Table of Contents
- Soil Preparation
- Care of Plantings
- Control of Diseases and Insects
- Premature Fruit Drop
Currants and gooseberries are a valuable addition to home gardens
and could be grown more extensively on a commercial basis. The plants
are hardy enough for most areas of Ontario and can be grown in most
Black currants are prized for their distinctive flavor in juice, jam,
jelly, pies and other desserts. They are also rich in Vitamin C. Red
currants are used mainly for jelly or jam. White currants are not as
popular as black and red currants. Gooseberries are eaten fresh or made
into jam, pies and other desserts. Both currants and gooseberries can
be frozen easily and kept for later use.
A wide range of soils can be used. However, plants grow best in a cool,
moist but well-drained, rich clay loam. On sandy soils, pay close attention
to mulching and watering.
Plants will tolerate partial shade, but a sunny site with good movement
of air gives higher yields. Powdery mildew and frost injury to blossoms
can be problems in sites with poor air movement.
Currant and gooseberry plants are hosts for white pine blister rust
(see under "Diseases"). Do not grow
these crops (except Titania or Consort black currant) near any valuable
Plantings should remain productive for at least 8 to 10 years, so prepare
the soil carefully before planting.
Eradicate all perennial weeds such as quackgrass, bindweed and Canada
thistle in the year prior to planting. Herbicides may be necessary in
addition to cultivation. Consult OMAF Publication 75, Guide to Weed
Control, for current herbicide recommendations. Do not permit weeds
to go to seed.
The soil should have a rich supply of organic matter to promote good
drainage, aeration and moisture retention. Apply 45 t/ha or 20 L/m2
(5 bu/100 ft2) of well-rotted manure in late summer
or fall before planting. Work it thoroughly into the soil. Manure that
is not well-rotted should be applied the previous fall to allow time
for weed seeds to germinate so they may be destroyed.
Other organic materials such as weed free straw at 15 t/ha may be used
instead of manure but such materials should be well-decomposed by planting
time. When incorporating the straw the spring before planting, apply
55 kg/ha of nitrogen or 15 grams/m2 of ammonium nitrate to
Apply fertilizer and adjust soil pH according to soils tests. With
spring planting, work the fertilizer into the soil several days before
planting. In the absence of a soil test, 500 - 750 kg/ha (50 - 75 g/m2)
of 10-10-10 or equivalent is a general recommendation. If fall planting,
do not apply fertilizer until early spring.
Early spring planting is preferred over fall planting.
Use strong, well-rooted, dormant, one-year-old plants. Two-year-old
plants also may be used but are more expensive. Normally it is more
satisfactory to purchase plants from a nursery. However, plants can
be propagated as outlined under "Propagation".
Obtain plants as close to planting time as possible. If necessary,
plants can be stored for several days by putting them in a plastic bag
in a refrigerator, cold storage, or other cool place. If roots are very
dry they can be sprinkled with water before putting them in the plastic
bag. Do not let roots sit in water or they may die. If plants must be
kept longer than about two weeks before they can be planted, dig a trench
in well-drained soil, spread out the plants, set them in the trench,
and cover the roots with soil. Water the soil if it is dry.
Plant gooseberries and red currants 1.0 to 1.25 m (2 to 4 ft) apart
in rows. Black currants are more vigorous and should be spaced about
0.6 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 ft) apart. Rows can be as close as 2 m (6.5 ft)
apart, but 3 to 3.5 m (10 to 12 ft) is preferable for mechanical harvesting.
Set the plants slightly deeper than they were growing in the nursery
(note the soil mark on the plant). Spread out the roots and cover them
with soil. Firm the soil around the roots, being careful not to break
off young shoots. For commercial plantings, use a transplanting machine
or plow furrows about 15 cm (6 inches) deep and set the plants in these
furrows. Do not let the roots dry out during planting. Water after planting
if the soil is dry. Prune branches to a length of 10 to 15 cm (4 to
6 inches) at planting time. This stimulates new growth. With fall planting,
this pruning should be delayed until spring. Also, with fall planting,
mulch around the plants to protect the roots.
Care of Plantings
Remove any blossoms which appear the year the plants are set. This
helps plants become well established and make good root growth.
Weed Control, Mulching
Control weeds by shallow hoeing and cultivating, or by mulching with
straw, sawdust, etc. Mulching is recommended for home gardens.
The mulch should be 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) deep, and additional
applications will be needed to maintain this depth. In commercial plantings,
herbicides are useful for killing any weeds growing around the bushes.
Follow the manufacturer's directions. Black plastic mulch has increased
yields by as much as 26 percent in provincial trials.
Fertilizer plants each spring according to soil test results. As a
guideline for home gardens, apply 175 to 225 g of 10-10-10 per mature
bush (in the absence of a soil test). Use fertilizer made with potassium
sulfate rather than with potassium chloride (muriate of potash). Fertilizer
should be spread in a 30 cm band from the base of the plant. If plants
are not mulched, apply manure annually in spring at the rate of 20 to
40 L (1/2 to 1 bushel) per plant, under the branches. In commercial
plantings, sow a cover crop (Italian rye grass, spring wheat or oats,
buckwheat, etc.) between rows from mid-August to September. Work the
cover crop into the soil as soon as possible in the spring.
A permanent sod, such as creeping red fescue seeded at 20 kg/ha, may
be grown between the rows. The sod eliminates the need for cultivation
and cover crops. Sod makes a clean walking area for hand picking and
improve driving conditions for mechanical harvesting. Keep the sod mowed
closely until after harvest; let the sod grow in late summer. Irrigation
is necessary in sod plantings. Growing in sod may reduce yield. In trials
in Southern Ontario over a 6 year period, cultivation gave a 32% increase
in yields over sod culture.
Adequate soil moisture is important for good plant growth, high yields,
and large size of berries. Plants need about 25 mm of water each week
from bloom time to the end of harvest. If rain does not provide this
water, then watering is advised. Plants should also be watered during
prolonged dry periods after harvest until late August or early September.
However, do not stimulate plant growth in late fall as hardening of
the plants is necessary to prevent winter injury. In watering, add enough
water to moisten the soil to a depth of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches)
and then let the soil dry out somewhat before watering again. Be careful
not to water excessively or roots will be injured.
Trickle irrigation is essential for currants and gooseberries. The
system slowly adds small amounts of water each day directly to the soil
around the base of each plant. Various types of equipment are available.
For more information, see OMAF Factsheet No. 81-070 Trickle Irrigation
for Fruit Crops. Trickle irrigation does not provide frost protection;
for frost protection, a sprinkler irrigation system is necessary.
Prune when the plants are dormant in late winter or early spring.
Black currants produce the best fruit on one-year-old wood. Strong
one-year-old shoots, and two- or three-year-old shoots which have an
abundance of strong one-year-old wood, are the most productive. Keep
a total of 10 to 12 shoots per mature bush, with about half being one-year-old
shoots. A few more shoots may be kept if plant vigor is very good. Remove
all shoots which are more than 3 years old. Make pruning cuts close
to the ground.
Red currants and gooseberries produce most of their fruit on spurs
that are located on two- and three-year-old wood. After pruning, a healthy
bush should have 3 to 4 shoots of each one-, two-, and three-year-old
shoots (a total of 9 to 12 shoots). Remove all shoots older than three
Remove branches hanging close to the ground if berries are to be harvested
mechanically. Also, for control of diseases and insects, remove and
destroy any diseased tips of branches and branches which are late leafing
out, dying or sickly.
Frost Injury to Blossoms
Currants and gooseberries bloom early in the spring. Severe frosts
can injure blossoms and young developing berries. Frosts cause less
problems in sites with good air drainage.
In small plantings, cloth or paper covers can be put over plants for
frost protection. Plastic usually gives little or no protection. In
larger plantings, sprinkler irrigation is effective. Special nozzles
which deliver about 2.5 mm of water per hour are used. The conversion
of water to ice on the plants releases heat which protects blossoms
and berries. Start applying water over the plants when the temperature
is low enough that the water freezes (about -1°C). Irrigation should
continue until the film of water covering the blossoms and berries would
not freeze if irrigation stopped. Trickle irrigation is not useful for
Currant and gooseberry varieties are self-fruitful and do not need
pollen from another variety to produce good crops. In large plantings,
however, it is advisable to place honeybees in the planting to ensure
The berries on a currant bush ripen over a 2-week period. However,
once a berry ripens it can usually be left on the bush a week or more
without dropping or becoming over-mature. Therefore, most of the berries
on a bush can be harvested in one picking. With more frequent picking,
there is a tendency to pick berries which are not fully ripened.
Black currants are usually picked as individual berries. With red currants,
whole clusters are picked and berries are stripped from the stems later.
For making juice or jelly, the berries may be crushed without removing
them from the fruit stems, since the product is strained.
Gooseberries are harvested as individual berries. Some people harvest
the berries when they have nearly reached full size but before they
are ripe. They prefer these immature berries for jams and pies. Other
people prefer fully mature berries. If desired, canvas or other material
can be spread under the bush and the gooseberries knocked off onto it.
Commercial mechanical harvesters are now available for harvesting currants
and gooseberries. Their use saves considerable labour in plantings large
enough to justify their purchase. Red currants are damaged quite extensively
and harvested berries must be used immediately. Gooseberries can be
shaken from the bushes fairly easily, but bushes must be pruned so a
frame can be put under the branches to collect the berries. In spiny
varieties, the spines may puncture some of the berries.
Plants should not be permitted to bear fruit the year they are planted.
In the second year, a light crop can be harvested; and, by the third
year, plants usually bear full crops. Third year and on 1 kg/plant is
considered average. However, yields of black currants are often only
about half of this amount. Plants should remain productive for at least
8 to 10 years.
Ben Alder: Mid-season, consistent cropping, producing large firm berries.
Plants of medium vigor. They are resistant to powdery mildew and susceptible
to white pine blister rust. Good for mechanical harvesting. Berries
of high juice quality.
Ben Sarek: Mid-season, consistent cropping, producing very large firm
berries. Plants are semi-dwarf. They are resistant to powdery mildew
and moderately resistant to white pine blister rust. Berries are suitable
for processing but are considered to have low juice quality.
Consort: Early mid-season and only fair in productivity. The clusters
are medium in length with berries medium-small, medium in firmness,
poor to fair for mechanical harvesting. Berries shake off with some
tearing at the stem end and quite a few berries have stems attached.
Plants are susceptible to leaf spot and extremely susceptible to mildew,
but resistant to white pine blister rust. Of value where resistance
to rust is required.
Titania: Mid-season, consistent cropping, producing large firm berries.
Plants are extremely vigorous. They are resistant to powdery mildew
and white pine blister rust. Berries are good for processing and moderately
high juice quality.
Ben Alder and Ben Sarek are available through the Ontario Ribes Plant
Propagation Program. For names and addresses of propagators growing
under this program, contact your nearest OMAF Fruit Specialist.
Red Lake: Late mid-season (ripens in mid-July at Vineland). Plants
are vigorous, very productive. The clusters are medium long and easy
to pick. Berries are medium large, light red, and attractive. This is
the highest yielding cultivar in Vineland trials.
Cascade: Early season. Ripens several days earlier than Red Lake. Plants
are vigorous, have a slightly sprawling type of growth with medium productivity.
The clusters are medium short to medium in length with berries large,
medium dark red, attractive. Berries are susceptible to sunscald and
must be picked promptly when mature.
Gooseberries - European or English Type
Varieties of this type have large berries but are susceptible to mildew
and may not be hardy enough for colder regions of Ontario.
Clark: Early (ripens in late July at Vineland). The most productive
of European gooseberry types tested at Vineland. The berries are very
large, red when ripe, and fairly easy to harvest by hand or machine.
Plants are spiny, short, moderately vigorous, fairly dense with many
branches close to the ground. Require careful pruning to be able to
place a collection frame under branches for mechanical harvesting. Propagated
Fredonia: Early mid-season. Ripens several days after Clark. Medium
in productivity. Berries are large, red when ripe, somewhat difficult
to pick but can be shaken off by machine. Plants are spiny, slightly
short, fair in vigor with a somewhat upright and fairly open type of
growth. Propagated by layering.
Gooseberries - American Type
Captivator: Ripens slightly after Clark. Plants are tall, vigorous,
almost spineless, fairly resistant to mildew, only moderate in productivity.
Berries are medium-small, dull red when ripe, good quality and easy
to harvest by hand or machine. Plants have fairly open and upright type
of growth. Propagated by hardwood cuttings.
Currants and American-type gooseberry varieties can be propagated from
cuttings. Take cuttings in late fall from healthy wood produced that
summer. Make cuttings 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long with the bottom
cut just below a bud, and the top cut about 10 mm (1/2 inch) above a
bud. That fall, set cuttings 15 cm (6 inches) apart in well-drained
soil in a nursery area. Plant them deep enough so that one or two buds
extend out of the soil and cover them with straw. In the spring, the
straw can be removed or left as mulch around the cuttings. Cuttings
can also be taken in early spring before buds leaf out. Store the cuttings
in a plastic bag in a refrigerator and plant them out in the nursery
row as soon as possible. After a season's growth, plants grown from
cuttings can be planted in their permanent place.
European-type gooseberries do not grow well from cuttings as described
above. Instead, European-types can be propagated by layering in fall
or spring. Bend down branches, still attached to the plants, and partly
cover them with soil. Use pegs to hold down the branches. Roots will
form along the branches where they contact the soil. After a season's
growth, the branches should have rooted well enough for digging. Often
several plants can be obtained from one branch.
Control of Diseases and Insects
Common disease and insect pests are described below. For controls requiring
chemicals, home gardeners should refer to OMAF Publication 64, The
Gardener's Handbook - An Integrated Approach to Insect and Disease Control.
Commercial growers should consult OMAF Publication 360, Fruit Production
Recommendations and Fruit Specialists from the Ontario Ministry
of Agriculture and Food for additional information.
Always follow manufacturer's instructions for the application of pesticides.
They are found on the container label. Apply no more than the amounts
specified and at the times indicated. Be certain not to apply pesticides
closer to the picking date than specified on the label.
Black currants and European types of gooseberries are especially susceptible.
In early summer, a white powdery fungus growth appears on young leaves
and tips of branches and new shoots. The fungus may spread over much
of the bush and often occurs on gooseberry fruits. It seldom occurs
on the berries of currants. Later, the white powdery growth becomes
brown, and forms a felt-like coating over affected parts. Shoot growth
is often stunted, tips may be killed, and gooseberry fruits may also
be stunted. The fungus is spread by spores. Warm, humid conditions favor
its development. Cut off and destroy diseased tips of shoots and branches
when pruning in the winter or early spring. Provide a site with good
air circulation. Control can be obtained by planting resistant varieties
or with the use of fungicides.
Anthracnose (Leaf Spot)
This is a serious disease of black currants and can also cause severe
injury to red currants and gooseberries. Many small, brown spots occur
on leaves from mid-summer to late fall. Badly infected leaves turn yellow
and drop. The main damage is the defoliation which may occur as early
as the end of July. Early defoliation reduces growth and causes loss
of crop the following year. Spots can also occur on young shoots, leaf
petioles, fruit stems and berries. The fungus lives over winter mainly
in fallen leaves. Remove and destroy fallen infected leaves in late
fall or in the early spring before buds burst. Apply any new mulch after
leaves drop. Fungicides also provide control.
White Pine Blister Rust
The fungus causing this disease spends part of its life cycle on currants
or gooseberries and part on white pine. The disease can cause serious
problems with white (five-needle) pines. Do not plant currants or gooseberries
within 300 m (1,000 ft) of susceptible pines. Black currant varieties
such as Titania and Consort are resistant to rust.
This insect can cause serious injury to currant, and to some extent
gooseberries. The adult is a clear-winged moth similar in size and appearance
to a thin housefly. Wings have black bands and the body has several
narrow yellow bands. The moths appear in mid-June at Vineland and lay
eggs in the axils of leaves. The young larvae bore into the pith of
the shoot and feed there. The following spring, affected shoots often
leaf out late, are sickly and may die. When an injured shoot is cut,
a dark hole can be seen where the larva has tunneled in the pith. The
yellowish-white larvae, which are about 12 mm (1/2 inch) long, may also
be present. When pruning, remove and destroy branches which have dark,
hollow piths. Also, remove and destroy any dying or sickly branches
during the growing season. Follow recommended pruning practices and
do not let shoots become too old. Keep plants growing vigorously.
Several scale insects attack currants and gooseberries. The small scales
(round or like any oyster shell) can easily be seen on dormant wood.
These insects suck juices from the tender wood and sometimes occur on
Small greenish-yellow aphids feed on the under surface of young leaves
at the tips of shoots. These leaves curl downward and have a blistered
appearance. Red currants are particularly susceptible and affected leaves
are weakened and may die.
The larvae of this insect are smooth greenish worms with many black
spots. The worms are about 20 mm (3/4 inch) long when fully grown. They
feed on the edge of leaves and can strip plants of much of their foliage.
When signs of feeding are noticed, usually early in the season, kill
any worms present.
Currant Fruit Fly
The adult flies emerge about the time currants are in bloom. The female
lays eggs in developing berries. The eggs hatch into maggots which feed
inside the berries. Affected fruits of currants and gooseberries ripen
prematurely and many drop to the ground before the normal harvest time.
A small white maggot will be found in each fallen berry. The insect
leaves the berry and spends the winter in the soil.
Premature Fruit Drop
Black currants frequently suffer from premature fruit drop several
weeks after bloom. In Europe, this phenomenon is called "run-off"
and is thought to be caused by lack of seed set in the fruit.
Run-off is a complex problem with a number of causes, including susceptible
varieties, self-incompatibility, lack of pollination (too few pollinators
or poor pollinating conditions), soil fertility levels, virus, currant
fruit fly, drought, excessive moisture, Botrytis, frost or varietal
intolerance of cold above 0°C temperatures.
Research at the Horticultural Research Institute found that the variety
Magnus can lose 60% of its fruit if the overwintering buds are subjected
to 2°C for two days when the fruit buds are at the grape stage,
the period when the fruit buds are just beginning to expand (usually
one or two weeks before flowering).
Many home gardeners have problems with premature fruit drop and in
most cases, the variety that they are growing is susceptible to cold,
above 0°C temperatures before bloom. Two varieties, Magnus and Willoughby,
are particularly prone to this phenomenon. These varieties have been
in widespread sale through nursery catalogues.
Growers should avoid planting these varieties. Non-fruiting, established
Magnus or Willoughby bushes should be replaced by a known variety. Ben
Alder and Ben Sarek produce less ethylene and are therefore less susceptible