Going black for a berry good show

Autumn colour: Yellow foliage on the bushes; below, ripening fruit.
Autumn colour: Yellow foliage on the bushes; below, ripening fruit.
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BLACKCURRANTS are surprisingly easy to grow and a wonderful fruit to cook with.

If you fancy giving them a go, start and prepare the ground now for planting bare-root specimens in late autumn, or you can plant container-grown plants at any time of the year, as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged.

They like well-drained, but moisture-retentive conditions and prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade.

As part of my “productive front garden” experiment a few years back, three ended up there, and they’ve done OK, with minimal attention, I confess.

Many varieties are called “Ben Something” (after Scottish mountains) and mine are exactly that, as I can’t remember the second bit, only that they were a bargain in a mail-order sale.

So if you’re going for bare root plants (they’re cheaper) clear the soil of perennial weeds now, add well-rotted manure and a fertiliser like Growmore at 85g per sq m (3oz per sq yd).

At the end of autumn, dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball, and spread the roots out when planting.

Set each plant at least 6cm (2.25in) deeper than it was previously.

Hand weed and place a mulch (such as well-rotted manure or mushroom compost) around the plant in late winter to suppress weeds.

Avoid hoeing near the base of the bush because the hoe might cut through new shoots developing at the base of the plant.

Prune blackcurrants when dormant – from late autumn to late winter. Fruit forms on young wood, so when pruning aim to remove older wood, leaving the young shoots.

Up to and including the fourth year after planting, remove weak, wispy shoots, retaining a basic structure of six to 10 healthy shoots.

After year four, cut out about one-third of the older wood at the base, using a pair of loppers or a pruning saw.

This will encourage and make room for younger, healthy wood.

Also remove weak shoots and low ones leaning towards the ground.

Birds are supposed to be a big problem, but as my bushes are “hidden” among mixed planting – shrubs and herbaceous perennials mostly – they don’t seem bothered.

If it becomes troublesome, nets or cages are your only options.