Gardening with Deb Babcock: Currants a great garden shrub

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— If you’re looking for a great shrub for your Steamboat Springs-area garden, look no further than Ribes spp, commonly called the currant bush. It’s a great Zone 3 to 5 (we’re Zone 4) plant that grows well in the garden as well as in a patio container.

Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

The berries are small red or black fruits that grow on a branch (called a strig) that contains a hanging cluster of berries similar to a grape pendulum. The berry dries beautifully into a small, raisin-like fruit that’s delicious sprinkled in scones and muffins, on salads, cereal or ice cream, mixed in with trail mix or eaten by itself. The ripe berries also are wonderful for jellies, sauces and pie.

This is an example of another locally grown food product that will store wonderfully well into winter.

To grow currants, choose a location with morning sun and afternoon shade. It can stand slightly clay soil, but if you mix in some organic material (compost, aged manure, etc.), it’ll help keep soil cool and moist.

The leaves on currants are quite small and are pale green on black currant shrubs and a deep bluish-green for red currants. The flowers are not showy but appear in a grape-like cluster, giving the flowering shrub a pretty display. The flowers on black currants are a bluish-pink color and on red currants are a green color.

Pruning helps improve your yield because most of the fruit appears on branches that are 2 to 3 years old. After the first winter, cut back the shrub to all but two or three stems. Then each year after that, prune all but two or three of the newest stems so that you always have a few stems of the previous year’s and current year’s growth. After the fourth year, you can prune away stems that are older than three years. All pruning should occur at the end of winter before spring growth starts.

Currants have fairly shallow roots, so drip irrigation is the best way to water this plant. Keep it watered until after the fruit has been harvested, then start cutting back on moisture.

When you harvest the berries from your currant bush, allow the berries to stay on the plant for about three weeks after they turn to their black or red color. You might have to compete with birds for your berries, so keep a piece of netting or light cloth handy to cover the shrub if you need to.

This plant is rated as not attractive to deer, but as most gardeners know, if the deer are hungry enough, they’ll chew on most any plant.

If you don’t have the space or proper environment for growing a currant plant but wish to enjoy the fruits of this local shrub, look no further than hiking trails throughout the woods and forests of Routt County. This plant is prolific, but you need to be determined as forest birds and animals will be competing with you for this delicious treat.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension office in Routt County. Contact 970-879-0825 or csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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