When I say cranberries, what comes to mind?
All of these things come to my mind when cranberries are in your thoughts. To say I’m a fan of cranberries is an understatement. I love their tart flavor and their long shelf life too.
Which is why I'm happy to learn how to grow these wonderful fruits in my garden. Did you assume because they’re commercially grown under water, they couldn’t grow in your garden?
Well, I thought this way too. When I realized the gardening possibilities, I had to share what I’ve learned with you all.
Here’s what you need to know about growing cranberries in your garden:
Cranberry Plant Info:
- Hardiness Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
- Soil: Loamy, sandy, clay, PH between 4.0 to 5.5, poorly-drained, moist, boggy
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Planting: Plant in fall from October to early November, in spring from mid-April to end May
- Spacing: 11 to 12 inches between plants and rows
- Depth: 2 to 6 inches
- Best Companions: Azalea, rhododendron, blueberry, lingonberry
- Worst Companions: Potato, tomato, cucumber
- Watering: Water constantly to keep the soil always wet
- Fertilizing: Top dress with balanced fertilizer in spring for the first 3 years
- Common Problems: Proventuria early leaf spot, botryosphaeria fruit rot, red leaf spot, end rot, phytophthora leaf spot, blackheaded fireworm, cotton ball, cranberry blossom worm, cranberry fruitworm, cranberry tipworm, cranberry weevil, gypsy moth
- Harvest: 3 to 4 years after planting, when the fruits are red and ripe
Popular Cranberry Varieties
Cranberries look very similar between varieties. However, there are a few differences among them. Here are the variations you should know about and what they’re capable of producing:
This variety is known for being consistent in the amount produced per plant. They’re low-maintenance plants but are commonly known for producing fruits with less color.
GH1 is known for being a heartier variety. It overwinters well in comparison to other types. The GH1 is also known for producing consistent amounts of fruit over the entire life of the plant, and the fruit is of a uniform color.
This variety is known for being a consistent producer and also producing fruits with consistent coloring. If you want to know what to expect from your plants year after year, this could be a good choice for you.
4. Pilgrim King
The Pilgrim King variety is known for producing a more abundant harvest. The harvest isn’t only plentiful, but the fruits are bigger and have consistent coloring too.
5. Valley King
The Valley King variety is known for producing a larger harvest. This is nice because you’re getting more bang for your buck with the increase in production. This variety also produces larger fruits as well.
6. Granite Red
This variety is known for its firm fruit which also lasts longer. The fruits are bigger and are consistent in color as well.
How to Grow Cranberries
Growing cranberries in your garden do have a few tricks to it. If you get the basics right, you should find great success. Here’s what you need to know:
1. How is your Winter?
Cranberries are a perennial vine. They have upward vines which grow to be anywhere from one to six feet. When the vines are green, it means they’re growing, and when they’re brown it means they’ve gone dormant.
From these vines, small shoots sprout. These shoots will flower and from those flowers, the cranberries develop.
These vines have particular needs to produce and thrive. One of the most significant requirements for growing cranberries is being in the right climate.
Cranberries need cold for at least three months out of the year. The temperatures in your area must get to 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit for the plant to become dormant.
If you don’t live in a cold enough climate, cranberries won’t work in your garden.
2. Soil and Water
Cranberries have specific needs as far as soil and water goes. The soil should have a pH of approximately 5. If your soil is in the range of 4.5-5.5, the plants should still be happy.
Though commercial businesses grow cranberries under water, they don’t need to be covered with water.
In fact, the soil you plant the cranberries in should be well-drained to keep it from becoming soggy. If the roots stay too wet, they won’t produce as quickly as they would otherwise.
Be sure to check your water as well. If the water is too alkaline, it can throw the pH off in your soil. Giving cranberries the proper environment to grow in, is vital to their success.
3. Find the Proper Location
Once you know the climate is correct for growing cranberries, and the soil is the right pH, it’s time to pick the proper location.
Cranberries like full sun. When you find the area with full sun and an area which can become the proper pH, you can begin amending the soil.
4. Order Your Seedlings
It’s not a good idea to grow cranberries from seeds. They take up to two years to begin producing fruits. You don’t want to wait any longer when starting out and seeing if cranberries will work well in your location.
For this reason, you should order the seedlings. You’ll need one plant per square foot of the growing space.
Over the years, the plants will become fuller and utilize the entire space. Another way of ordering the proper amount of plants is to know they’ll be planted two to three feet apart.
5. Harden Seedlings Off
When the seedlings or bushes (depending on how big your ordered plants are) arrive, they’ll need to be hardened off.
It’s a good idea to give them time to adjust to their new surroundings. You’ll leave the plants outside (as long as the temperature is over 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and bring it in at night.
As long as the plant still seems healthy at the end of the week, you’re ready to plant.
When you plant your cranberry bushes, be sure to wait until the final spring frost is past. When the coast is clear, dig a hole only as deep as the container the plant arrived in.
Cranberries have shallow roots which only go into the soil approximately half of a foot. If you make the hole too deep, the plant won’t thrive. When in doubt, know the crown of the plant should be level with the surface.
Again, be sure to plant each seedling or bush approximately two to three feet apart. You shouldn’t add fertilizer to the hole before planting.
Place the plant in the hole, cover the roots, and you’re good to go.
7. Raised Beds or Containers
You can plant cranberries in any place they can flourish and will return year after year since they are perennials.
You’ll follow all the steps above but have the opportunity to add a higher quality potting mix as the base soil.
How to Care for Cranberries
Like any other plant, cranberries need care as well. Follow these basic steps for providing proper care, and your berries should do well. Here’s what you should do to care for your cranberries:
When first planting the cranberry plants, you should water them every day for the first two weeks, to help the roots become established.
After the plants are settled, you can reduce watering to every two to three days. The goal is to keep the soil damp, not drenched.
On average, cranberry plants need an inch of water per week. Keep a rain gauge handy to know how much water they get through the rain.
When you know, you can supplement the rest of the water needed in one or two deep watering sessions throughout the week.
Because cranberries have shallow roots, you’ll need to control weeds through the mulch and also by pulling weeds as necessary by hand.
It’s nothing overly complicated. The goal is to keep weeds from taking essential nutrients and necessities, which your cranberries need to survive and produce year after year.
Mulch is a key ingredient to caring for cranberries. The most crucial time to mulch is when the plants are beginning to go dormant.
The vines should be mulched heavily to protect them over the winter. If you live in a cooler location where snow is prominent, this is a good thing. The snow will provide extra insulation for your vines.
Each year as the cranberries begin to awaken, place a balanced fertilizer around each plant to give them a boost.
From there, it’s a good idea to add a slow release fertilizer to them one time per month. If your plants are thriving after a few years, and you feel they don’t need additional fertilizer beyond the one dose in early spring, this is your call.
If you have high-quality soil, they may not need the extra boost every month. You’ll know if your plants need nutrients as they become more established.
5. Add Sand
After the initial planting year, add ½ inch of sand to the base of each plant in early spring. Sand will help cut down on weeds around the plant and also helps to start more running vines.
This leads to a more productive plant, longevity, and a larger harvest for you over the years.
The cranberry plants should be pruned in the early part of spring, but only after the season in which they produced a harvest. Mature plants may often only produce every second year. The long shoots where the blooms occur needs to be pruned.
However, be sure not to prune the base runners which grow upwards. By pruning, you’re trying to encourage more upward growing vines to form.
Cranberry plants have certain pests and diseases which affects them. The pests and diseases you should watch out for are:
1. White Fly
These are small flies with white wings who hang around the bottom side of the leaves of your plant. They suck the juices from the plant to survive.
You can rid your plants of whiteflies by introducing beneficial insects, using traps, or by placing small amounts of dish soap on the plants.
Aphids are found in most gardens. They attach themselves to your plants as they feast on them. You can rid your plants of aphids by giving them a cold spray with the water hose.
If they’re still attached, you can use a soapy mixture of soap and water to encourage them to fall off your plant.
Mealybugs are white bugs with a waxy coating on them. They lay their eggs and live in the fruit your cranberry plants produce.
In turn, they cause mold to form and ruin your harvest. You can rid your plants of mealybugs by blasting them away with the water hose or by introducing beneficial insects to your garden.
4. Fruit Worm
Fruit Worms look like a beetle when they’re full grown. They produce small larvae which also will live on your cranberry plants. The adults will harm the plant by cutting into the flowers where cranberries are formed.
The larvae will eat the fruit which is produced. The best ways to rid the plants of these pests is by handpicking them from your cranberry plants and by introducing beneficial insects to eat them.
5. Bacterial Leaf Spot
Bacterial leaf spot is a disease which causes blemishes to form on the leaves of the cranberry plants. They begin as discolored spots which will eventually turn black.
The best way to deter this disease is by keeping a clean garden with plenty of air circulation. It’s a good idea to keep the area beneath the cranberry plants mulched, and you can apply a fungicide if needed.
6. Army Worm
These are worms which eat the leaves and fruit from your cranberry plants. You can rid your plants of them by using insecticides or introducing beneficial insects.
Consider planting other items in your garden which will attract birds as well. The birds will not only eat what you planted for them but also keep bugs under control.
Best and Worst Companion Plants for Cranberries
There are certain plants with which cranberries thrive when planted near. These plants are:
How to Harvest and Store Cranberries
When your cranberries begin to produce, you’ll need to harvest them. You’ll know they’re ready for harvest when the seed turns brown and the outer berry turns a deep red.
Cranberries are usually harvested in September and early October. They also produce in clusters which makes picking them much easier than other berry types.
On average, you can expect to get a pound of cranberries per plant. As the plant matures, you can expect to get upwards of three pounds per plant.
Mature plants which produces that much, may then only produce every other year. After you’ve plucked the cranberries from the plants, you’ll need to store them.
Cranberries can be stored in an airtight container for approximately one to two months. You can also freeze or dehydrate cranberries for longer-term storage.
However, be sure you wash and remove the stems of the cranberries before dehydrating or freezing them.
Well, you now know how to grow cranberries. Unfortunately, this isn’t a crop which will work for everyone.
But if you live in an area where the climate is right for them, it could be a wonderful perennial you’ll be glad to have around.