Keeping current with currants and gooseberries

A mainstay in European gardens and gaining popularity in North America, currants and gooseberries (Ribes species) make excellent jams, jellies, and dessert berries. The U.S. government at one time banned growing this group of ornamental and delicious fruits, because Ribes species contribute to a deadly white pine disease called white pine blister rust. Several states still restrict the sale and transport of Ribes, although disease-resistant varieties, which eliminate the problem, are now available.

Use currents and gooseberries as ornamental landscape shrubs. They bear attractive flowers and fruit, have maple-shaped leaves, and remain 3 to 4 feet high. Gooseberries do have thorns, however, so choose their planting

Figure 15-1:

In spring, prune raspberry canes to 3 or 4 feet to encourage more fruit.

locations carefully. Plant the plants 3 to 4 feet apart in fertile, well-drained, compost-enriched soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Full sun to light shade is best. Most plants in this group are hardy to Zone 3, but spring frost may damage the early flowers. In very cold regions, plant on the north side of a building or other location that warms slowly in the spring to delay bloom. Gooseberries' high chill requirement (see Chapter 16) makes them unsuitable for climates with warm or very short winters and hot summers.

The most commonly grown Ribes fall into two major groups:

  • Currants don't have spines and bear 3/ยป-inch fruit in clusters, called strigs, that look like miniature bunches of grapes. Red and white currants have a mild flavor, whereas black currants have a stronger taste. Disease-resistant red currants include Red Lake and Redstart. The most disease-resistant black currants are Consort and Crandall.
  • Gooseberries have a spine at the base of each leaf. The fruit is larger than that of currants, varies in color from greenish white to red, and is borne singly or in small clusters. Popular varieties include Hinnonmaki Red, Invicta, and Poorman.
  • Jostaberries have black currant and gooseberry parentage and have red or black fruits that are larger than currants. The plants are vigorous and generally pest-free.

Currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries can pollinate themselves and don't need another variety to produce fruit. Prune the shrubs in late winter, and remove only canes older than 3 years. Thin younger canes, if necessary, to prevent crowding.

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Berry Boosters

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