Red flowering currants are an amazing Pacific Northwest native shrub

Red Flowering Currants – An Amazing Pacific Northwest Native Shrub

Every spring, I look forward to seeing all our red flowering currants burst into bloom. This happens before most other plants have even started to leaf out. The deep pinks, pastels, and occasionally white flowers of these currants really do usher in spring—often blooming just before the official first day of the season. But these great Pacific Northwest native plants bring a lot more than their beauty. Let’s dive into these amazing native shrubs!

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Red flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) were one of the first native plants that I started growing here. I was getting them in the ground just a few months after we bought our property.

I wasn’t very familiar with them at the time, but they checked a lot of boxes for what I was looking for. Plus, I’d seen them blooming around the area and I thought they were lovely.

So what do red flowering currants bring to your property? Well for starters, as a native plant, they help support a greater amount of wildlife diversity. But they also do so much more. Here are the highlights:

  1. Very early spring blooms, before most other flowers are available.
  2. Great hedgerow/thicket shrub.
  3. Provides currants for wildlife in the summer.
  4. The flowers can make a nice-tasting tea.
  5. The currants are edible, though best for mixing with other berries.

Plus, they’re quite drought tolerant and they don’t require extra care here in western Washington.

They really are a great all-around native shrub, and a good option if you’re looking to add more native shrubs to your property.

But red flowering currants are just one example of a fantastic native plant. There are many more out there for you to discover! And to help you keep track of them all, we’ve made a native plant tracker that you can use. Don’t forget to grab your copy so you can start keeping track of all the amazing native plants you discover.

Getting Started with Red Flowering Currants

Red flowering currants really brighten up spring days

I really love how beautiful red flowering currants are. They really brighten up the early spring landscape.

Red flowering currants are a very resilient native shrub that can be found growing up and down the west coast of North America, from California up into British Columbia, and even a little bit into northern Idaho according to the USDA.

Because of how beautiful they are, you can often find cultivars for sale from regular nurseries if you live in this plant’s native range.

But those cultivars are often fairly expensive. A better option is to get some from a native plant nursery. I’ve got some links to sources for you at the end of this section.

As mentioned earlier, red flowering currants are very resilient and don’t seem to mind drought conditions once established.

Though I’ve had some lose a branch or 2 during really dry summers. But most don’t seem bothered by summer droughts.

In fact, they’re not a big fan of wet feet, and they do best in well drained soils that don’t become saturated during the winter. They’re not a wetland plant. But even in my heavy silty-clay soils, my red flowering currants have all done beautifully.

Like other native plants, they’re well adapted to the climate and growing conditions in our area. Once established, they don’t require extra care to thrive.

Red flowering currants are generally found in open forests and woodland edges where they get a mix of sunlight and shade. Though you will find them growing out in full sun too, if the site isn’t too dry.

These plants can get fairly large—up to around 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 6 feet (1.8 meters) or more wide.

And while deer will sometimes browse on them, I’ve found that they tend to be left alone. Though I would still protect your plants when they’re young.

Another great thing about red flowering currants is that they live stake fairly easily. This means that you can cut off a woody branch in the fall or winter once your red flowering currant has gone dormant, and then just stick it in the ground. That stick will then root and start growing into a new plant.

I’ve found the resulting new plant is slow to grow for the first couple years, but then grows fine after that. Despite their slow start, the majority of live-staked red flowering currants seem to survive and grow fine.

Wild Tip:

Wait till the red flowering currant has gone dormant and lost all its leaves—late November and into December is a good time to do this. Then take a cutting from a first-year branch—a branch that just grew during the previous growing season. Once you’ve got your cutting, just stick the bottom of the cutting in the ground down as far as it will go without bending or breaking it. You want at least 2-3 buds on the part of the cutting that is still above ground.

If you get a few red flowering currants established on your property, you can easily add more just by using live staking. A good general rule is to put 2-3 live stakes in for every 1 plant you ultimately want.

Here is some more information to help you get started with red flowering currants.

Info on Red Flowering Currants - Ribes sanguineum

  • First Harvest: 2nd year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 4-9
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun-partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 10 feet (3 meters) high and 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide
  • Purchase:  Potted plants, bareroots (wholesale--$200 USD minimum order and only seasonally available)
  • Note: While they produce edible currants they're best grown for wildlife. Though the currants can be dried into "raisins" or mixed with other berries. And the flowers can be used to make a refreshing spring tea.

Benefits of Growing Red Flowering Currants

Red flowering currants can be grown in hedgerows and thickets

I’ve planted red flowering currants in all of my hedgerows, and the wildlife just love them.

I will fully admit that a big reason I’ve planted so many red flowering currants is because of how beautiful they are. Our winters here can be long, grey and wet. But when the red flowering currants burst into flower, I know spring has arrived.

But these great native plants provide a lot of benefits for wildlife.

Because they flower so early, they’re a critical source of food for hummingbirds, bumblebees and many other pollinators.

Most of the time, there are very few other flowers available for pollinators.

We get tons of hummingbirds visiting our red flowering currants each spring. It really is fun to watch them zipping around to all the bright red flowers.

And I’ve also noticed that songbirds love to take cover inside the red flowering currant bushes. Especially when they’re grown as part of a hedgerow or thicket.

But you can also eat the currants, though I’ve found them to be seedy and not that tasty.

The flowers, on the other hand, make a good early-spring tea.

I haven’t tried doing this, but the currants are supposed to be sweeter if you dry them so they look more like a raisin. You could also try mixing them with other berries to make fruit leathers, smoothies, etc.

Or you can just leave the currants on the bush for the birds and other wildlife. I’ve found that by the end of summer, almost all the currants have been eaten by wildlife.

For me, red flowering currants really are a plant that I plant to give back to the land and to the wildlife that call it home. As a native plant, it supports a wide range of wildlife, including picky specialist insects that rely on it to survive.

But of course, I also love how beautiful they are. They simply belong. Red flowering currants make a wonderful addition to any property here in the Pacific Northwest.

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

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