Choosing Cultivars

The Ribes are a very diverse species with hundreds of varieties that differ in plant size and form and fruit flavor, shape, texture, color, and hairiness. While most are hardy in Zone 3 or Zone 4, a few are hardy in Zone 2. Several types of interest to home gardeners include:

Red currants (Ribes rubrum, R. sativum, and R. petraeum). Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white, and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they appear to be in full color. Many people consider Rovada to be the best red currant cultivar. Plants are dependable, vigorous, late ripening, and very productive, bearing long-stemmed clusters of large red berries that are easy to pick.

White currants. A type of red currant, white currant cultivars are sold less frequently by nurseries. Blanka is most commonly available. The berries are large and mild in flavor with a pale yellow color. Most people prefer White Imperial or Primus if they are available.

Black currants (Ribes nigrum). Black currants are currently illegal to grow in New York, but it may soon be legal to grow cultivars that are immune to white pine blister rust (see "Legalities of Growing," page 85).

Gooseberries. There are two types of gooseberry plants—American (Ribes hirtellum) and European (Ribes uva-crispa). Cultivars of the American type are smaller but more resistant to powdery mildew. They tend to be healthier and more productive. American cultivars include:

  • Poorman—one of the largest of the American cultivars. Productive and vigorous, with medium-sized but high-quality fruit, it is a good cultivar for the home garden.
  • Oregon Champion—medium to large yellow-green berries; excellent for processing.
  • Hinnonmaki Red and Hinnonmaki Yellow—medium-sized red and green fruit, respectively.
  • Captivator—a cross of American and European cultivars, it has red teardrop-shaped fruit, is nearly thornless, and is resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Pixwell—easy to propagate, commonly sold, and very productive, but its fruit quality is poor and it is hardy only to Zone 5.

The fruits of the European cultivars are larger and better flavored. They include:

  • Invicta—considered by some to be the best gooseberry available in North America, it is resistant to powdery mildew but susceptible to leaf spot and has very large fruit with a bland flavor.
  • Leveller and Careless—the standards for British fruit production; yellow and green fruit, respectively.
  • Early Sulfur—yellow, hairy fruit with good flavor but susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Catherina—large green fruit.
  • Achilles—large red fruit.

Gooseberries are easily propagated through tip layering or stool bedding (mound layering). Sources of gooseberry and currant plants can be found at www.hort.cornell.edu/nursery.

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