Lyndon Penner, who is a regular on CBC Calgary, was a guest speaker at the Red Deer and District Garden Club. He is touring to promote a new book on gardening design, but on this particular evening he spoke on currants and gooseberries.
Penner likes these plants as they are dual purpose: they are attractive and produce food.
Currants and gooseberries form small compact bushes that are approximately three feet by three feet (one metre by one metre).
Currants develop long strands of attractive berries as soon as the flowers begin to fade in early spring.
Gooseberry fruit is solitary and mature at the end of the season after a light frost.
Both plants have attractive green leaves in the summer that change into bright yellow or red in the fall, depending on variety.
New varieties have been introduced with larger berries with improved taste.
Currants are divided by the colour of the fruit: black, red and white.
Gooseberries form singular berries that turn dark when ripe.
Lyndon suggested that black currants be used in recipes to replace blueberries and blackberries, while red currants can replace rhubarb in pies. Currants and gooseberries both make great jelly.
Plant the bushes in an area that will get at least six hours of sunlight a day.
Do not use as hedges as both currants and gooseberries tend to get mildew if grown close together.
Sawflies can be a problem with both currants and gooseberries.
The flies lay eggs under the leaves. The eggs hatch into worms or maggots, which defoliate the shrubs.
Sawflies will not kill the plants but they do cause them to drop their fruit.
Currant fruit fly was not mentioned by Lyndon but it can be a problem with currants and gooseberries. The fly will lay one egg per berry. After five to eight days, the larva hatches and eats the seed within the fruit.
Fruit will mature early and fall to the ground, where the larva emerge and burrow into the ground, overwintering as cocoons to emerge as flies the following spring.
The best method to rid the bushes of insects is to break the cycle.
Once established, the plants are drought resistant. But as with any fruit, they are sweeter if they have received ample amounts of moisture during the growing season. If the fruit is not harvested or protected, it will attract birds into the yard.
For those who wish to venture into larger fruit, Penner suggested growing any of the cherries that have been developed by the University of Saskatchewan. Expect the bushes to die back for a number of years until they become established. Once established, they will form an attractive small tree.
Penner’s favourite apples are Honey Crisp or September Ruby. He told the audience to expect winter dieback with Honey Crisp trees until the tree becomes established.
There are a number of attractive, fruiting plants that can be grown on the prairies. Use the plants to help develop an attractive and productive landscape.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.