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Monday, October 22, 2012

Growing cranberries: ornamentals with benefits

My son and I harvested the cranberries this weekend. We picked a little over 4 quarts of cranberries. They're all tucked into the freezer now. 

Our yard really does not get the amount of sun to ripen our berries fully. But I figure, hey they're cranberries, they're supposed to be sour, right? And we're up against the very end of the season for leaving them still on the plant. So we picked, even though some are not the fully deep cranberry red we've all come to expect.

Good thing, too. It's thundering right now, with a very cold rain.

I understand, a lot of folks just don't enjoy cranberries. It's one of those love 'em or hate 'em sort of fruits. But if you do like cranberries, and are interested in growing your own, I'll tell you a little about them.

Cranberries are a ground cover. We use them as an ornamental in our landscape. The tiny green leaves turn a lovely rust in autumn, and are an evergreen. This makes for a lovely ornamental in the winter landscape in areas where the ground is exposed (meaning little to no snow). They can be planted in a patch, to make harvesting simpler, or can be used in the general landscape, as specimen plants.

In areas where winters are harsh, they can survive, and quite well at that. (New England cranberry crops are legendary.) It may serve your plants well to mulch with something like pine needles, just as the ground freezes, as very cold temperatures will dry the plants out. Rake the needles off in early to mid spring (when overnight temps are consistently above 28 degrees F), and you're good to go. New shoots on the plants will suffer if left exposed below that 28 degree F temp. If you live in an area with severe winter weather, I recommend consulting a local nursery about protecting the plants.

In our milder winters (we have a few weeks in winter with consistent below freezing temperatures, but usually not more than that), my plants have never been winter mulched and have not suffered that I can tell. 

They blossom later than my fruit trees, which is a plus here, as there are always bees around by cranberry blossom time. And they are self-pollinating, no need for a different variety.

Cranberries do not like soggy soil conditions during the growing season, contrary to the myth that they grow in bogs. Traditionally, they were harvested by flooding the fields. Ripe and good berries would float, making them easier to harvest. But they can survive "wet feet" in the dormancy of winter. 

They also do not tolerate drought well. Cranberries prefer a soil medium which is both well-draining and retains some moisture, such as peat moss combined with sandy soil. 

Cranberries are acid lovers. We have ours planted in an area adjacent to some blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons.

If you're serious about your cranberry production, you can fertilize with a fish emulsion for the first 2 years. This will cause the plants to send out many runners, filling in your bed. But suspend fertilizing after that, or you'll have all runners and no fruiting up-rights (the part of the plant that grows vertically and has the blossoms). But, I never fertilized mine. Not even once. I just planted them in very good soil (we'd lasagna gardened this soil up, both raising the level of the soil and improving fertility). They began producing fruit the second year.

Plant either mid-fall or mid-spring. I ordered mine through a catalog in spring, one year. The plants were quite small, but I have enormous patience with this sort of thing. I think I paid about $3 per plant, and bought 3 plants. Those 3 have filled in a patch about 4 feet wide by 20 feet long, over the course of about 8 years. And they've yielded about 4 quarts of berries every year for the last 5 years.

I enjoy baking with the cranberries. Cranberry bread or muffins are always a hit in our house. I likely would not buy as many cranberries as we harvest. So this is definitely one of those fruits that I'm very glad we planted.

And I'm afraid that's the extent of my cranberry-growing knowledge. 


  1. Very interesting about cranberries being ground cover - I had no idea. Also, like you, I really like baking with cranberries. They add such a lovely tart burst of flavor.

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      I love the contrast, when baking with cranberries, between the sweetness of the muffin or bread and the tart berries. Yum!

  2. Your cranberry patch sounds like the wild blueberries that I have seen in Maine. (Although, they don't have runners.) I am one who doesn't particularly like cranberries, so I won't be putting a patch in anytime soon.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      So I'm guessing that the wild blueberries of Maine are low-growing? I'd have never thought.

    2. Yes, unlike the commercial bushes I have seen.

  3. I'm afraid we can't grow cranberries in southern FL, but being originally from MN, I really love them and look forward to their appearance in the stores in the fall. This year I experimented with making cranberry chutney. We love it on a turkey and swiss panini, but the little jars were $4.49 each. Eeek!! My batch turned out great - a little different from the commercial product, but I know everything in it, and it was really inexpensive to make. We love it, it really livens up the sandwich. Thanks for the info!

    1. Hi Valarie,
      That cranberry chutney sounds delicious! I can just imagine it on a turkey and swiss grilled sandwich.
      I guess So. FL would just not do for growing cranberries. But you can likely grow just about any of the citruses, and that makes me very envious!

  4. My husband loves cranberry sauce. I'll only eat it if it home made with bits of berry in it. However, he grew up eating the congealed stuff from the store. Thank goodness he now requests my

    1. Hi Shara,
      I always loved how when you open a can of cranberry jelly and pushed it out one end, it would come out looking exactly like the can, complete with those ridges from the can! I do prefer the homemade sauce, too, with berries in it, and kind of a saucy texture.

  5. I absolutely love cranberries. I didn't realize they were that easy to grow or maintain. They are now added to my list of plants to be purchased and planted in the spring. Thank you so much for the information.

    1. Hi Lois,
      I love them, too! And good luck, if you add some to your garden area!

  6. I love unsweetened cranberry juice mixed with soda water and a lime. YUM. I make a cranberry orange relish with a cup of cranberries, a quartered and seeded naval orange (skin AND pulp) and 1/4-1/2 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet you want it). Blend it all together in a food processor or blender.

    I tagged you, Lili:

    1. Hi Pamela,
      The drink and the relish sound yummy. I love a fresh cranberry relish!

      Thank you for tagging me! I'm honored!

  7. Cranberries grow wild here in Nova Scotia; you can go out and pick as many as you can store!

    1. How wonderful! And you go out and pick wild ones? We have wild blackberries here. It always surprises me how few people actually go out and pick them. But that's wonderful that you have wild cranberries!


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