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Pruning Ribes - Flowering Currant - How and when to prune.

Pruning Ribes

The Ribes flower early in the Spring - just after Forsythia.

Whilst the Ribes do not actually need pruning to flower well, if the shrub has been planted in the wrong place and outgrown its position, then you will need to prune the Ribes to a/ get it back into proportion, and b/ regular pruning to ensure that it does not again outgrow its position.

How and When to Prune Flowering Currants - Ribes

Ribes Pulborough Scarlet - one of the finest of all Flowering Currants. Pruning is at a specific time for this and other Ribes. Details of how to prune are set out below.

With a large overgrown Ribes shrub, the best course of action may well be to prune it hard - down to ground level or near! That course of action can be carried out at virtually any time of year, but if you prune it too late, then it will not flower the following spring, so, the earlier the better - March or April at latest.

This will give it a full growing season when it can again grow into space - but in a more controlled manner.

Ribes - Flowering Currants, flower early in spring on flower buds that are grown in the previous growing season. It needs a full season to grow these flower stems and buds ready for the following spring. If the Ribes 'suffer' a late pruning, then the flower buds for the next year will be lost.

Pruning Ribes is necessary immediately after they have finished flowering. The pruning can either be a general trim back to shape - but bear in mind that growth will be quite rapid after pruning, so a light prune might not be enough. Prune right back into the bush.

A two year old Ribes being given the hard pruning treatment.
Pruning Ribes complete - just stand back and watch it grow. Prune it like this every year.

The other way in which to grow a spectacular Ribes shrub, is to cut the Ribes back very hard each year - right after flowering! Cut out all the previous years flowered branches to a point to suit - 30cms from the ground is great!

Picture on the left shows one year old growth about to be tackled - Right after flowers have faded. Right side image shows the finished job. Off at 60cms from ground! 24th April 2008

If you prune back in this manner every year, you will firstly contain the shrub to a reasonable size, but - more important - the plant will grow long upright cane type branches during the year, which will then be clothed top to bottom in large flower clusters the following spring - quite spectacular!

After just two weeks, the pruning ribes operation brings results - with around 15cm of new growth.

Less than 2 weeks later (7th May 2008, we have new growth which is already 6in (15cm) long, and will carry on growing through the summer to make long flowering, upright canes some 1.5m (5ft) long. These will flower the following spring. This type of pruning gives spectacular results to this otherwise slightly unkempt habit of this group of shrubs.

Two weeks further - 24th May - sees the new growths at 12in (30cm). And there is a further 5 months growth yet before autumn dormancy!

Red Flowering Currant - Ribes sanguinem

White Flowering Current

Firstly to clear up any confusion about the common name of Red Flowering Currant - Ribes sanguinem - there is also the fruiting bush – Redcurrant. Same family – Ribes – but it is a very different plant, though of course with similarities.

For this section we talk about the flowering shrub – the Red Flowering Currant, which as the name suggests is a mass of red, pink or white flowers, depending upon choice of variety. There are a few other shrubs known as Flowering Currants; all listed at the bottom.

Sanguineum – depending upon definition – Sanguine can be ‘cheerful, optimistic, reddish or pink. All definitions fit as far as Red Flowering Currant is concerned, but of course to add a little conduction – as is often the case with gardening nomenclature – there are also white varieties of this predominantly red flowered shrub.

The flowering currants often have a few sprays of currant-like fruit clusters, but are not generally found to be too tasty. If it is fruit you want for making the jellies and jams, then ensure that you actually get the fruiting – not flowering – types.

What Are Red Flowering Currants?

Red Flowering Currants are large deciduous shrubs with flowers in the spring which seem to envelop the whole plant. The flower clusters droop and consist of many small individual tubular bell flowers within the drooping racemes.

Ribes sanguineum is one of the first of the red flowering plants to be noticed in the spring - mainly because of the masses of red flowers from top to bottom of the shrub. (Other early red flowering shrubs are a little more subtle, with individual blooms to be found. Not so the Red Flowering Currant for it is unashamedly brash!)

It is generally a care-free plant – growing in all manner of garden soils, though preferably well drained. These shrubs are totally winter hardy, though do tend to suffer a little temporary leaf scorch in hot summers. The deciduous foliage turns rusty yellow before leaf-fall, but not spectacularly so.

Height and Spread of Flowering Currants are dependent upon position and whatever pruning regime. Left un-pruned, it grows to height and spread of 2m+. It is a good ‘filling’ or screening shrub and does not normally sucker or otherwise spread.

Where to plant and use Red Flowering Currants?

The short answer is simply, wherever you have space for it in full, partial sun, or in a semi woodland situation where it will brighten up dappled shade areas in spring – just after the Forsythias. So it is a good continuation shrub. Once it has finished flowering, it has little to offer other than the 3-4 lobed medium sized leaves.

Ribes sanguineum can be used at the rear of shrub borders, as specimen plants, in mixed borders and also as attractive hedges – medium or large. It is not generally suited to growing in containers.

Where to Plant Red Flowering Currants

White Flowering Current
  • 1. Sun-Kissed Borders and Beds: Given their love for sunlight coupled with a tolerance for partial shade, positioning your Red Flowering Currants in sunny borders or flower beds can create an eye-catching display. They thrive under the full gaze of the sun but appreciate a bit of afternoon shade in hotter regions, making them versatile performers in various garden settings.
  • 2. Woodland Gardens: Emulating their natural habitat, these currants flourish on the fringes of woodland gardens. Here, they receive dappled sunlight, mimicking the open forests and woodland edges where they naturally thrive. The contrast of their vivid blooms against the backdrop of woodland foliage creates a captivating visual symphony.
  • 3. Slopes and Streambanks: If your garden features slopes or is blessed with a stream or pond, the Red Flowering Currant will find itself perfectly at home. Their ability to adapt to slope conditions and streambanks not only helps in controlling erosion but also adds a splash of color to these challenging areas, transforming them into focal points of natural beauty.
  • 4. Wildlife Gardens: Aimed at attracting a flurry of pollinators, from buzzing bees to graceful butterflies, planting Red Flowering Currants in your wildlife garden can boost the ecological value of your space. Their nectar-rich flowers are a magnet for these beneficial creatures, contributing to the biodiversity of your garden.

Uses of Red Flowering Currants in the Garden

  • 1. Ornamental Highlight: With their striking floral displays and lush green foliage, Red Flowering Currants serve as splendid ornamental highlights. Use them as specimen plants to anchor garden designs or incorporate them into mixed shrubberies for a layered effect that adds depth and interest to your landscape.
  • 2. Natural Screening: When grown in groups, these currants can form dense, flowering screens that provide privacy while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of garden boundaries. They're a delightful alternative to traditional fencing, offering seasonal interest and a soft, natural border.
  • 3. Erosion Control: Their robust root systems make them excellent candidates for stabilizing slopes and banks, preventing soil erosion while beautifying these areas. It's a practical yet picturesque solution to a common landscaping challenge.
  • 4. Supporting Wildlife: Beyond their beauty, Red Flowering Currants play a crucial role in supporting local wildlife. By offering nectar in early spring when food sources are scarce, they help sustain various pollinators. Additionally, the berries that follow the blooms provide nourishment for birds, making these shrubs a vital component of a wildlife-friendly garden.

In conclusion, the Red Flowering Currant is more than just a pretty face; it's a versatile and valuable addition to any UK garden. Whether you're looking to create an enchanting woodland edge, add vibrancy to sunny borders, or support local wildlife, this resilient and radiant shrub promises to bring your gardening dreams to life. So, let us embrace the beauty and bounty of Ribes sanguineum, allowing its crimson tides to flow through our gardens, bringing joy and life to every corner.

When Does Flowering Currant flower?

Flowering currants start budding in late march and then into full bloom in April through May. Our own record in the April Flowertime section has it as being in flower for 12th April. After the main flowering periods the flowers fade and generally look a little untidy for a week or so – soon covered up by the growing light green foliage.

How to care for Red Flowering Currants.

White Flowering Current

This shrub is relatively trouble-free and often left to its own devices to get through life. But a little care and attention will be rewarded – with more flowers, tidier growth and plentiful green foliage throughout summer through to fall.

If subjected to the recommended pruning regime, then feeding by way of bonemeal or general organic mulch is a good idea. Otherwise in normal garden soil there is rarely a need for additional feed.

Watering in the hottest, driest periods is beneficial, but this should mean a good drench rather than a light sprinkle. I have rarely had to water this palnt on the various soils in which I have grown it.

Pests and Diseases of Flowering Currants

Can be affected by honey fungus in those areas where this is prevalent.

Greenfly aphids enjoy a feast on the newer foliage.

Powdery mildew on foliage is sometimes a problem, together with relatively harmless – though unsightly leaf spots.

The scent of the shrub – particularly when in flower – does not always appeal – often confused as being cat’s urine!

Propagation of Ribes

Very simple with hardwood cutting simply inserted into the ground in a sheltered place, but will also root quite quickly from softwood and semi-ripe cuttings.

The Enthusiastic Gardener's Guide to Propagating Ribes

White Flowering Current

Ah, the joy of propagating Ribes! Whether you're enticed by the cascading beauty of flowering currants or the luscious allure of gooseberries and blackcurrants, mastering the art of propagation will unlock endless opportunities for your garden. Let's embark on a horticultural journey that promises to fill your garden with vibrant life and your heart with the thrill of cultivation!

Why Propagate Ribes?

Propagation isn't just about multiplying your plants; it's about creating a legacy in your garden. Ribes, with their diverse range from ornamental to fruit-bearing, offer a spectacular show throughout the seasons. By propagating Ribes, you can:

  • - Preserve Heritage: Clone your favorite varieties, keeping their unique characteristics alive.
  • - Expand Your Garden: Increase your plant stock without additional cost.
  • - Share the Joy: Gift these beauties to fellow gardening enthusiasts.

Method 1: Cuttings

The Perfect Time

The ideal time to take cuttings is late summer to early autumn. This is when the current year's growth has started to mature but is not fully hardened off.

Step-by-Step Guide

  • 1. Select Healthy Shoots: Look for this year's growth that is semi-hardwood — not too soft, not too woody.
  • 2. Prepare Your Cuttings: Cut a 6-8 inch length, ensuring each cutting has at least three sets of leaves. Snip off the lower leaves, leaving two sets at the top.
  • 3. Planting Medium: Use a mix of peat-free compost and perlite for excellent drainage and aeration.
  • 4. Rooting Hormone (Optional): Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone powder to encourage root growth.
  • 5. Plant: Make holes in the planting medium and insert the cuttings, ensuring at least two nodes are buried. Water gently.
  • 6. Create Humidity: Cover with a plastic bag or place in a propagator to maintain humidity.

Conditions Required

  • - Light: Bright, indirect light.
  • - Temperature: Keep at around 16-20°C.
  • - Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.

Equipment Needed

  • - Sharp secateurs
  • - Rooting hormone powder
  • - Propagation tray or pots
  • - Plastic bags or propagator

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • - Advantages: High success rate; preserves the characteristics of the parent plant.
  • - Disadvantages: Requires patience; might need a greenhouse or indoor space for best results.

Method 2: Layering

The Perfect Time

Spring through to late summer is ideal for layering, as the plant is in active growth.

Step-by-Step Guide

  • 1. Choose a Flexible Stem: Select a low-growing stem that can easily be bent to the ground.
  • 2. Prepare the Stem: Make a small incision or remove a strip of bark on the part of the stem that will be buried.
  • 3. Bury the Stem: Dig a shallow trench, lay the wounded part of the stem inside, and secure it with a U-shaped wire or stone.
  • 4. Wait for Roots: Cover with soil, leaving the tip of the stem exposed. It may take a season or two for roots to develop fully.
  • 5. Transplant: Once rooted, sever from the parent plant and transplant.

Conditions Required

  • - Soil Moisture: Keep the buried part of the stem moist.
  • - Light & Temperature: As per the parent plant's requirements.

Equipment Needed

  • - Garden wire or stones
  • - Secateurs for severing

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • - Advantages: Simple, no special equipment needed; does not disturb the parent plant.
  • - Disadvantages: Takes longer to produce a transplantable plant.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • - Not Using Sharp Tools: Dull blades can damage the plant tissues, hindering rooting.
  • - Overwatering: Too much moisture can lead to rot. Ensure good drainage.
  • - Neglecting Humidity: Especially for cuttings, maintaining high humidity is crucial for success.
  • - Impatience: Propagation takes time. Resist the urge to check for roots too frequently.

Embarking on the propagation journey requires patience and care, but the rewards are bountiful. Whether through cuttings or layering, expanding your Ribes collection will bring an added layer of satisfaction to your gardening endeavors. Remember, every new plant is a testament to your dedication and love for the garden. Happy propagating!

Good varieties of Flowering Currants

White Flowering Current

Embarking on the journey of cultivating flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) in your UK garden is akin to painting your outdoor space with the broad strokes of nature's most vivid colors. These enchanting shrubs, adorned with clusters of spring blooms, not only add a splash of brilliance to your landscape but also play host to a symphony of pollinators. Let's delve into the world of flowering currants, highlighting the top varieties that are both a visual treat and a joy to grow.

Top Varieties of Flowering Currants

  • 1. 'King Edward VII': This variety is a true royal, boasting magnificent pendulous dark crimson flowers. It's an upright grower, reaching heights of up to 6 feet, making it a striking focal point in any garden. Ideal for creating dramatic borders or as a standalone specimen, 'King Edward VII' thrives in well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade.
  • 2. 'Pulborough Scarlet': With its deep crimson flowers featuring white centers, 'Pulborough Scarlet' is a vibrant addition to any garden. It prefers a sunny spot but will tolerate partial shade, making it versatile for various garden designs. Regular pruning after flowering maintains its shape and encourages more prolific blooms in the following spring.
  • 3. 'Atrorubens': Known for its pink to dark red flowers, 'Atrorubens' can reach up to 2 meters in height. It's perfect for adding height and color to mixed borders. Like other Ribes varieties, it prefers well-drained soil and can thrive in both sun and partial shade. Its robust growth and stunning floral display make it a must-have for any garden.
  • 4. 'White Icicle': Offering a twist on the traditional, 'White Icicle' produces beautiful white blooms that provide a striking contrast against its green foliage. It's ideal for creating a light, airy feel in the garden and pairs wonderfully with darker-flowered varieties for a balanced display.

Cultivation Tips

  • - Ideal Growing Conditions: Flowering currants flourish in well-drained soil and can adapt to a range of soil types. They prefer a position in full sun to partial shade. Providing a mulch of organic matter in spring will help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
  • - Propagation: The best time to propagate these varieties is late summer to early autumn. Semi-hardwood cuttings are ideal. Prepare cuttings by cutting a 6-8 inch length, dipping the cut end in rooting hormone, and planting in a mix of peat-free compost and perlite. Keep in a sheltered spot with indirect light until roots develop.
  • - Planting Time: Autumn is the perfect time to plant flowering currants, allowing them to establish over the winter months. Ensure the planting hole is twice the size of the root ball and enrich the soil with organic matter.
  • - Pest and Disease Protection: While generally robust, flowering currants can occasionally suffer from aphids and powdery mildew. Promote good air circulation around the plants and treat any infestations with organic pesticides or neem oil to keep your plants healthy.

Recommendations for Use

  • - Landscaping: Flowering currants are excellent for creating vibrant borders or as part of a mixed shrubbery. Their upright growth and splendid floral displays add structure and color when most needed in early spring.
  • - Attracting Pollinators: If you're keen to create a haven for bees and butterflies, the nectar-rich flowers of Ribes sanguineum varieties are incredibly inviting. Plant them where you can enjoy the buzz of activity they bring to the garden.
  • - Culinary Purposes: While the focus here is on ornamental varieties, it's worth noting that some Ribes species produce edible berries. For culinary purposes, consider growing blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) or gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa), which offer delicious fruits for jams, jellies, and baking.

In conclusion, flowering currants are a splendid choice for the UK gardener seeking to infuse their garden with color, texture, and life. Whether you're crafting an idyllic landscape, attracting a flurry of pollinators, or exploring the culinary delights of the Ribes genus, these resilient and radiant shrubs promise to enrich your gardening experience with every bloom.


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