Currant Affairs

Contrary to the myth promulgated by our southern gardening friends, who seem to dominate both TV and the gardening magazines, it is not too late to take hardwood cuttings.

Indeed, I have been successful until at least the end of April, and I’d even go right out on a limb and say it’s worth trying hardwood cuttings at almost any time of year.

Currants of all hues – black, red, white, and with a bit of licence we could even include gooseberries – can be readily propagated from hardwood cuttings during the dormant season.

I use the term “dormant season” advisedly, ‘cos I will not fall into the trap of quoting months of the year by name. Dormancy varies from area to area and season to season. Dormancy is the time between leaf-fall and bud-burst, and has no respect for either calendar or hemisphere.

And even when buds are bursting, hardwood cuttings are still well worth trying, although my advice is to rub off the bursting buds.

Select straight growths of last season’s wood – one-year-old growth is best – and select pencil-thick cuttings nine or ten inches long (that’s one pint and four shillings in metric euros). Rub off any old leaves or new growth, and trim squarely below a node (joint). Make the upper cut above a node, and make it slanting, for two reasons. Firstly, to shed the water and reduce the risk of rot and fungal disease, and secondly, to remind you which way is up.

Make a slit trench in a sheltered spot, or even in the greenhouse border, although for hardwood cuttings a cosseted environment is really undesirable. A slit trench is simply this – insert your spade to its full depth, wiggle it fore and aft, and withdraw. If your soil is heavy, add some sharp sand (not off the beach, it’s full of salt – and illegal), peat or spent compost.

Insert blackcurrant cuttings so that only an inch or so is showing. Insert red and white currants and gooseberries to less than half their depth. This is because blackcurrants are grown as stools, while the others are grown on legs. If this is too complicated, insert them all to two thirds their length, then email me for more horti-techy information.
A growing season later, you should have a reasonable percentage of well-rooted cuttings ready to transplant to their final locations. Don’t be upset if some don’t make it – a sixty per cent success rate is good going.

When you plant them out, dig a hole much deeper than the root system, put lots of well-rotted dung in the bottom, and then a thin layer of soil. Remember, dung and roots should never be in contact. Firm the plants in well, but don’t overdo it. Use your toe, not your heel, and ignore the gardening pundits who tell you to put the heel of the welly in. Over-compaction can be even more harmful than under-compaction.
Then, as a final treat for your new plants, give them a mulch of well-rotted dung. As well as feeding the plants, this will help to suppress weed growth.
If you’ve read this far, you probably want currants for a reason.

If not, here’s three reasons to grow currants:

  1. For jam.
  2. For the birds.
  3. For wine.

Personally, I don’t bother with jam, but I always do my best for my garden birds. We’ll say nothing about item 3.

© Mike Clark 2003