Alpine CurrantRibes alpinum
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The Alpine Currant is a small to medium-sized deciduous shrub forming a round bush up to 6 feet tall and wide. It has attractive lobed leaves that turn clear yellow in fall, and smooth gray stems. Some plants may produce bright-red berries in mid-summer. A great plant for low-maintenance gardening in cold zones, and easy to turn into hedges and screens, as well as cover slopes and banks, or fill the backs of beds in sun or full shade.
The Alpine Currant is incredibly cold-resistant, thriving even in zone 2. It grows everywhere from full sun to full shade, and in all soils that are well-drained – even urban soils and rocky areas with little soil on them. It doesn’t have significant pests or diseases and it isn’t eaten by rabbits. Our plants are male clones that don’t act as vectors for white pine blister rust.
In cooler parts of the country there is always a need for reliable, cold-resistant shrubs that create a pleasant garden without needing much attention. Few if any do it as well as the reliable Alpine Currant. Almost an heirloom plant, this classic cold-zone shrub is perfect where you want to fill spaces or make low hedges with an attractive no-nonsense plant that you won’t have to fuss over. Even in zone 2 this shrub survives easily, and you can trim or not, as you choose. The pretty lobed leaves are carried right to the ground, turning yellow in fall, and bright-red berries are often scattered across the bushes in midsummer. When you have spots where not much will grow, the Alpine Currant is your friend, and a friend to birds and butterflies too – but not to pesky deer, who usually leave it alone. It’s easily trimmed even if gardening isn’t your thing, so you can enjoy an attractive garden without needing a green thumb. OK, it might not be a showstopper, but we all need reliable friends, even if they aren’t the life of the party.
The Alpine Currant is a deciduous shrub with slender pale-gray stems, branching low down and making a rounded bush that is usually between 3 and 6 feet tall and wide, although older untrimmed bushes can become a few feet larger. Young twigs are glossy and older ones develop a rough bark that is darker gray-brown. The rounded leaves are up to 1½ inches long, although often smaller, and they are divided into 3 or 5 shallow lobes, giving them an irregular outline vaguely suggesting a maple leaf. The surface is slightly hairy, and a healthy green, turning clear yellow in fall.
This plant has male and female flowers on separate plants, and plants produce long clusters of greenish-yellow flowers in early spring. Male clusters are up to 1½ inches long, and female clusters are no more than ¾ of an inch long. These are not very showy, but if you have several plants in your garden, then any female bushes will produce bunches of bright red berries by mid-summer. These are edible but not tasty, and last a while, brightening the plants, before providing valuable food for hungry birds. Please note that our plants are normally all male, because female bushes can spread the dangerous pine disease called white pine blister rust. This is particularly a problem in the east and northeast, so growing female bushes is not a good idea.
As a no-nonsense shrub for filling beds and making lower hedges, the Alpine Currant is a winner, especially in colder zones where plant choices are much more limited. Grow it at the back of beds, perhaps in the shade beneath larger shrubs, to bring structure and fullness to your garden. It’s excellent as a hedge or screen, perhaps along a path or driveway, or to hide an ugly fence or wall. It enjoys rocky ground, so use it on banks and slopes and in exposed, dry places. It is great for screening unsightly equipment like air-con from view, and for filling spaces wherever you have them. For group planting and hedges, space plants 2 to 3 feet apart – use the closer spacing for shorter hedges.
The Alpine Currant is remarkably hardy, growing without winter damage even in zone 2, and through all the cooler zones into zone 7. In hotter zones leaf diseases can become an issue, and there are many better choices in those zones.
The versatile Alpine Currant will grow happily in full sun, and also in partial shade, with just a couple of hours of direct sunshine. It will even grow in full shade that isn’t too dark, such as along the north side of a wall or fence, although growth will be more open. When it comes to soil, ‘bring it on’ is the motto of this tough plant. It will grow in poor soil where most other plants fail, and in everything from sand to clay and acid to alkaline soils. It also grows well in rocky areas with minimal amounts of soil. Just don’t plant it in wet, low-lying areas. Established plants are drought-resistant.
Pests and diseases aren’t problems, but notice our earlier comment about female bushes acting as go-betweens for the fungus that causes white pine blister rust. This disease has little impact on the health of the currant bushes themselves, and 0ur male plants are safe to grow in the east. This bush isn’t eaten by rabbits, and it is very easy to grow. It can be pruned at just about any time of year – we suggest a trim in late spring, after it has leafed out fully. For extra neat bushes you might want a second trim in summer.
The Alpine currant, Ribes alpinum, is also known as mountain currant. It grows across a large part of Europe, from Scandinavia and the British Isles into Spain, Italy and Bulgaria. In southern countries it is found only in mountain regions. It grows on slopes and in rocky areas, and in woods in cooler regions. It’s cold resistance made it an early popular choice for gardens in colder parts of America and Canada. It has been grown for so long, and appears in so many older gardens, that it has heirloom status and it’s very appropriate for gardens around older homes.
Despite the availability of other hardy plants, the Alpine Currant remains a reliable favorite when you want a garden that takes care of itself, especially in the coldest parts of the country. A true plant for the gardens of non-gardeners, you can be sure this is one plant that you can grow. Lots of other people feel the same way, so it always sells quickly, so order now, while our stock stays available.