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Cranberry Vine Care – Learn How To Grow Cranberries At Home

Cranberry Vine Care – Learn How To Grow Cranberries At Home


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Growing cranberries may seem a far-fetched idea in the home garden, but it is plausible when you have the right conditions. Keep reading to learn how to grow cranberries if this is something you would like to try.

What are Cranberry Plants?

Cranberry plants, or Vaccinium macrocarpon, are woody, low growing perennial vines. Native to the temperate zones of the East Coast, the Central U.S., and from southern Canada in the north all the way to the Appalachian mountain range in the south, cranberries are often harvested commercially in water, but contrary to popular belief, actually flourish when grown on dry land.

Cranberry plants grow runners measuring from 1 to 6 feet (.3 to 1.8 m.) long with dark green, glossy leaves during its growth phase and reddish-brown during the dormant season. Along the runners, short vertical branches develop and form flower buds jutting above the matted vines. From these branches, berries form.

How are Cranberries Grown and Can You Grow Cranberries at Home?

Commercially grown cranberries are often grown in bogs, which have evolved naturally from glacial receding, causing holes that over time filled with water and decayed matter. As mentioned above, however, growing cranberries can occur on dry land as well, provided there are a few requirements.

Can you grow cranberries at home? Yes, and now the question is how are cranberries grown in the home garden? The first thing to determine how to grow cranberries is the pH of your garden soil. Cranberries are a member of the Ericaceae family and, as such, are best suited to a soil pH of less than 5. You will want to test your soil to determine pH and also make sure you have very well draining soil, or amend the soil with sand.

The second major consideration when attempting cranberry vine care is irrigation. If you have very alkaline water, this will affect the pH of your soil and may render it unsuitable for growing cranberries.

The final test, which answers the question, “Can you grow cranberries at home?” is to determine what the climate is like in your region. Cranberry plants need cold weather in order to trigger a dormant phase, approximately three months of temperatures in the 32-45 degree F. (0-7 C.) range. Some areas of the country will not be suitable for cranberry planting.

How to Grow Cranberries

When everything above is checked off your list, it’s time for the basics of cranberry vine care. Growing cranberry plants from seed is not recommended. Plants may be obtained through mail order, the Internet or, if you reside in an area of commercial cranberry farms, possibly from a grower.

To make things easier, purchase rooted seedlings, which are usually in a 1-inch (2.5 cm.) diameter pot. Plant one rooted cranberry cutting per square foot, which should fill in within one or two years. It is unnecessary to put fertilizer in the hole as long as the rooted section is substantial. Plant cranberry plants after the last major frost in the spring depending on your location.

Water daily for the first couple of weeks until the seedlings have established and thereafter every couple of days, or keep moist but not drenched.

Fertilize every three to four weeks with slow release fertilizer and follow up regularly with a balanced liquid fertilizer..

Hand weed as needed. Protect cranberry vines from damage during winter conditions with a thick layer of mulch such as pine boughs. Snow accumulation may also become a protector of sorts as well.

Fruit of the cranberry plants will become apparent the year after planting, but more likely the second year depending on the number of pollinators visiting your cranberry plot.


How to Grow Your Own Cranberries

Of all the things we grow, cranberries surprise people the most. “Really? I thought you needed a bog!” is usually the reaction upon seeing the bed in the garden.

At first that’s what we thought, too, until we came across some cranberry plants for sale and decided to look into it further. It wasn’t long before our order arrived and we were on our way to homegrown cranberries.

So here are the basics on growing cranberries:
1. Cranberries grow shallowly, like a groundcover, and will spread if allowed.
2. They do like moisture, but a bog is not needed.
3. They like the same acidic soil conditions as blueberries. The two do well intercropped together.
4. Plants need to be three years old before you start to get cranberries.
5. They are hardy in USDA Zones 2-6.
6. They reproduce by sending out runners, similar to strawberries.

You can easily find plants for sale that are from one to three years old. Of course the older the plant, the more expensive—but the sooner you will see berries. Cranberries like a sandy soil, so it’s a good idea to work a little sand in as needed. In the fall or early spring, plant your cranberries about two to three feet apart and keep them well watered. The evergreen leaves are really lovely, with both red and green in the foliage. Mulch will help prevent weeds and retain moisture, while making your beds look even nicer.

Add in more sand every few years and trim out the older plants as the new ones start to produce. This will also help encourage runners, or you can root plants from cuttings. That’s it, just sit back and wait. We did plant a few older cranberry plants so we could see some results sooner. They didn’t bear a lot, but had some beautiful berries. Whereas the commercial growers flood their cranberry fields to harvest the berries, you won’t need to do that. Just gently remove the berries as they ripen to red.

Of course, they were smaller than the ones in the stores but oh my, the flavor. Let me warn you in advance to seriously consider not biting into a whole fresh cranberry!

Botanical name:Vaccinium macrocarpon

Plant height: Low

Harvest: As they ripen but before frost.

Yield: One pound per square foot.

Storage: Refrigerate for a few weeks or freeze or water-bath can as cranberry sauce.

Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more atgardeningjones.com/blog.
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Learn about growing other small fruits in the Melons & Berries download.

Learn how to store your harvests for the long term in The Everything Root Cellaring Book.

Find wild nuts, berries, mushrooms and more to eat with confidence and safety in The Forager's Guide to Wild Foods.


Proper Conditions for Growing Cranberries

Cranberries are very resistant to cold and frost (-40°C -40°F). It is necessary to use rainwater for watering, especially if the available water contains too much of carbonates. Cranberries can be watered using by surface sprinkler system or dripping system, which has several advantages. Dripping systems are buried under the surface of the raised beds in the direction of the rows, before planting.

During the first year, regular watering is required all summer long. One should not allow soil to get entirely dry between irrigations. Cranberries like humid areas, cooler positions and acidic soil (pH 4.0 to 5.5). Cranberries are generally grown in areas with cold climates and in some regions thrive up to 1500 m above sea level.


Cranberry

(NOTE: If you are not interested in growing Cranberries, but just finding them in the wild, try going to the Nature's Restaurant Online site Cranberry page.)

Cranberry. There are a few types of them. This plant can be grown in a garden - you don't have to plant it in water. The water flooding of the fields people associate with Cranberries is only done for commercial harvesting to make the process more efficient. You don't have to do that with ones you grow, you can harvest like picking any other berry.

Because commercial Cranberry growers usually flood the fields, and can't hand pick weeds from a hundred acre field, they have a very specific way of layering clay, gravel, peat moss and sand. For the home gardener, you don't need this. You just need to provide moist soil that is acidic and peat/sand based. If you have no way of keeping the ground moist, then don't bother, but if that isn't an issue, go ahead.

Is the growing of this plant compatible with Natural farming, Ecoagriculture or Eco friendly agriculture, Ecological farming, Sustainable agriculture, Agroforestry or Agro-sylviculture and Permaculture: Natural farming or no-till gardening is the only way to grow this plant. Once you have the site prepared, and the plants established, there is no need to ever till the soil.

Though you can transplant Cranberries from the wild, and have them establish where you plant them, providing you have or make the correct conditions, most people will need to purchase plants. They are available on-line, and at some nurseries if you live where they will grow.

The following instructions are for the Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which is the one commonly grown. If you do grow the drier tasting Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), you will need to make very acidic soil. If you buy them, follow the instructions to the letter, but if you don't get instructions or are transplanting, the following should do.

Soil & Site: Choose a full sun sight that you can keep moist all season long. They are a spreading ground cover plant, so give each one you plant a good amount of room to spread. 60 X 60 cm (2 X 2 feet) per plant would be ideal. Next, dig out the soil from the whole area you are going to plant to at least 15 cm (6 inches), not just the holes for the roots. Replace the soil with a mix of half sand and half peat moss. If you are planting a 60 cm (2 feet) by 5 meters (16 feet) row, mix in 1/4 Kg (1/2 pound) of bone meal and 1/2 Kg (1 pound) of blood meal, 4 cups of Epsom salts, and 4 cups of rock phosphate. Those four in combination will provide all the nutrients your Cranberries will need. If you can't get that combination, ask at a nursery or garden supply store to see what can be substituted to give the same balance.

Planting: Before planting, make sure the soil mix is fully damp - peat moss can be a chore to get to hold water fresh out the bag. Plant your Cranberry bushes, then cover the ground with mulch about 5 cm (2 inches) deep. Conifer needles and bark would make the perfect combination. Keep the area damp.

Maintenance: Maintenance is pulling weeds out by hand, keeping the soil moist, and freshening up the mulch each fall, and spreading some of the four ingredients mentioned above before putting down the mulch.

Harvesting: Harvest when ripe by hand picking in the fall usually between mid September and mid November.

Using: Most people associate Cranberries with Thanksgiving meals, and that is still the most common usage - cooked with a sweetener, and served hot, warm or room temperature as either a jelly or jam like side dish. That said, they are a food with more uses. It is not uncommon to find dried Cranberries with mixed nuts now, with or instead of raisins.

Cranberry drinks are not hard to find. What is hard to find is Cranberry drinks that are not full of sugar or worse yet, some fructose sweetener. Here is the way I most commonly use them, that uses no sugar at all: I put about a cup of frozen or fresh Cranberries in a plastic bowl and cover with about 2 cups of water. I blend them with a hand blender (you could use a regular blender) and then strain them with a sieve. I then add another 2 cups of water and repeat the blending and sieving. At that point I end up with 4 cups of weak Cranberry juice that I put in glass jars in the fridge and have a small glass when I want a drink. It is weak, but very good. The pulp that is left over, I add 1 cup of water, put on the stove on low, and let simmer for about an hour, and just have a little of it with mashed potatoes or squash. It doesn't need sweetener that way, and you get a lot of use for the one cup of Cranberries. Refrigerate what you don't use and use cold or reheat for the next meal. Will last a few days in the fridge.

Storing: Pick and freeze, or dry in a food drier. No special techniques.

Below are descriptions of the most common ones you will find in the wild in Eastern North America. The one most commonly grown for sale is the Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus). There is one I have no experience with the Southern Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccus erythrocarpus), known also as the Dingleberry. Supposedly, this one can be grown where the soil is dry, but it still needs to be acidic.

Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccus palustris). Also known as: Small Cranberry, Swamp Cranberry, Bog Cranberry. The fruit from this one is small and dry tasting.

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 2-6 (best is 2-5)(More information on hardiness zones).
  • Soil pH: 2.9-4.7
  • Plant Size: Small prostrate shrub
  • Duration: Perennial that reproduces by Vegetative reproduction.
  • Leaf Shape: Lanceolate to Ovate
  • Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: Alternate
  • Leaf Size: 2–10 mm (5/64 to 2/5 inches) long, 1–3 mm (3/64 to 1/8 inches) wide
  • Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged), sometimes edges are curled back
  • Leaf Notes: Leathery texture, Only central vein is obvious and is lighter colored, leaf stem is short and tan colored, an evergreen (an adaptation to living in low nutrient soils)
  • Flowers: White to dark pink, with a purple central spike, stems finely hairy
  • Fruit: Pale pink, small, sharp acidic taste, drier tasting than the Large Cranberry
  • Bark: Twigs are red to brown in winter
  • Habitat: Sphagnum bogs, acidic, wet areas associated with conifer forest openings around wetlands

  • Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
  • Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
  • Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.

Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccus palustris) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.

Common Cranberry drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 704)

Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccus palustris) in flower up close. (By: Qwert1234)

Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccus palustris) ready to harvest. (By: B.Lezius CC BY-SA 3.0)

Common Cranberry or Northern Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccus palustris) up close. (By: Christian Fischer CC BY-SA 3.0)

Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus). Known also as American Cranberry and Bearberry. This is the best one, and the one that is sold in stores frozen and fresh.

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 2-7(More information on hardiness zones).
  • Soil pH: 4.0-5.5
  • Plant Size: prostrate shrub up to 30 cm (12 inches) tall, forming a mat over an area
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Leaf Shape: Ovate
  • Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: Alternate
  • Leaf Size: 5-18 (1/5 to 9/32 inch) mm long
  • Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged), often edges are curled back
  • Leaf Notes: Glossy surface with leathery texture, bronze-gold hue in spring, turning green, often with red blotching (due to Exobasidium rostrupii infection - a sign the soil may be too rich in nitrogen), leaves stay on plant during the winter - an evergreen (an adaptation to living in low nutrient soils).
  • Flowers: Pinkish-white flowers, four petals that point back, in clusters that come from the leaf axils, the center of the flower is tube shaped.
  • Fruit: Ready to harvest mid to late October, pink to red, juicer than the smaller Common or Northern Cranberry,
  • Bark: Twigs can be red, brown or grey in winter
  • Habitat: Acidic, boggy soils with low nutrient levels

  • Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
  • Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.

Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.

Large Cranberry drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 705)

Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus) in flower. (By: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org CC BY-SA 3.0)

Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Oxycoccus macrocarpus) illustration. (By: Flora Batava of Afbeelding en Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Gewassen, (1872) by Jan Kops)

Southern Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccus erythrocarpus). Known also as the Dingleberry and Mountain Cranberry.

This one does not grow in wet areas, but prefers drier sites.

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: zone 6 and up(More information on hardiness zones).
  • Soil pH: 4.5-6.0
  • Plant Size: Shrub that grows to almost 2 meters (6 feet) high - forms thickets
  • Duration: Lives many years
  • Leaf Shape: Lanceolate
  • Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: Alternate
  • Leaf Size: 3-7 cm (1 1/5 to 2 3/4 inches) long, 1.5-3.5 cm (3/5 to 1 2/5 inches) wide
  • Leaf Margin: fine, hair like Serrated (saw toothed edge)
  • Leaf Notes: Deciduous, but leaves can persist into the winter
  • Flowers: Pink with four curled or rolled back petals, long tube shape center
  • Fruit: Ripe: late summer to early fall. Slightly transparent scarlet red to occasionally blackish red
  • Bark: Twigs yellowish green to greyish green, can be almost 4 sided looking, but not as perfectly 4 sided as plants in the mint family
  • Habitat: Highland woodlands openings or grassy areas with full sun, can withstand a little shading. Likes well drained acidic soils, often found on rocky ridges. Does not tolerate lime or limestone.

  • Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
  • Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.

Southern Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccus erythrocarpus) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.

Southern Mountain Cranberry drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 705)

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum). Although called the Highbush Cranberry, this bush is not in the Vaccinium genus like the true Cranberries. It is a type of Viburnum. Go to the Viburnum section here for the Highbush Cranberry.

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Planting Cranberry Bushes

Cranberries like a moist, but well-drained, sunny position. They should be set 90cm apart if planted in the garden to allow the bushes to spread.

Cranberry bushes grow to around 20cm tall and have a spread of around 3ft when planted directly into the garden soil. Like strawberry plants, cranberries send out runners that can either be pegged to the soil to create new plants or pruned off to control the spread.

If you are planting in garden soil that is not acidic, dig in plenty of ericaceous compost or leaf mould. Once planted, apply a mulch of acidic bark. This will help to keep the soil around the roots nice and acidic for longer, and also help to keep the moisture in the soil.


A Bounteous Berry That’s a Delight to Eat

Whether you know of a spot where you can go out and forage for fruit in the fall, or you’re ready to tackle the task of growing your own, I wish you the best of luck in enjoying locally grown cranberries if you’re able to.

Do you have a family connection to the cranberry growing business, or a favorite memory of these sweet-tart delights? Please share your stories along with your favorite cultivars with me in the comments below.

And for more information on fruit to grow in your garden, check out these guides next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Bob Wells Nursery, Hirt’s Gardens, Nature Hills Nursery, and Outsidepride. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Allison Sidhu

Allison M. Sidhu grew up with her hands in the dirt in southeastern Pennsylvania, and she is now based in sunny LA. She holds a BA in English literature from Swarthmore College as well as an MA in gastronomy from Boston University. When she’s not in the kitchen making a fresh green juice or whipping up something tasty for dinner, Allison enjoys perusing the latest seed catalogs, tending her patio garden, and reading up on the latest in food and agriculture policy.


Homegrown cranberries become holiday treats

I started picking cranberries in late October and froze them whole. Last week, I began baking holiday treats, freezing some for Christmas gifts and dinner. My family’s favorite cranberry goodie is a gluten-free muffin [click on second photo above to see these in all their glory]. Here’s the recipe.

Cranberry-Tangerine Muffins

1 cup ground almonds
1 cup vanilla protein powder
1 tablespoon. baking soda
1 cup sugar or Splenda
2 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 sticks butter or margarine, melted
3/4 cup tangerine or orange juice
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
4 ounces chopped black walnuts

Combine ground almonds, protein powder, baking soda, and sugar or Splenda in a large bowl. Add eggs and melted butter and beat mixture. Add juice and mix. Fold cranberries and nuts into batter.

Grease muffin tins or line them with paper cups. Fill cups and bake for 18 to 22 minutes at 400 degrees F. Makes 18 muffins.

Doreen Howard, the Edible Explorer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. If it’s edible and unusual, she figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide. Her new book, "Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring the Rich Flavor of the Past," will published in 2011. To read more by Doreen, click here


Watch the video: How to Grow Cranberry Hibiscus from Seed. Cranberry Hibiscus Seed Propagation. Atitlan Organics


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