March 17, 2012 in Washington Voices

Currants, gooseberries make comeback

Pat Munts
 
File photo

Gooseberries often turn from green to red as they ripen.
(Full-size photo)

Home landscapes aren’t just something pretty to look at these days. Many gardeners are planting fruit and berry bushes as well as vegetables among the petunias, roses and perennials. Two noteworthy berries to consider for the edible landscape are currants and gooseberries.

Currants and gooseberries almost disappeared from use when it was found they were the alternative host to white pine blister rust, which threatened the Northwest’s Western white pine and other five-needle pines. Resistant varieties were developed, and the plants are coming back into the garden.

Gooseberries and currants are perfect for a landscape. They are hardy, easy to grow and do not require much care to keep them looking good and producing. Leaves are small, lobed and a bright green color that turns yellow in the fall. Depending on the variety, the branches have short thorns.

They tend to be fairly upright bushes with arching branches with a range of growth habits and heights so they can fill a wide variety of garden locations. Unlike most other fruiting plants, gooseberries and currants thrive in full sun to part shade. They need soil high in organic matter to hold moisture and will benefit from an application of compost or 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring. Water regularly and cover the soil with mulch to keep it cool and moist.

Gooseberries have a green berry about half an inch wide that will often turn a reddish color as it ripens. Some of the favorite varieties include Pixswell, Oregon Champion and Captivator.

Currants have clusters of either red or black berries about the size of a large BB. The clusters are relatively easy to pick and make into jelly or jam. Red currant varieties include Red Lake, Perfection and Wilder. Black currants are still considered a problem for blister rust, so only blister-resistant or immune varieties such as Consort, Crusader and Titania should be planted. Still, if you are close to a white pine, consider planting another type of fruit. Fruit is borne on 2-year-old canes, so it may take two to three years for the plant to begin bearing.

The main disease for currants and gooseberries is powdery mildew that covers the leaves with a white powdery growth and the berries with a rough gray coat. To reduce chances of powdery mildew buy resistant varieties to start with. Prune the plants to improve air circulation. If necessary, spray them with a fungicide at leaf break and as fruit forms.

Currant fruit fly, also known as gooseberry maggot, and aphids are the most common insect problems. Aphids will attack the leaves, creating wrinkles and covering fruit with a sticky coating. Aphids can be kept at bay with a frequent hard stream of water. Currant fruit fly will lay eggs on the fruit that then hatch into larvae that eat the fruit. They can be controlled with spinosad insecticide applied at egg hatch or to small larvae. Clean up fallen or infected fruit as the larvae overwinter in the soil.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.


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