Black currants -- once nearly eradicated in the U.S. out of fear they harboured a threat to the lumber industry -- are making a comeback. Popular in Europe and Asia, the small black berries are high in antioxidants and Vitamin C. The sharp taste usually requires sugar and the berries are prized for jams, jellies, baked goods and even beer. Many nurseries now carry black currant starts, which are hardy from Zones 3 to 8. However, with some patience, the bushes can be started from the tiny seeds found in the berries.
Pull black currant berries from the bush when they are fully ripened -- usually July and August -- at peak seed maturation.
Place several currant berries in a piece of muslin. Turn on the kitchen sink, and place the muslin cloth under cold running water for several minutes. Gently squeeze the currant berries inside the cloth, allowing the pulp to separate from the seeds, as the water runs over the bag.
Remove the cloth bag from the water and wring the excess water out of the material. Open the muslin; the seeds should be separated from the pulp and easy to see. Place the opened cloth on a cloth or paper towel and allow the seeds to air dry.
Place peat or potting soil in a polyurethane (plastic) bag. Add water until the "soil" is moist to the touch, but not soaking wet. Mix the dried currant seeds into the medium, and seal the bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator -- such as the fruit or vegetable drawer -- for approximately three months to simulate winter conditions.
Sow the seeds as soon a possible after the stratification period to begin seedlings. Mix the stratification medium in with potting soil -- preferably in a large, somewhat shallow container. Water the soil and keep it moist, but not saturated. Place the container in a cold frame.
Place seedlings in individual peat pots with potting soil once they are large enough to transplant. Continue to keep the soil moist.
Check the pH level in the soil before transplanting the seedlings in the spring. Currants prefer a level of 6.5 to 7. Mix compost or peat into the soil to prepare it for the new currant seedlings.
Transplant larger seedlings into the ground in spring, after the threat of frost has passed. If planting multiple bushes, place them 4 to 5 feet apart in a row. If making multiple rows, place at least 6 feet between rows. Mulch around the base of the plant to preserve moisture and protect the young roots.
- California Rare Fruit Growers: Currants
- Natural Resources Conservation Services: American Black Currant
- National Seed Laboratory; "Ribes L."; Robert D. Pfister et al;
- Cactus Art: Seed Stratification
- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service; "Hotbeds and Cold Frames"; Michael N. Dana et al; July 2005
- Black currants propagate easily through cuttings -- taking a section of a healthy currant bush, cutting a stem and rooting a new plant from that section.
- Black currants propagate naturally from seeds in the wild; new plants emerge in the spring.
- Black currants will not do well in acidic soil.