It's been a 'glad to be alive' day in the garden today - there's nothing like a drop of winter sunshine on your back to inspire you to get on with stuff that needs finishing up. Even my journey to work was a pleasure - enlivened by ragged crocodiles of men on bikes grinding up the long hill in front of me. Their mesmerising lycra-clad buns of steel were a timely reminder that the sap is rising and time for winter pruning is fast running out. So I'm happy to report that today I finally finished sorting out the soft fruit bushes.
The key fact about currants and gooseberries is that blackcurrants fruit best on new wood, while red/white currants and gooseberries fruit on old wood. If you can't sort out your blackcurrants from your redcurrants, (and they do look extremely similar without fruit on), have a sniff. All parts of a blackcurrant; a crushed leaf, a cut stem and even the roots, smell strongly of Ribena. Redcurrants just smell like... well - like plants.
The old/new wood thing means that you should take a different approach to pruning. Blackcurrants need 'renewal pruning', where you take out about a third of the (oldest) stems from the base. A well tended blackcurrant bush should be a forest of slim young stems, with none of the growth more than about 3 years old.
With red/whitecurrants and gooseberries the aim is to build up a mature fruiting framework by 'spur pruning'. Treat each branch as a cordon and work along it cutting all the side shoots back to two or three buds. Fruit buds will form on these spurs and the wood will develop a more craggy appearance as the bark ages.