How to Grow Ribes – Flowering Currant

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Ribes–commonly known as currant or flowering currant–is a genus of mostly deciduous shrubs; some are grown for their edible fruits that follow flowers, others are cultivated primarily for their spring flowers and summer foliage.

Edible members of the Ribes genus include black currants (Ribes nigrum), red currants (R. rubrum), and gooseberries (R. uva-crispa).

Ribes grown as flowering shrubs include Ribes laurifoium which flowers in late winter, R. speciosum and R. viburnifolium and R. sanguineum that are often grown in informal hedges and R. alpinum which can be sheared into a formal hedge.

Ribes is a genus of about 150 usually deciduous shrubs, sometimes spiny, found primarily in temperate areas. Ribes flowers are small and colorful flowers. They are tubular, cup-, or bell-shaped and can appear singly or in pendent racemes. The leaves are usually lobed and toothed. 

Most Ribes including currants and gooseberries are easy to grow in ordinary soil. They can be massed in difficult sites. Many members of the genus are prone to pine blister rust and other problems and do best where air circulation is good and humidity low. Members of the Ribes genus that are host to white pine blister rust are banned in a few areas where white pines grow. 

To rejuvenate mature plants, cut back a portion of producing shoots after flowering or fruiting. R. alpinum can be sheared as a formal hedge. 

Get to know Ribes

  • Plant type: Evergreen and deciduous shrubs 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones vary with species, Zones 2-9
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 2
  • Height and width: 2 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide depending on variety
  • Foliage: Alternate, 3- to 5-lobed leaves
  • Flowers: small, tubular, cup- or bell-shaed flwoers each with small petals and 4 or 5 spreading sepals borne singly or in pendent racemes
  • Bloom time: Spring or summer
  • Fruits: Berrylike fruits are spherical or ovoid and vary in color from red or black to green or white
  • Uses: Shrub border, informal hedging; Ribes attract birds, butterflies, and bees
  • Common name: Flowering currant
  • Botanical name: Ribes
  • Family name: Grossulariaceae 
  • Origin: Northern temperatre regions
Ripe blackcurrants, Rribes nigrum
Ripe blackcurrants, Rribes nigrum

Where to plant Ribes

  • Grow Ribes in full sun; it will tolerate partial shade.
  • Plant Ribes in moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Ribes can be grown in clay or chalk soil.

When to plant Ribes

  • Set container-grown Ribes in the garden in spring or autumn.

Planting and spacing Ribes

  • Space Ribes 3 to 8 feet apart depending on the variety.

How to water and feed Ribes

  • Ribes needs moderate watr once established. Water when the soil is nearly dry.
  • Fertilize Ribes with a slow-release organic fertilizer in spring.

Ribes care

  • Mulch at the base of plants with aged compost in spring and auumn.
  • Trim Ribes hedges after flowering.

Ribes pests and diseases

  • Ribes is prone to attack by aphids, caterpillars, scale insects.
  • Ribes is susceptible to dieback, downy mildew, anthracnose, powdery mildew, rust, white heart rot, and Septoria leaf spot.

Ribes propagation

  • Root hardwood cuttings of deciduous flowering currants in winter.
  • Root semi-ripe cuttings of evergreen in summer.

Ribes varieties to grow

  • Ribes alpinum. Alpine currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to Europe. Dense, twiggy growth to 4-5 ft. (rarely taller) and equally wide. Roundish, ½-1 ½-in.-wide, deep bright green leaves with toothed, lobed edges appear very early in spring. Flowers and fruit are not showy. Good hedge. ‘Green Mound’ and ‘Green Jeans’ are dwarf forms about half the size of the species. Regular water. 
  • R. aureum (R. odoratum). Golden currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to inland regions of the West. Erect growth to 3-6 ft. tall and wide. Light green leaves with lobed, toothed edges. Small, bright yellow spring flowers, usually with a spicy fragrance, in 1-2 ½-in.-long clusters. Summer berries turn from yellow to red to black. Moderate to regular water. Rust-resistant ‘Crandall’ (R. odoratum ‘Crandall’) has large, shiny black fruit with the rich, sweet-tart flavor of R. nigrumR. a. gracillimum, the more tender California form, has unscented blooms that age to reddish orange. 
  • R. indecorum. White flowering currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to Coast Ranges in Southern California. To 6-9 ft. tall, 4-6 ft. wide. Thickish, scallop-edged leaves to 1 ½ in. long; dark green and roughly hairy above, white and fuzzy beneath. Clusters of small white flowers enclosed in pink bracts put on a good show in winter. Needs no irrigation but will tolerate garden watering. 
  • R. malvaceum. Chaparral currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to slopes in California’s Coast Ranges. To 5 ft. tall and wide, with hairy, roundish dull green leaves and short clusters of fragrant pink flowers throughout fall, winter. Red fruit. Needs no irrigation, but give it moderate water if you don’t want it to go dormant in summer. 
  • R. nigrum. Black currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to Europe and Asia. To 3-5 ft. tall and wide. Deep green, three-lobed leaves have an odd scent. Drooping clusters of whitish spring flowers develop into juicy, shiny black fruit with a sweet-tart flavor like that of blackberry. Regular water. 
  • R. odoratum. See R. aureum. 
  • R. sanguineum. Red flowering currant. Deciduous shrub. Native to Coast Ranges from California to British Columbia. To 5-12 ft. tall and wide, with maplelike, dark green leaves. In spring, produces drooping, 2-4-in.-long clusters of 10 to 30 small deep pink to red flowers. Blue-black fruit has a whitish bloom. Most commonly sold is R. s. glutinosum (more southernly in origin than the species); its blossoms are typically deep or pale pink, carried in clusters of 15 to 40. ‘Barrie Coate’, ‘Elk River Red’, ‘King Edward VII’, and ‘Pulborough Scarlet’ are red-flowering selections. Pink varieties include ‘Brocklebankii’, with gold foliage; ‘Claremont’, with two-tone blossoms aging to red; ‘Poky’s Pink’; and ‘Spring Showers’, with 8-in. flower clusters. ‘Album’ and ‘White Icicle’ are good white varieties. Little to moderate water. 
  • R. speciosum. Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry. Nearly evergreen shrub. Native near coast, from central coast of California south to Baja California. Erect to 4-8 ft. tall, 6-10 ft. wide, with spiny, often bristly stems. Thick-textured, maplelike, 1-in. leaves are glossy dark green above, lighter beneath. Deep crimson to cherry red flowers, borne winter to spring, are drooping and fuchsia-like, with long, protruding stamens. Gummy, bristly red berries. Excellent barrier. Needs no irrigation, but moderate water keeps it nearly evergreen in summer (it can also take regular moisture). Partial shade in hottest climates. 
  • R. viburnifolium. Catalina perfume, evergreen currant. Evergreen shrub. Native to Catalina Island, Baja California. To 3-6 ft. tall, spreading to 12 ft. wide. Wine red stems are arching or half trailing; they may root in moist soil. Roundish, leathery dark green leaves are fragrant after rain or when crushed (some liken the scent to pine, others to apples). Light pink to purplish flowers from midwinter into spring. Red berries. To keep plant low, cut out upright-growing stems. Needs partial shade in hottest climates. Needs no irrigation but can take moderate water. Good on banks or under native oaks where watering is undesirable. 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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