Blackcurrants, I call them glistening (edible) black jewels of any Kitchen Garden. They are packed full with Vitamin C and antioxidants. No matter how carefully you pick the fruit, the skin bursts with surprisingly vivid blood red juice all over your fingers and hands, that cannot be avoided, no matter how hard you try to hand pick the berries carefully. Eat them raw, this fruit will explode an amazing sharp tart notes in your mouth.
Maintaining the shape and pruning Blackcurrant Shrubs is also key. Topping or mulching them with well rotted organic matter in spring and watering them when fruit sets in, is not enough. Pruning is key to achieve a successful soft fruit harvest, and this alleviates the use of pesticides or herbicides. Using any chemicals on edibles should be avoided as much as possible. In the long run, pesticides and herbicides only mask the problem over a short term and does not do any good to the plants, soil, beneficial insects or the environment either.
Points To Remember:
- Blackcurrants grow on last season’s stems, and will fruit with vigour on branches up to 3 years old.
- New stems are produced from ground level.
Keeping these to points in mind, most soft fruit bushes/canes are pruned and maintained in the Winter months when the stems have shed all their leaves and plant has gone into dormancy. During the winter months there are less fungal spores activate and pest are in dormancy too. Therefore any pruning cuts made to the canes overwinter to prevent the canes from getting prone to any disease or fungal infection.
Months of November and December is the ideal time to prune blackcurrant shrubs. By now the leaves have all dropped and the plant is in dormancy. In order to encourage new grow, some of the older stems will need to be cut right down. Sounds cruel and although canes that are older than 3years will produce berries, they are noticeably smaller than fruit on new or even 2year old canes.
- Begin by using a sharp pair of secateurs removing the 3D’s: dead, damaged or diseased branches. When infected branches are cut off; with every cut made, the cutting tool must be sterilised. This may sound dramatic but it stops any infection spread that may attach itself to the secateurs.
- Reduce some of the old stems by a third.
- Any crossing branches must be removed as this caused stress wounds and opens the bark which can become prone to infections.
- Take a look at the ‘crown’ (or centre) of the plant. It should not be tightly packed with stems. The crown should be open and that aids forwards good air ventilation. Pests and fungal spores hate air movement and by opening up the centre, helps reduce these problem. Using a pair of Loppers cut at an angle as far down to the crown as you can take the loppers to.
- When pruning, angle cuts just above and away from a bud. This helps water to run off and not pool and cause damage the open tip or bud.
This job is best performed straight after maintenance pruning. Not only are the stems freshly cut but any hard wood cutting is always taken in winter. Therefore 2 jobs are performed.
Ideally stems used for propagating are 30cm in length and always use older straight stems. Since my plant is only 3 years old, my cuttings are a little on the smaller side. If they take, I will be a happy gardener. If not, then there is always next year.
- First cut; with the tip end facing upwards make a straight cut just below a node on the bottom end of the stem.
- Second cut; At the tip end, just above a node, made an angled cut on the opposite side to the node. This acts as a wind break and any water at the cut tip runs off away from the bud.
- These are inserted into previously water pots of compost with the straight edge side inserted in.
- place pots outdoors in a sheltered part of the garden or in a cold frame sheltering from the worst of the weather. Keep an eye on the moisture content of the compost. Do not overwater and do not allow to dry out, compost should just be kept damp.
That’s one soft fruit shrub maintenance sorted. Onto the next. Redcurrant Shrub.
Have you pruned your soft fruit shrubs yet? What are your favourite soft fruit to grow?
Click here for a Soft Fruit Bake recipe.