Gooseberries and currants: Ribes sp.
familiar with currants and gooseberries by name alone since my New
England relatives grew the bushes in their gardens. I'd barely
tasted the fruits and wasn't all that excited until I read
that currants were a favorite of Robert
Hart's since they will produce
fruit even in the shade. As usual, Uncommon
Fruits Worthy of Attention had answers to all of my top
the difference between a currant and a gooseberry? Gooseberries and
black, white, and red currants are all in the Ribes genus. Gooseberries
are a hybrid of R.
uva-crispa and R.
and they counteract their big thorns with large, sweet berries.
Currants are thornless, but have smaller fruits that are quite tart and
are less often eaten uncooked. They come in two categories ---
black currants are a mixture of R. nigrum, R.
odoratum, and R.
red and white currants are both a mixture of R. rubrum, R. sativum, and R.
Both kinds of currants are unrelated to the raisin-like "currants",
which are actually a dried grape like any other raisin.
can I grow currants and gooseberries?
Currants and gooseberries are great for northern climates (some are
even hardy in zone 2), and some can be grown further south. In
all cases, if you're planting them toward the southern end of their
range (below zone 5), you should give them some shade, perhaps plant
them on the north side of a hill, and mulch them heavily to keep
moisture around their roots. Gooseberries are often listed as
growing all the way to zone 8, while currants are often listed only
down to zone 5 or 6.
How do I grow and prune them?
Plant currant and gooseberry bushes four to six feet apart in heavy
with plenty of organic matter. Each year, thin out the new shoots
so that only two or three stems for red currants or six stems for
gooseberries remain from that year, leaving older stems in place.
After three years for currants or four years for gooseberries, begin to
remove the oldest set of stems as well during the winter pruning.
The result is a mixture of stems of different ages ranging from one to
three years for currants and from one to four years for
gooseberries. Pruning for black currants is a bit different since
these bushes bear primarily on one year old wood --- cut out two to
five of the oldest branches each year and shorten other branches.
do I propagate gooseberries and currants?
All can be grown from seed as long as you don't mind them not breeding
true; the seeds require three to four months of stratification, and
will bear at two to three years. To maintain your varieties, use
one of the several methods of cloning instead. Twelve inch long
cuttings (excluding the tip) should be taken in the early fall before
all the leaves have dropped for gooseberries, or in early spring,
autumn, or the end of summer for currants. An even easier way to
propagate gooseberries or black currants is tip layering --- bending
down a branch and covering it with soil and a rock, then cutting the
new plant free once roots have formed.
about the white pine blister rust?
The reason that gooseberries and currants are seldom grown in the
United States is that they were illegal for decades. In the early
twentieth century, the white pine blister rust showed up in America and
began wiping out what was then an important timber tree. Since
species were an alternate host for the rust, planting gooseberries or
currants was prohibited by federal law, and Civilian Conservation Corps
crews began to rip the plants out of gardens and woodlands.
Later, scientists discovered that most cultivated Ribes
are resistant to white pine blister rust and don't spread the disease,
and the federal ban was finally lifted in 1966. However, you may
still face state restrictions against planting gooseberries and
currants, especially against black currants which are most susceptible
to the white pine blister rust.
are gooseberries and currants permaculture favorites?
Permaculture advocates filling every available niche with a useful
plant so that weeds don't have a spot to gain a foothold. Since
gooseberries and currants can fruit in partial shade, they can be used
to turn orchards from trees-amid-lawn to a multi-storied forest
you growing them?
We ordered two
gooseberries (Poorman and Invicta) that will be arriving this
month. We chose gooseberries over currants since I am first and
foremost a fresh fruit fanatic.
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