Monday, April 11, 2011

Red-flowering Currant: an Early-Blooming Oregon Native

Early spring blooms of the Red-flowering currant
Whether you're creating an all-native landscape or just looking to add some early interest to your yard, the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) is one good choice.  It's a drought-tolerant NW native, and the abundant red to pink flowers that each shrub produces are a good source of nectar for many native pollinating insects (such as Mason bees).  The plant fact sheet from the NRCS says that Red-flowering currants also provide "...early spring nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, forage for the larvae of more than two dozen species of moths and butterflies, and nesting sites or cover for songbirds and small mammals. Numerous birds including grouse, quail, robins, finches, towhees, and woodpeckers, and small mammals consume the berries." This deciduous shrub is also a good choice because of it's toughness and resistance to disease.

I used two Red-flowering currants in my native landscaping, and I couldn't be happier with them.  They've been problem free for the two years since planting them, and they've quickly grown from single small sticks to full, beautiful bushes.  I've caught glimpses of hummingbirds enjoying the blooms, but haven't been quick enough to catch them on camera yet. 

Red-flowering currant (left) about two months after planting

Red-flowering currants can grow quite large - 8 to 10 feet tall and wide, or more.   But if you know how to prune them, they can easily be kept to an appropriate size for almost any placement.  Since Red-flowering currants bloom on old wood, the best time to prune is just after blooming.  This encourages new growth and more blooms the next year.  Depending on how small you want to keep the bush, choose a pair of buds and prune just above.  You should also prune out any dead branches and a few of the oldest branches or canes every year.

Same bush one year after planting
This is the first year that I've had to think about pruning my currants, because they've just reached a size that suits their placement.  I think I'll maintain the one pictured at its current size (below), and let the other one continue to grow for a year or two, to create a little more of a screen.  It would be interesting to see it 12 feet tall, but I think about 6 feet would be ideal.  My bushes are still full of blooms at the moment, but I'll try to update this post when I prune, just to show how I did it.

The same bush two years after planting
For more information about Red-flowering currants, see this fact sheet from the NRCS, and this growing guide from Rainy Side Gardeners.




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