Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm
They come in red, black and even white: currant stems and bushes are a real joy in the garden, because they not only produce a variety of the refreshing sour or tart fruit, but also have a high ornamental value. However, often the annual thinning and rejuvenation of berry bushes is greatly neglected. We explain how to regularly prune your currants and keep them in shape.
Why cut currants?
Overaged currant bushes and stems hardly grow. With age (from the fourth year of stand) new shoots become weaker and weaker. Year after year, the berries turn out smaller, are less sweet and lose flavor. If old shoots are taken out regularly, new ground shoots can better develop into bearing branches and the necessary rejuvenation takes place.
If the growth inside the bush is too dense, twigs, leaves and grapes dry out slowly after a rainfall – the best conditions for fungal attack. By selective thinning out, one achieves an airy structure of the shrub, which also results in a higher fruit quality.
A vigorously pruned currant bush shows less trickling, as premature fruit drop occurs less frequently on one-year-old wood.
In the planting year, shortening the shoots ensures good branching. A training pruning in the following years provides the desired shape.
On a small foot or sprawling: the forms of education.
Currants, like the related gooseberries, can come in many forms. In nature, they always grow as a bush – that is, they regularly form shoots from buds close to the ground. However, the offspring from the base is not desirable in every form of education.
In a currant stem, anything growing out from below the crown is not true to the variety. In these areas, only the stem-forming rootstock sprouts – this is usually the golden currant. The noble variety, on the other hand, forms its bushy crown at airy heights. This is where the targeted pruning measures come into play.
The advantages and disadvantages of a high trunk are balanced: It is space-saving and extremely decorative in the perennial bed – in terms of longevity and yield, however, it performs significantly worse than the shrub variant.
There are other forms of cultivation, especially for red and white currants: They can be grown with one shoot (as a spindle) or with two or three shoots (as a hedge). Here, too, special pruning rules apply.
Red currants: How to cut a bush
Finely tart red currants (Ribes rubrum) and the slightly sweeter white fruits are treated the same when pruning. They form most of their fruit on the side shoots of the two- to three-year-old main branches.
When planting currants, remove (if not already done by the nursery) all superfluous shoots close to the ground, leaving three to five leading shoots at the end. Shorten these to a length of 20 to 30 centimeters.
In the second year, the branch structure begins to be built up. To do this, three to four of the strongest ground shoots from last year’s budding remain each year. Weaker and crooked shoots are removed. The goal: A currant bush should consist of eight to twelve ground shoots in the yield years, preferably no older than four years. Re-shortening the leading shoots is optional – repeated pruning produces more side shoots and keeps the bush more compact.
From the fourth year of standing, completely remove two to three older, worn ground shoots at the base (without stubs). You can recognize the oldest branches by their dark brown color and large branch circumference. Instead, leave the appropriate number of new, vigorous shoots that will grow back from the ground. Cut off any superfluous young ground shoots.
Cut back side branches that have borne berries for a year or two to one-centimeter-long stubs (cones). This will develop into the new wood that will fruit next year and the year after.
Old leading branches with young side shoots can be rejuvenated by a derivation cut. Place the shears or saw where the branch branches. The older wood is removed at this point.
Always remove weak shoots as well. Anything that grows inward, crosses or overlaps is taken out.
Side branches near the ground (up to 30 centimeters high) hardly bear fruit because there is a lack of light at this point. Cut these off as well.
The young (this year’s) shoots remain unaffected by the shears. However, if the side shoots are very dense, you can cut every second shoot to a short cone.
When pruning reds, you should also consider variety-specific differences: Weak-growing representatives (for example, ‘Red Lake’), which do not sufficiently rejuvenate from the base and form a small branching, receive a strong pruning at the wood of the old scaffold branches. Strong-growing varieties (for example, ‘Jonkheer van Tets’) tend to be pruned like black currants.
Rules of thumb for pruning: in general, a shrub should have a balanced proportion of annual, biennial and triennial shoots. Each year, remove about 20 to 30 percent of the leading shoots (the oldest, heavily woody branches). Leave the fresh, steeply rising shoots to grow.
Red currants: Pruning rules for the high trunk
The difference is not so great: a high stem is basically cut like a shrub – because the crown is quite a small bush. This usually consists of five to six leading shoots.
However, it is not only about the yield: If the crown grows unrestrained, it can easily become crooked or even broken. Important: Therefore, fix not only the trunk to a stake, but always the crown as well! By regularly reaching for the shears, you will also maintain the decorative, rounded growth form.
In the year of planting, you can shorten the scaffold branches by one third. Cut back weak or crowded shoots to a cone with two to three buds.
In the yielding years, remove one to two removed shoots each year – and as far inland as possible, so that the crown can always renew itself from the center and is well exposed in all areas.
Cut back all side shoots that have already borne fruit to two or three eyes. The tip shoot of each fruiting branch is shortened by about one-third. This makes the crown more compact, and also creates good side branching inside.
You should always eliminate ground shoots. These can be pulled out quite easily when young, which has a particularly lasting effect. You also remove trunk shoots between the root and the crown at an early stage.
Correct pruning of blackcurrants
Similar pruning rules apply to the tart-tasting black currants (Ribes nigrum) as to the red varieties. However, they are mainly suitable for growing as a bush, are usually much more vigorous and therefore require particularly spirited treatment with scissors.
Black varieties fruit mainly on the previous year’s long shoots (the one-year-old wood) and the short side shoots that grow on the two- to three-year-old wood. Only the strong, young shoots bear large berries the following year. Thus, the goal in pruning for yield is to retain many one-year-old long shoots. If these are partially pruned, the young wood for the following year’s harvest will develop in these places.
In this way, the shrub remains productive, airy and compact:
For a good harvest: you can prune back the older shoots to lower-seated, young secondary branches. Cut one-third of the one-year-old shoots in half each year.
For rejuvenation: Remove two to three of the oldest main shoots each year – as you would a red currant.
When is the best time to prune?
Vigorous varieties can be thinned out as early as the summer after harvest. However, a main pruning in late winter (February or March) provides a decisive advantage: during this time you have a clear view of the shrub, which is about to sprout new shoots. Old and worn branches as well as withered shoots without swelling buds then immediately catch the eye.
As a matter of principle, pay attention to suitable weather conditions to spare the woody plant unnecessary stress. On extremely hot summer days, you should not carry out any pruning measures; the same applies to frosty winter days.
The right tools: A handy pair of pruning shears is part of the basic equipment. A lopping shear is ideal if the bush already has a spreading growth and thicker shoots are present – with the long handles, the center of the bush is easily accessible. A hand saw can also be used when removing strong branches.