Currants Up North

By Travis Czechowsi

I have some words on currants I would like to pass on to club members.  Though personally I have grown currant bushes for 5 years now, I grew up around massive amounts of them and gooseberries in western New York State.  One of the strains I have of a black currant came over with my family form Poland decades ago – bushes still alive planted in the late 50’s and 60’s.  I suspect it to be a form of Holland Long Branch, as it is a “sprawler” and very fruitful.

I am trying to get my cousins to send me some rootstock of a green-yellow gooseberry that my uncle planted int he 60’s.  It has since taken over about 1/4 acre of yard since he died in the 80’s, so it can be invasive.

I am also working with Titania and TSEMA – black currants I acquired last year.

Although I am zone 1, with high winds, I am successfully growing “Red Lake” red currants rated to zone 3.  There are drawbacks, though.

  1. They are vine-like and weak and must be wired or staked
  2. They are not as vigorous as blacks.  In my area I lose about 20% of new “Red Lake” starts to winter kill the first year.  They do okay the second year, no difficulties with the black strains except for growth “sprawl.”
  3. Blacks are able to carry over 10-14 canes for the next year’s fruiting.  “Red Lake” is only able to manage 3-6 canes.  It is just not as hardy in my area, although doing fair when supported.


I am also a practitioner of fruit blossom stripping on 1-2 year old plants until I get desired growth established.  When I am around, I try to be diligent on pruning dead or “wind twisted” branches off to keep energy directed toward the worthy area.

I am experiencing much less wind damage by pruning any side growth off of the desired whips.  This appears to make the cane less likely to “twist” in my 60 mph winds.  They simply bend over and take it. They also seem to recover and stand erect again quicker.  So, single branch canes for me seem to be working.  As I prune, I choose more erect canes, and this over time also helps lessen sprawl.

Like Mr. Mulligan, I am giving up on grapes.  The “Valiants” were my last attempt following several others, all failures.

I am looking forward to adding up to a dozen new currant and gooseberries this spring, including a wild one I found growing along the Clearwater River.  A dwarf black, actually listed in the Alaskan Guide of Edible Plants … etc.  Although described as musky and astringent, we did not find it to be.