In our continued efforts to provide educational outreach, the Baltimore County Master Gardeners (BCMG), volunteers who are part of the University of Maryland Extension, offer this newest installment in our monthly newsletters designed to provide timely, informative articles to assist you in your gardening activities.
This month learn about Clove currants. How productive was the Demo Garden?
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Seasons Greetings from your
Baltimore County Master Gardeners
Clove Currants by Deana Karras, Baltimore County Master Gardener
The clove currant (ribes odoratum; ribes aureum var. villosum) is an American black currant not widely known or planted but again gaining interest as a native fruiting shrub. More commonly planted in the earlier twentieth century as an ornamental shrub, its popularity was due to the intensely aromatic scent of cloves (sometimes described as accented with vanilla or carnation) given off by its early spring blooms.
Also referred to as buffalo currant, Missouri currant, and golden currant, clove currants are native to the American Midwest from the very south to the very north, which conveys its excellent heat and cold tolerance. They are also not fussy about soil, tolerating clay (although not wet clay), with some sources listing a preference for slightly acidic soil and others slightly alkaline. Soil rich in organic matter is ideal. Clove currants are thornless and can grow 5 -8 feet high and wide but are easily controlled with pruning. Space plants 6 feet apart or space 3 feet in a hedge in full sun (6 hours of direct sun) or part sun (4-6 hours). Currants will fruit more heavily in more sun. Plant in the late fall or very early spring and prune to just an inch or two above ground level. This will force the plant to put most of its energy into developing a strong root system in its first year. Most shrubs will bear fruit 2 years after planting.
The habit is reminiscent of forsythia (but not so vigorous!), loosely branched and arching, with some tendency to suckering. The deciduous foliage is bluish-green and turns a purplish red in fall. Those very fragrant blossoms are yellow trumpets with a hint of red that dangle down from the branches, sometimes in clusters of up to 20 flowers highly attractive to pollinators. The black berries (rarely orange or yellow) are blueberry-sized and ripen mid to late summer. The berries ripen unevenly, which requires picking individual berries to harvest.
Clove currants generally require another plant as a pollinator. Crandall, introduced in 1888, is a popular and easy-to-find variety that is self-pollinating and also mildew-resistant. It is also somewhat smaller at 3-5 feet. Clove currants are less susceptible to white pine blister rust than European currants. And they are not preferred by deer!
Fruits are produced on 1 to 3-year-old canes, often most heavily on spurs from 2-year-old wood. Prune out any canes older than 3 years. Leave 6-8 vigorous canes. For a more upright habit, prune out horizontal canes at ground level.
What to do with that fruity harvest? Currants make excellent jams with no need for a thickening agent; also tarts, pies, juices, and wines. You can also dry them. They are high in antioxidants, vitamin C and, for berries, calcium. We have two new little plants in the BCMG Demonstration Gardens Orchard. Visit the Demo Garden and check out their progress!
Tree- High Country Gardens- highcountrygardens.com/
Flower- High Country Gardens- highcountrygardens.com/
Fruit- Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery- ftcollinswholesalenursery.com/
by Norman Cohen and Rochel Schwarz, Baltimore County Master Gardeners
The University of Maryland Extension initiated the Grow It-Eat It (GI-EI) program in 2009. The purpose of the GI-ET program is to promote backyard and community food production. The Master Gardeners teach classes, develop demonstration gardens and educate Marylanders on how to grow their own affordable vegetables utilizing sustainable horticulture.
The Baltimore County Master Gardeners, in 2010, started the GIEI Demonstration vegetable garden component with the construction of an eight-foot fence to keep out the deer. The demo vegetable garden, which started originally with 4 plots, has evolved to 9. The plots are: summer fruits, leaves, roots, legumes, containers, perennial vegetables, asparagus, blueberries, and vegetable of the year. The demo garden is harvested through the gardening season and usually finished by mid-October. However, with that being said, Garlic was planted in October of 2022 and harvested in mid-June of 2023. Starting in late March or early April, the public is encouraged to attend, to observe, and to be educated in sustainable vegetable gardening.
This year we harvested 493 lbs of produce. They were donated to Associated Churches of Towson Pantry, Rock City Church, A Can Can Make a Difference Food Bank or given to whoever was in the garden at the time.
Here is a listing of the production:
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