Thursday, 17 January 2013

Back to business-pruning blackcurrants

Blackcurrants in need of pruning
For all the dire weather forecasts since the weekend (snomageddon) it actually turned out a nice mild January day. Cool and overcast with a faraway threat of rain. After weeks of being solidly indoors a few trips across the garden to feed the birds enticed me to wrap up, don boots and head out to do some badly needed work in the garden.

Armed with a secateurs and a vague idea of pruning something I headed off, Ginger in tow. There is plenty awaiting pruning; from roses, buddleia and hedging to apples, pears, blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries. I took to the blackcurrants in the western apple orchard and after a bit got into the steady job of clearing the innards of the bush from tall new growth and thinning woods on the outside to stop branches crossing each other. I pulled the weeds around them too although a good deep newspaper mulch last spring made the job very light and easy to do. I will renew it again this year as soon as soil temperatures are up and the plants are nice and moist from some spring rain. Joan is collecting newspapers for me and I am attempting to mulch each fruit bush and tree just to cut down on maintenance. So far so good, its been working out quite well. New hedges can be mulched like this too, just make sure the mulch is very thick and in the case of newspaper soaked well to prevent it flying away.

Pruning apple trees makes me nervous. If you make mistakes with fruit trees it can take a while for them to recover and forgive you lack of skill. That said standing back doing nothing is not an option otherwise most fruit trees and bushes become congested with too many branches in a short few years. Too many branches means the sun is not getting into the tree to warm the branches. Branches must get this heat to trigger them to set flower buds. Flower buds become fruit. No sun, no flowers, no fruit. You can see why pruning becomes so important. I can see it already in trees I was initially reluctant to prune. There is nothing for it now but pruning them slowly into the correct shape over the course of a few years. Too much cutting will send fruit trees into shock hence the golden rule of no more than 1/3 being cut off in any year. Blackcurrants I am very comfortable pruning. They are extremely forgiving plants with each bush capable of sending up new 2 ft high branches in a single growing season-any idiot can prune a blackcurrant!! And the best part is the terrific unmistakable blackcurrant smell that hits the air as you slice into the wood. How could you not enjoy a job like that?

All the bushes are budding up nicely, some with the dried remnants of last Junes fruit still hanging on. A wet June was a disaster for blackcurrants and the usual making of Jam that myself and my dear mother-in-law undertake. So instead the blackbirds feasted on the wet crop -the feckers, but really how can I complain at least someone got the use of them. Today as I pruned away it got me thinking about just picking and freezing the fruit this summer no matter what the weather. Later on I can figure out how to put it to the best use. Blackcurrant sorbets, ice cream? hot syrup for desserts? crumbles? I'm sure I can come up with some ideas.

The lowdown on pruning Gooseberries and Blackcurrants
  • You should be able to put your hand into the centre of a blackcurrant or gooseberry bush. That means that any shoots growing up through the centre of the plant are removed. The reason we do it is to promote healthy airflow through the centre of the bush keeping bugs and diseases at bay. 
  • If your bushes are old and fruit production has slowed down or packed up in the last few years you can renew the bush by cutting out the oldest blackest branches (down to ground level) to encourage new more productive branches to shoot up and take over. You are supposed to only take one third at a time so it will take you a few years prunings to renew the whole bush.This often applies to climbing roses too.
  • The rules about dead damaged and diseased wood and crossing branches apply to almost everything you prune, so cut out any dead wood, any damaged wood, any diseased wood and any branch crossing another.
  • I prune to stop the blackcurrants getting too tall, keeping them all at around 3 ft high, this is even more important for gooseberries because at a certain point their natural tendency is to lean downwards and start growing towards the ground. You need to cut any of these downwards branches at the point where they bend downwards to keep them growing upright.Always prune to an outward facing bud.
  • Blackcurrants and Gooseberries fruit on older wood so if you have new plants it will take a few years (2-3)before enough growth has grown and seasoned to produce good crops of fruit.

(thanks to for th blackcurrant pic!)

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