Currants and gooseberries (ribes species) have long been popular in Europe, but following attempts at eradication due to fears of the white pine blister rust, they are hardly known here in the US. Native varieties can be found throughout the woods in Vermont. Named varieties have been chosen for fruit quality. Many have also been selected for resistance to the white pine blister rust. The low shrubs produce clusters of delicious, sweet-tart fruits which are high in pectin thus excellent for preserves.
One of the only berries that will produce a crop in the shade, ribes thrive in cooler spots, near trees or protected from hot late afternoon sun. They like fertile soils rich in organic matter. Plants are self-fertile, but may produce better crops with a pollinator. Plant 4-6 feet apart or closer for a hedge.
Black Currants (Ribes nigrum)
Black currants tend to be hardy and vigorous. The deep black berries are tart and flavorful. Okay for fresh eating when fully ripe but fantastic lightly sweetened for preserves, sauce or combined with other fruit. They grow to about 4 ft and suffer less pest and foliage issues than other ribes making them a good choice as an edible ornamental.
Red Currants (Ribes rubrum)
Red currants produce bright red tart berries primarily for jam or jelly celebrated across northern Europe. In a soil rich with organic matter red currants can produce for generations. They leaf out very early in the spring and foliage often looks raggy by the end of summer; don't fret, they will be shiny again in the spring.
Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa)
As suggested by the botanical name, gooseberries are a crisp berry and the best of the ribes family for fresh eating. They grow to about 3 ft, are less thorny, and have a slightly sprawling habit. Try to keep them weeded so the fruits don't get lost in the grass.
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