. Vigorous plants have only a few small thorns.|
|Tixia™||Excellent||Very good||Resistant||Nearly thornless with large, bright red, teardrop-shaped fruit.|
|Welcome (1957)||Excellent||Very good||Moderately resistant||Reddish fruit is somewhat tart. Hardy plants are vigorous once established, upright and nearly spine-free. Fair mildew resistance.|
Currants and gooseberries will tolerate less-than-perfect conditions. They will grow well in full sun to partial shade. As with any fruiting plant, partial shade might mean less vigor and smaller/fewer fruit. While they will tolerate marginal soil, currants and gooseberries perform best in rich, well-drained soil. If possible, prepare your planting location the autumn before you intend to plant. Test your soil for pH and nutrient needs, and add organic material such as peat or compost according to soil test recommendations. Rid the planting site of all perennial weeds as they are much more difficult to control after planting.
Plants ordered from online/mail-order sources are usually sent bare-root, while plants from a local nursery will likely be potted. Because you want your new shrubs to become established before the onset of hot weather, plant bare-root or potted plants in spring as soon as the soil can be worked; don't be afraid to plant early in the season, as even a plant that is beginning to leaf out can tolerate temperatures as cold as 19°F.
When handling bare-root plants, make certain to keep the plants cool and moist until they go into the ground; the roots must not be allowed to dry nor become waterlogged. Just before planting, soak the roots of bare-root plants in a bucket of water for three to four hours.
Plant currants and gooseberries at least an inch deeper than they were planted in the nursery, in holes deeper and wider than their root systems. If lower canes are covered with soil to a depth of two to three buds, this will encourage a larger root system and the development of numerous renewal canes, a strategy that will maximize the useful lifespan of the plant. Plants may be spaced as close as three feet apart. Black currants are more vigorous and should be spaced four to five feet apart. Generally, currants are self-fertile, but research suggests that planting more than one cultivar results in better yields.
After planting, prune all canes back to four to six above-ground buds; the resulting low bud count encourages the development of vigorous new canes.
At planting time, provide two to four inches of an organic mulch such as wood chips, pine needles, or compost. Mulching cools the soil, conserves water, and suppresses weeds. These benefits are preferable in a partially shaded site and essential in a sunny spot. Beginning the year after planting, renew mulch annually. If you use a low-nitrogen mulch such as wood chips or sawdust, you may need to apply extra nitrogen fertilizer. Signs of nitrogen deficiency include yellowing leaves (older leaves yellow first) and poor growth.
Through the seasons
After planting, remove weeds regularly within the canopy of the plant. Grasses are especially competitive. Maintain a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch to prevent weed growth.
Insects and other creatures
Insect pests are a minor concern for home growers of currants and gooseberries. Infestations are uncommon and rarely cause major damage. Damage can be avoided by maintaining a healthy, vigorous plant: this means selecting a site with good soil and ample light, providing adequate water, regular pruning, and removal of affected or dead plant parts and plant debris. Insect pests that may be encountered include aphids, cane borers, spider mites, fruit worms and fruit flies. These pests are generally controlled by other insects in the garden.
Diseases and challenges
Currants are easy to manage in the Upper Midwest, and don't require extensive measures to control diseases. Careful site selection and good cultural practices such as mulching, pruning, and sanitation will minimize pest problems.
Powdery mildew can be a problem in some years and some locations. Prevention is the best measure for controlling powdery mildew. The first step of prevention is to plant mildew-resistant cultivars. Site plants where they will receive good air circulation and plenty of sunlight, as this will inhibit spore germination. Regular pruning improves air circulation. Remove any dead plant debris from the vicinity of currant shrubs, as this material can harbor fungal spores. Remove affected plant parts at the first sign of powdery mildew to prevent spread to the rest of the plant. Dispose of plant debris in a hot compost pile or in the trash.
White pine blister rust
Currants, gooseberries, and other plants in the Ribes genus play a part in white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola). Blister rust is little more than a nuisance to the grower of currants, but can be devastating to white pine trees. Newer currant and gooseberry cultivars have been bred with rust resistance, so the planting of these fruits is no longer a great concern in the Upper Midwest region. However, planting remains restricted in some areas of the U.S. When purchasing plants, choose cultivars with known resistance to white pine blister rust.
A composted material rich in nitrogen, such as well-rotted manure makes an excellent fertilizer for currants and gooseberries. Because composted materials release their nutrients more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, apply a few shovels-full per plant in late fall.
This gooseberry bush needs pruning to open up the canopy, eliminate dead wood, and to prevent long canes from bending over and tip-rooting.
Prune established currant and gooseberry shrubs annually in late winter (early March), before new growth appears, to encourage vigor and fruit production. Proper pruning will improve sun penetration into the plant, and maintain good air circulation to minimize disease. During the first three years of growth, allow four or five canes to develop per year, removing only weak or damaged wood. Beginning in the fourth year, prune out the oldest wood annually. In addition, remove any weak new growth. A mature shrub should have 9 to 12 canes once pruning is completed. Fruit is produced on one, two, and three year-old wood, so ideally keep 3 to 4 canes of each age.
Always remove unwanted canes as close to the ground as possible. When pruning gooseberries, look for canes that are arching over with tips near the ground, or lying on the ground and prune these canes. Gooseberry canes can root from the tips if allowed to touch the ground.
Calendar of tasks for currants and gooseberries.
|Things to do||When to do them|
|Plant new currant and gooseberry bushes||April, May|
|During bloom, look for insect and disease symptoms||May, June|
|Watch for powdery mildew; treat or prune as needed.||June through September|
|Remove fallen leaves, other plant debris before snowfall||October, November|
|Apply composted manure before snowfall||October, November|
|Prune weak, dead wood; thin to open canopy before growth starts||March|
Harvest and storage
There is no simpler way to tell when currants and gooseberries are ripe than to monitor the color and flavor of the fruits as they develop. When using the fruit for jam, you should harvest it before it is fully ripe so that natural fruit pectin levels will be higher. Cool picked fruit quickly, placing it in covered containers or closed bags to maintain humidity levels and prevent drying when storing fruit in the refrigerator. Promptly cooled berries will keep in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.
These little gems are delicious fresh, right off the plant. Currants and gooseberries also make excellent preserves and juice. Berries of all colors can be used to make wine. For a nice treat in summer, freeze clusters of berries and add them to glasses of iced tea, lemonade, or your favorite cocktail.