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Aug 102012

Currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries are quite easy to grow in Idaho. These fruits in the genus Ribes were once grown commercially in the United States and Canada. All of them, particularly black currants, are grown in Europe and New Zealand today. American fruit growers are also once more considering currants and gooseberries for commercial production.

Currant and gooseberry production, particularly black currants, has largely been restricted in the United States because these crops can serve as alternate hosts of white pine blister rust, which has caused major problems for the timber industry. At one time, efforts were even made to eradicate all domestic and native gooseberries and currants in the country. Although these eradication efforts failed, the development of new selections of blister rust resistant white pine, currants, and gooseberries has reduced the problems associated with the disease, and restrictions on Ribes cultivation are being relaxed. There are currently no restrictions on growing currants or gooseberries in Idaho.

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Growing Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries in the Inland Northwest and Intermountain West

All Currants and Gooseberries

Cold hardiness: 20 to -31 F
Optimal pH: 5.8 to 6.8

Black Currants

Expected yield: 5 pounds per bush
Age to maturity: 3 to 4 years
Productive life: 15 years or more
Spacing: 8 to 10 feet apart 4 to 5 feet apart in rows

Red and White Currants

Expected yield: 5 to 8 pounds per bush
Age to maturity: 3 to 4 years
Productive life: 15 to 20 years or more
Spacing: 8 to 10 feet apart 4 to 5 feet apart in rows


Expected yield: 5 pounds per bush
Age to maturity: 4 to 5 years
Productive life: 15 to 20 years or more
Spacing: 8 to 10 feet apart 4 to 5 feet apart in rows

Red and white currants are genetically the same, differing only in fruit color. These colorful, tart fruits can be eaten fresh, make excellent jellies and syrups, and brighten up dishes when used as garnishes. Black currants were developed from different species and lack the bright, translucent skins of their red and white cousins. Except for the American black currant variety ‘Crandall,’ black currants have a strong flavor that makes them best suited for processing into jellies, syrups, and other foods. Black currant juices and drinks are rich in vitamin C and other beneficial compounds, and are tremendously popular in Europe. Black currants are also rich in anthocyanins, phenolic acids, and antioxidant capacity, making them particularly healthy additions to the home garden.

Currants are noted for their cold hardiness. You can grow them successfully in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3b to 7.

Gooseberries range from white to yellow to green to red in color and vary in size, from small marbles to plum-sized fruits. They resemble grapes in appearance and flavor, and make good substitutes in the garden in locations too cold for grape production.

Jostaberries are hybrids between gooseberries and black currants. The very vigorous, thorn-free canes bear dark purple fruits about the size of medium-sized marbles. The fruits lack the strong black currant flavor and can be used fresh or processed.

Selecting a Site

Ribes are adapted to cool, moist conditions and are noted for their cold hardiness. They do not, however, tolerate high temperatures well, especially when combined with intense sunlight. They can be grown in partial shade, but yields are better in full sun. For reliable fruit production, your site should have 120 to 140 or more frost-free days. Mountain and valley locations in northern and central Idaho are excellent for currants. High temperatures combined with intense sunlight and droughty, alkaline soils can make production difficult in parts of southeastern and southwestern Idaho. In these areas, consider growing currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries in partial shade, preferably screened from the afternoon sun.

Ribes grow best on deep, organic-rich, well-drained soils with good water-holding capacity and a pH of 5.8 to 6.8. They tolerate heavier soils and poorer drainage than raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries, although they grow and produce better when the soils are well drained. On heavy soils, alkaline soils, or poorly drained sites, grow these crops in raised beds at least twelve inches high and three to four feet wide.

Pests and Diseases

Several pests and diseases can make Ribes production challenging in Idaho. Powdery mildew damages stems, leaves, and fruits, and can kill highly susceptible plants. In general, European gooseberries are the most susceptible Ribes crop, followed by black currants and red and white currants. Jostaberries are quite resistant to powdery mildew. Starting in early spring just as the new leaves are emerging, applications of sulfur sprays every two weeks can help control powdery mildew. Stylet crop oil can also help control mildew. Dormant applications of lime sulfur and/or Bordeaux fungicides help control the disease, as does raking up and disposing of leaves and prunings. By far the most effective strategy is to select varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew.

Avoid problems with white pine blister rust by planting resistant varieties. If you live within one mile of native or ornamental five-needled pines, plant only varieties known to be resistant to blister rust. For information on controlling currant and gooseberry diseases, click here.

Several pests can seriously damage currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries if left unmanaged. Imported currant worm, currant fruit fly, and various stem borers are the most common and serious pests. For information on identifying and controlling these pests, click here.


Red and white currants are generally considered self-fruitful, but can benefit from cross pollination on some sites and in some years. For reliable production, plant two red or white currant varieties together. White and red varieties can pollinate one another. Black currants are at least partially self-sterile and you should plant two varieties close together to ensure good fruit set. For black currants, the variety ‘Titania’ is the best blister rust-resistant variety available in the United States. Use ‘Consort,’ ‘Coronet,’ or ‘Crusader’ black currants as cross pollinators.

Because they are highly susceptible to powdery mildew, European gooseberries can be very challenging to grow in Idaho. American varieties, although generally producing smaller fruits, are much easier and more reliable to grow here.

Only a few jostaberry varieties are available. ‘Josta’ is the most common. Other varieties include ‘Jostaki’ and ‘Jostagrande (a.k.a ‘Jogrande’). The latter two should be planted together to ensure cross pollination. Josta is partially self-fruitful and can be grown alone.


Most currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries are pruned while they are dormant during the late winter and early spring, but you can prune any time after the leaves have dropped in the fall. Fall pruning improves air circulation around bushes during wet fall, winter, and spring months, and can decrease disease problems. Remove unwanted canes as close to the ground as possible, and always remove drooping canes that lie close to the ground. Canes are normally not shortened or headed back. Be careful while pruning red currants, white currants, and gooseberries not to damage the spurs. Most of the fruit for these crops is borne on short spurs on two and three-year old canes. Black currants bear most of their crop at the base of one-year-old shoots and spurs on two-year-old wood.

With mature red and white currant, gooseberry, and jostaberry bushes, your goal should be to keep three or four strong, new canes per plant each year, and to remove an equal number of the oldest canes. In this system, mature plants have nine to twelve canes after pruning, three to four each of one-, two-, and three-year-old wood. Remove all wood that is four years old or older.

Black currants are more vigorous than other currants and gooseberries, and you normally leave more canes. As a general rule, leave ten to twelve vigorous canes per bush. If the bushes are very vigorous, leave a few more canes. About half of the canes left after pruning should be one-year-old, with the remaining half being vigorous two-year-old canes. Remove all canes that are more than two years old.

Weed Control

Mulch your plants to provide weed control. Four inches of sawdust mulch around currants and gooseberries helps control annual weeds, maintain soil moisture, and keep soils cool. Rake mulches away from plants in early spring to allow the soil to dry and warm. Cold, wet soils retard plant growth. Ensure that quackgrass and any other perennial weeds are eradicated before applying mulch.

 August 10, 2012