Horticulture Magazine

How (And When) To Prune Blackcurrant Bushes

a branch of ripe and fresh blackcurrants

One time I was lucky enough to be invited to a juice making day.

The local allotment organisation had a few bushes on one of their plots, and another handful on a piece of urban land they managed. On this day, an army of volunteers would visit the sites, strip the blackcurrant bushes, and then spend the evening making and drinking the fruit juice of their labour.

blackcurrant fruits collected in a large pan
The humble blackcurrant

Let me tell you: that juice was delicious. I still remember it years later as probably the best thing I’ve eaten or drank from an allotment, fresh or otherwise. Where I was expecting some watery approximation of blackcurrant flavour, instead I found a sweet, rich, and perfect. It was like Ribena on steroids: everything that drink wishes it could be.

The moral of this tale, although slightly meandering, is simple: keep your blackcurrant bushes in good condition and you will be well rewarded. Whether by juice, jam, jellies, or in their pure, unadulterated form, a healthy and well-pruned blackcurrant bush will deliver bountiful amounts of this delicious fruit for your ongoing enjoyment.

In this guide, we’ll tell you just how to achieve this clearly desirable outcome.

What are blackcurrants?

First, in case you’re somehow not familiar with these wonderful berries, a brief introduction.

Blackcurrants are deciduous shrubs famed for their edible berries. And unlike some other bushes where ‘edible’ is all you can really say about the flavour, blackcurrants are renowned for their delicious and versatile taste. It’s no wonder sweets, drinks, soaps, and all manner of supermarket products use blackcurrant flavourings or scents!

a blackcurrant bush in the garden
So much flavour contained in those little berries

While these bushes are fairly easy to grow, they don’t feature as frequently in the British imagination as blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. In our opinion, this is criminal. Any gardener should consider growing blackcurrants if they have the space.

Pruning blackcurrant bushes

In this section, we’ll take a look at the specifics of pruning blackcurrant bushes. To help you best understand the right time to prune your currants, we’ll first give a whistle-stop tour of the plant’s calendar:

  • November through March is planting season. This is when you’ll plant out any new bushes.
  • Harvest time is between June and August, with the specific timing differing slightly depending on variety.
  • Pruning season is late autumn onwards, once harvest is complete (or, if you don’t harvest, once the fruit has fallen).

Which parts should you prune?

Over time your blackcurrant bush will become a mixture of old and new wood and fruit grows best on the newer growth. This means that when you’re pruning you should prioritise the removal of old wood, as this will maximise the amount and quality of subsequent fruits.

How to prune blackcurrant

First let us make it clear that you don’t need to prune blackcurrant in its first year. At this stage the plant is establishing itself and all growth is good growth.

From year two to four you’ll be pruning slightly differently to what you might expect. During this time your goal is to help the bush establish a durable structure, meaning you want to keep 5-10 shoots growing healthy and strong.

In this period you’re removing weak shoots around this central structure, giving your plant the best chance at diverting its resources to the strong, integral shoots.

From the fifth year onwards your priority shifts slightly: now you’ll be removing about a third of the old wood at the base of the plant. Switch from secateurs to a pruning saw, as the wood will be much thicker than what you’ve been removing previously.

The objective here is to prevent the centre of the bush from becoming overcrowded. Removing weak branches and any branches that are touching each other gives the new wood the best shot at growing healthily, and healthy growth leads to a better harvest.

How to tell apart old wood and new wood

Young blackcurrant wood is browny green, and this gives way to grey after two years. Beyond that wood becomes darker and darker, making it easy to distinguish different aged wood by look alone.

pruning a blackcurrant shrub with secateurs
See the gradation of colour?

What to do with your blackcurrants

With a well-pruned blackcurrant bush you should enjoy a bountiful harvest each year, and we definitely recommend making the most of it. Picking blackcurrants can be fiddly, but put in the effort and you’ll be duly rewarded.

Here are a few of our favourite ways to use your blackcurrant harvest:

  • Blackcurrant juice: As we said earlier, fresh blackcurrant juice is incredibly delicious. You need a little bit of equipment to get the juice out (a steam juicer and a reliable source of heat) but it’s well worth it. This is blackcurrant flavour distilled down into its purest and tastiest form.
  • Blackcurrant wine: if you like making drinks from the fruits of your labour, blackcurrants lend themselves very well to homemade wine. Whether a straight blackcurrant vintage or a combination, you’ll be popular at dinner parties when you break out a bottle! If you go for a combo consider apple, raspberry, or blackberry.
  • Blackcurrant jam: Making jams and jellies from grown produce is one of the great joys of gardening. It’s a great way to capture and preserve the flavour, and thanks to the nature of the process the resulting confections will last a long time. Jams in cute recycled jars make cheap and considerate Christmas gifts, too.

Big blackcurrant bounty

There you have it: a handy guide to pruning and maintaining your blackcurrant bushes. After reading this you’ll be able to keep your blackcurrants in optimal condition, ready to produce big and bountiful harvests year after year.

While pruning can be daunting for new gardeners, it’s our hope that this guide has shown you it needn’t be. With a little guidance and practice, you’ll find yourself more than capable of keeping a formerly overgrown blackcurrant bush in check.

Instead of an unruly tangle of branches, you’ll have a neat and organised bush with an established central structure, perfect for picking.

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