The signature tart flavor of cranberries can’t be beat, whether you enjoy cranberry sauce or juice. If you think that you can only get fresh cranberries from commercial growers, think again. Learn about the different types of cranberry plants, how to grow cranberries in your own garden, and provide them with proper care during the growing season.
The first thing that often comes to mind when thinking about cranberries is Ocean Spray. Located in Massachusetts, this famous juicing company uses hundreds of cooperative commercial cranberry growers for its cranberry production.
While Wisconsin is the leading producer of these red berries in the United States, they grow everywhere from Oregon and New Jersey to Maine.
- Growing and Caring for Cranberry Plants
- Is Growing Cranberries Hard?
- Are There Different Types of Cranberries?
- Growing Cranberry Plants from Seed
- How to Grow Cranberries from Stem Cuttings
- Transplanting Young Cranberry Plants in a Garden Bed
- Caring for Your Cranberry Plants as They Grow
- Things to Watch for While Growing Cranberries
- Do Cranberries Take a Long Time to Grow?
- Tips for Harvesting and Preserving Cranberries
- How to Make Cranberry Sauce from a Bountiful Harvest
Growing and Caring for Cranberry Plants
Cranberry bogs grow throughout North America, and they are native to Canada, where they grow wild in wetlands, with most of the production coming from British Columbia and Quebec.
While these berries require cool temperatures and acidic soil to thrive, they are relatively easy to grow if you live in the right region.
Cranberries are low-sugar fruits, primarily made of fiber and carbs, and contain antioxidants, vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals.
They provide many health benefits, including lowering the risk of urinary tract infection and boosting the immune system. There are many reasons to include these tart berries in your diet, and growing cranberries is easier than you think.
Discover the different types of cranberries to help you decide which ones to grow and the specific growing conditions they expect for healthy growth.
Learn how to plant cranberries in the right location, whether you plant cranberries in pots or the ground, and care for them while growing cranberry plants in the garden.
Is Growing Cranberries Hard?
Are cranberry plants difficult to grow? Fortunately, these plants are easy-growers and almost maintenance free shrubs as long as you understand their growing requirements.
If you’re considering growing cranberries but you’re not quite sure what they need to thrive, find out the type of soil they want, how much sun they love, and where they grow best.
Cranberry Plants (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Cranberries are low growers with woody runners and vines that grow up to six feet long. They are perennials with rhizomatous roots and flowers that grow on upright stems 18 inches tall.
These small flowering shrubs thrive in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 7, where there are three months of cold weather with temps between 32 and 45°F. These conditions ensure the plants flower and set fruit in the spring.
Where to plant cranberries is an important consideration. They grow in a garden setting or pots and raised beds but want soil acidity, so it’s necessary to test the soil pH to ensure it is between 4.0 and 5.5 before planting.
Cranberries enjoy full sun, but it’s a good idea to protect them with shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Are There Different Types of Cranberries?
While growing cranberry trees or shrubs, it’s wise to understand the different types of cranberries that are available. While not necessarily one of the best fast growing hedges for privacy, there are over 100 varieties of cranberries. Here are some of the more popular types to help you choose the ideal ones for your area.
Howes cranberries are a frost tolerant type with shiny, firm fruit that stores well. It is resistant to fruit rot but susceptible to false blossom.
Stevens is a popular hybrid that is the most dominant on the market. Its fruit ripens a little earlier than the Howes variety and produces high yields of juicy, low-pectin fruits with a deep red color and plenty of seeds.
Franklin cranberries are favored for their high-pectin count and low levels of juiciness. Their glossy fruits ripen early, and they are resistant to false blossom disease.
The Early Black types are vigorous growers with early ripening dark, red berries. These cranberries are not fussy about the soil, and they are relatively sweet compared to other varieties.
Finally, McFarlin is an heirloom plant that produces large, late-ripening fruits, and it is also resistant to false blossom.
Growing Cranberry Plants from Seed
While growing cranberry plants from seeds takes some time since they grow three to five years before producing fruit, it’s well worth it if you have the patience. Here is how to start your seeds indoors to prepare them for garden planting.
Before growing cranberries from seed, it’s vital to check if they are pre-stratified. If they aren’t, place the seeds in the refrigerator three months before sowing them.
After you cold-stratify them, fill three to four-inch pots with acidic soil and sow two seeds a quarter-inch deep into each pot. Press the dirt down lightly and spray them with water before setting the pots in a warm area.
Cranberry seeds need a consistent temperature of 70°F to germinate, so use a heat mat if the area is not warm enough. Keep the dirt moist but not soggy as you wait for the seeds to germinate.
It usually takes three to five weeks before they begin to sprout. Thin the plants after germination by removing the smallest of the two seedlings in each pot.
Set them in front of a sunny and warm window and continue to give them care as they grow in the same pot for about one year. After this time, in the spring or fall, transplant them into a larger pot, raised bed, or garden setting.
How to Grow Cranberries from Stem Cuttings
Growing cranberries from stem cuttings is a great alternative to sowing seeds. They take root easily and are ready for transplanting in the garden roughly two months after propagation. Here is how to grow a cranberry bush by propagating stems.
To get started, fill a small pot with acidic potting soil or a regular potting mix with some peat moss or ericaceous compost. In the early summer or spring, clip a five to eight inch stem off a mature cranberry plant.
Trim away the flower buds and all but four to five of the top leaves. Dip the cut section into a powdered rooting hormone and plant the cutting three to four inches deep into the potted dirt.
Pat the soil down around the cutting, spray it lightly with water, and set it in a warm window with indirect sunlight. Do not let the dirt dry out but avoid watering it so much that it is soggy.
Lightly spray it each day to keep it evenly moist. After six to eight weeks, the cutting develops roots, and it is ready to transplant in a larger pot or outside in the garden.
Transplanting Young Cranberry Plants in a Garden Bed
If you purchase two or three year old plants from your local nursery, they are ready to plant directly into the garden. Learn how to prepare the bed for planting and how to transplant young plants or seedlings into the soil.
Since cranberries love acidic soil, test your dirt before planting to ensure the soil pH is between 4.0 and 5.5.
If your soil is lacking, add some peat moss or sulfur to the top two inches to increase acidity. If you have heavy soil, consider adding some sand to loosen it and improve drainage.
Make sure to choose a sunny garden spot and pull up all the weeds and grass before planting the cranberries.
Spread some bone meal or organic matter over the dirt according to the package directions and make a hole slighter larger than the container with two to three foot spacing between plants.
Water the hole, place the base of the plant in the dirt, and then backfill it with soil. Pat the earth gently around the plant’s base and water it again. Spread a layer of mulch as a groundcover over the garden bed to retain moisture while keeping weeds at bay.
Caring for Your Cranberry Plants as They Grow
No matter which method you choose to start your cranberry plants, they still require the same type of care for healthy fruiting.
Discover everything your cranberry bed needs to grow well and ways to care for your plants daily and seasonally for yearly production.
Cranberry plants love even moisture, so give them one inch of water each week during periods of low rainfall. Unwanted plants take the nutrients out of the soil that cranberries need, so hand-pull the weeds regularly, being careful not to disturb plant roots.
Fertilizer is unnecessary for cranberry plants, but if your soil is poor, add a 2-4-2 fish emulsion to the bed during springtime. Cover the plants with heavy peat mulch during the winter months and prune away dead or damaged stems in the spring.
Things to Watch for While Growing Cranberries
Much patience goes into growing cranberry plants, and there is nothing worse than watching them suffer or die due to unforeseen issues.
It’s essential to monitor your garden as it grows to keep it healthy. Here are some common cranberry plant pests and diseases to watch for and ways to remedy the problems.
The first thing to keep an eye out for is insects. Cranberry weevils are tiny beetles that lay eggs in the pink flowers, while cranberry fruitworms are moth larvae that burrow into the berries and feed on the pulp.
Keep the garden free of debris and use sticky traps and Neem oil to kill and control these pests.
Other problems include are plant diseases. The blunt-nosed grasshopper spreads false blossom, and this disease results in abnormal flower growth and a lack of fruit development.
Protoventuria and Red leaf spot are also common, and they cause red spots on the tops of the leaves. Rose bloom is a fungal infection that attacks new shoot growth, causing the branches to thicken and the leaves to turn pink, resembling a small rose.
The best way to avoid these issues is to keep the bed tidy by removing dead leaves and debris, trim away affected plant tissue, and use a fungicide as treatment when necessary.
Do Cranberries Take a Long Time to Grow?
All plants have varying growth rates, and some mature faster than others. While annual garden plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers produce fruit in the first season, cranberries are a different story. So, how long do cranberries take to grow?
Cranberry Plant Growth Rate
If you start your cranberries from seed, it takes roughly three to five weeks for them to germinate, one year before they are ready for transplanting in the garden or outdoor pot, and three to five years before they produce fruit.
Cuttings grow faster, and they begin growing roots in about six to eight weeks when they are ready to transplant outdoors.
After transplanting young plants in the garden, you generally have to wait about three years until fruit production, depending on the plant’s age when you plant them.
Tips for Harvesting and Preserving Cranberries
Once your cranberry plant reaches maturity and the fruit begins to ripen, it’s time to harvest your cranberry crop. Here are some tips for picking cranberries at the right time and ways to store them after a good harvest.
There are two types of cranberry harvests, wet harvesting and dry harvesting. Wet harvest cranberries if you plan on using them for juice or sauce, and dry harvest the berries if you plan to use them in cooking, baking, or fresh.
Use your senses to check when the cranberries are ready for picking. Ripe berries are slightly firm and have a deep red color. If you’re unsure, try the bounce test.
Since these berries have pockets of air inside them, they are springy, and if they bounce on the ground, they are perfectly ripe. To harvest, pick them by hand and discard bruised, discolored, damaged, or very soft ones.
Store your fresh berries in the fridge for three to four weeks and wash them right before eating them. If you cannot eat them in time, consider freezing the cranberries.
Lay the berries in a layer on a baking sheet and flash freeze them for a couple of hours. Pour the frozen berries into a freezer-safe bag, press out the air before sealing it shut, and set it in the freezer for up to a year.
Another way to preserve cranberries is to dry them. Begin by blanching them and making a simple syrup. Place them in a pot, pour boiling water over the top, and let them blanch for one minute. Drain the berries, pat them dry, and place them in a bowl.
Pour two parts water and one part sugar over the cranberries and let them rest for five to ten minutes. Drain off the syrup, pat the berries dry, and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Set the oven to the lowest temperature setting and place the sheet of berries in the oven for eight to 12 hours, or until dry.
How to Make Cranberry Sauce from a Bountiful Harvest
If your cranberry bed is healthy and happy after you give it tender loving care throughout the season, it rewards you with a bountiful harvest of fresh berries.
While easy to store by refrigerating and freezing, another great way to preserve them is to make cranberry sauce. This recipe makes nine servings and only takes about 20 minutes to prepare.
Pour the cranberries into a colander, rinse them well beneath running water, and remove the damaged or bruised berries. Bring a saucepan of the water and sugar to a boil over high heat until the sugar dissolves, and add the berries.
Simmer over low heat for about ten minutes until the berries burst, and remove the pan from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature, and chill the sauce in the fridge before serving.
To jazz up the sauce a little, consider using a half cup of orange juice and a half cup of water instead of a whole cup of water, and add raisins, blueberries, pecans, or currants for extra fun.
Making homemade sauce and jelly is even better when you harvest cranberries from your own cranberry bed in the backyard.
These plants are simple to plant and grow, as long as you provide them with the right soil type and growing temperatures. Giving your plants TLC throughout the growing season rewards you with a bountiful harvest of tart berries.
We hope that learning how to grow cranberries at home keeps your fridge well-stocked, and we’d love it if you’d share our cranberry growing and harvesting guide with your friends and family on Pinterest and Facebook to help them grow berries of their own.