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Growing currants and gooseberries in the home garden

Quick facts

  • Currants and gooseberries will grow in full sun to partial shade. You will get more fruit if the plant is in full sun.
  • Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
  • Most currants and gooseberries are self-fruitful. One variety will set fruit on its own.
  • Prune annually to remove weak or dead canes and to open up the canopy.
  • Expect to get fruit 1 to 3 years after planting.
  • Remember, gooseberry bushes are spiny and will become dense thickets without regular pruning.

Although closely related, you can easily distinguish currants and gooseberries by examining the canes and fruit. Gooseberry canes normally produce a spine at each leaf node and bear roughly grape-sized berries singly or in groups of two or three. Currant canes lack the spines and bear 8 to 30 pea-sized berries in clusters.

A mature currant or gooseberry shrub can produce up to four quarts of fruit annually. Most commercially available varieties have adequate winter hardiness for the majority of the Upper Midwest, many to USDA hardiness zone 3a.

Selecting plants

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Preparing to plant

Location

  • If possible, prepare your planting location the autumn before you intend to plant.
  • Currants and gooseberries will grow well in full sun to partial shade.
    • As with any fruiting plant, partial shade might mean less vigor and smaller/fewer fruit.
  • Rid the planting site of all perennial weeds, as they are much more difficult to control after planting.

Soil testing and fertilizer

  • While they will tolerate marginal soil, currants and gooseberries perform best in rich, well-drained soil.
  • Test your soil for pH and nutrient needs.
  • Add organic material such as peat or compost according to soil test recommendations.
    • A composted material rich in nitrogen, such as well-rotted manure, makes an excellent fertilizer for currants and gooseberries.
    • Because composted materials release their nutrients more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, apply a few shovels-full per plant in late fall.

Planting

Bare-root and potted plants

  • Plants ordered from online or mail-order sources are usually sent bare-root, while plants from a local nursery will likely be potted.
  • To establish your new shrubs before the onset of hot weather, plant bare-root or potted plants in spring as soon as the soil is workable.
    • Do not be afraid to plant early in the season, as even a plant that is beginning to leaf out can tolerate temperatures as low as 19°F.
  • When handling bare-root plants, make certain to keep the plants cool and moist until they go into the ground.
    • Do not allow the roots to dry nor become waterlogged.
    • Just before planting, soak the roots of bare-root plants in a bucket of water for three to four hours.
  • Plant currants and gooseberries at least an inch deeper than they were planted in the nursery, in holes deeper and wider than their root systems.
  • Cover lower canes with soil to a depth of two to three buds to encourage a larger root system and the development of numerous renewal canes.
    • This strategy will maximize the useful lifespan of the plant.
  • Space plants as close as three feet apart.
    • Black currants are more vigorous. Space them four to five feet apart.
  • Currants are self-fertile, but research suggests that planting more than one variety results in better yields.

Initial pruning

After planting, prune all canes back to four to six aboveground buds. The resulting low bud count encourages the development of vigorous new canes.

Mulch

  • At planting time, provide two to four inches of an organic mulch such as wood chips, pine needles or compost.
  • Mulching cools the soil, conserves water and suppresses weeds. These benefits are preferable in a partially shaded site, and essential in a sunny spot.
  • Beginning the year after planting, renew mulch annually.
  • If you use a low-nitrogen mulch such as wood chips or sawdust, you may need to apply extra nitrogen fertilizer.
    • Signs of nitrogen deficiency include yellowing leaves (older leaves yellow first) and poor growth.

How to keep your currants and gooseberries healthy and productive

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Authors: Emily S. Tepe and Emily E. Hoover, Extension horticulturist

Reviewed in 2024

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