Growing red currants can be very rewarding.
These succulent and attractive fruits are really quite easy to grow and propagate. Red currants make a delicious and versatile ingredient. You can make preserves and coulis and jellies and they do quite well as an ingredient for rumtoft.
Picture: Freshly picked red currants
You need plenty of space and the usual reasonably well-tilled soil. A good loam is ideal but they will manage in poorer soils and clayey soils too. If your soil is very acid you may need to add some lime. Red currants like full sun or nearly full sun. Put them in as open an aspect as you can manage.
Red currants can be trained as a cordon if you wish. This may be a good approach if you lack space for full-sized bushes. The usual approach is to grow them as separate bushes in the usual wine glass shape. They do need netting as the fruit ripens; some birds seem to think they are just fine in a half-ripened state!
Buy good stock
Buy some good stock from a reputable nursery. Some of the cheap shops such as Lidl sometimes stock plants in the autumn. I've used such plants and had no real problems but you may find that the plants have become dried out and leggy from sitting in the supermarket for too long. Take them back if they fail to thrive - most supermarkets will give you your money back as it is just not in their interests to be skinflint about such things.
As soon as you get your new plants unwrap them and put them into water. Leave them in a bucket of water for 24 hours or so to rehydrate. A cool outhouse is best.
They are easy to propagate, so you may be able to find a friend who will give you a few rooted cuttings to start you off. If you want to establish your redcurrant patch quickly and reliably, go to a good nursery and take advice about the best varieties before buying.
The Backyard Berry Book: is a good practical, hands-on guide to growing most berry fruits from scratch.
To plant your red currant plant dig a hole which is deep enough for the roots when spread out. Loosen the soil below where the plant is to be, too. Add a few handfuls of good compost and mix it into the loose soil. Spread the roots without forcing them and gently back-fill the damp soil. Firm everything down around the plant without damaging the stem. Water copiously - but not so copiously that you wash the plant out of the soil!
Bushes need to be approximately 6 feet apart from each other. You can put them in rows or put them in more informal arrangements - but protecting them from the birds will be harder. Netting or old net curtains and the like will give a good degree of protection. Blackbirds are very fond of them and will get under netting if at all possible.
Unless your site is unusually windy you will not need to put in a stake. After the plant is in the soil it is a good idea to trim back most of the shoots by about half their length. The fruit is borne upon the stems which are a year or more old.
Red currants require feeding just like any other productive plant.
They have heavy requirements for potassium, so seaweed feeds are a good idea. Browning of the leaves in summer is a sign of potassium deficiency. Give them a mulch of good compost in the autumn or early spring.
The best time to prune is straight after the harvest. Take out dead or diseased wood and remove branches which overlap other branches. Aim for the open goblet shape that ensures good access by light to the leaves during the growing period.
Pruning Made Easy is a great starting point for pruning skills - with lots of pictures to make the techniques clear.
If you want to prune your new red currant to become a cordon you need to remove everything except a single bud on any side shoots. The leading shoot also needs to be cut back. Aim for an upright or slightly slanted pole shape. Trim back all new side shoots every summer to maintain the shape.
If you are pruning a new plant to achieve a goblet shape you need to stop the leaders (shoots) - cut each one back by around half its length. As with the cordon, trim back each side shoot to one bud. Each year focus on developing the open goblet shape.
Mildew can affect the leaves if you are unlucky with a damp summer. Birds are the main threat. I think mine were stripped by muntjac once.
Don't leave the netting of the crop until the fruit is ripening. There are some insects which can be a problem but if you practice companion planting you are unlikely to get any severe infestation. There is a currant worm which can eat the flowers. I believe some garden birds may be guilty of this, too.
Red currants are easy to propagate. Even cuttings stuck into the soil may well take and form new bushes.
The easiest way to propagate them is to "layer" them. Bend a suitable stem down to the ground and peg it down firmly so that part of it is under the soil. Leave it like that for some time and roots will form from the contact with the soil. When strong roots are established, just cut the stem cleanly away from the mother plant and dig out the young plant. You now have a new young plant to put where you want.