How to Grow Cranberries at Home
Let’s learn how to grow cranberries at home. It’s simple and fun!
Each holiday season you are rushing to the groceries to get fresh cranberries for that special cranberry sauce and sometimes wonder: “Wouldn’t it be fun to harvest your own cranberries? How to grow cranberries at home? Can I actually do it? Is it difficult?”
The short answer is – yes, you can grow cranberries at home if you live in the right climate. It’s also quite easy to grow this Mother Nature’s superfruit if you provide your cranberry plant with low pH, high organic matter soil, and the right amount of water.
Let’s take a closer look how growing cranberries can be achieved at home.
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In this article you will learn about
- Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) at glance
- Where do cranberries grow
- How to grow cranberries: essential requirements
- How to build a cranberry growing bed
- Can I grow cranberries in pots?
- 2 ways to grow cranberries at home
- Does the cranberry plant spread?
- When to plant cranberries
- How to plant cranberries
- How to care for cranberry plant
- How to harvest cranberries and when
- How long do cranberries last?
Let’s get started!
Cranberry plant profile
- Latin name: Vaccinium macrocarpon
- Also known as American Bog Cranberry, American Cranberry, Pilgrim Cranberry
- Cold hardy
- Not poisonous
- Hardiness zone in the USA: 2-7
- Sun requirement: full sun preferable, or at least 6-8 hours of sun per day
- Soil requirement: acidic, low pH
- Watering: needs frequent watering
- Mature size: 8 – 10″ tall x 2- 5′ wide
- Planting spacing: 2-3’ apart
- Self pollinating
- Blooming in spring, pink flowers resembling crane head and beak (that is why cranberries were called initially craneberries)
- Produces edible fruit – large tart red berries
- Growing season April – November
- Harvesting season: end of September till November, when berries turn red
- How to use: it’s possible to eat fresh berries, but they are way too acidic. Better to consume cooked in sauces, jam, cookies, cheesecakes, muffins, side dishes.
- Health benefits: great source of vitamin C, rich in antioxidants, protects from urinary tract infection, against liver disease, improves eyesight, lowers blood pressure according to WebMD
- Where to buy cranberry plant: Amazon
Where do cranberries grow?
Cranberries are commercially grown in such northern USA states as Wisconsin, Massachusetts , New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
They also grow in the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec In Canada. Other places where cranberries thrive are Northern and central Europe and Asia, and Argentina.
Can I grow cranberries at home?
If you live in any of the regions mentioned above where cranberries are grown commercially, it means that you can grow berry producing cranberry plants in your garden for sure, if you provide them with the right soil and adequate watering.
I need to note that USA nursery catalogs that sell the American cranberry plant Vaccinium macrocarpon (the cranberry that is grown commercially) show that the plant will grow in zones 2- 7 in the USA. And the buyers reported that their cranberry plants were growing well in zone 6. I think that cranberries can do well even in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.
I would try to grow them in zone 7. What do you have to lose, actually? It’s fun to experiment in your garden. Buy just one or two rooted seedlings, it is not that expensive. Even if the plant will not produce berries because of lack of cold time during winter, you still will be left with a nice perennial evergreen spreading groundcover.
Related reading. If you want to know how cranberries are grown commercially, what ”wet harvesting” means and other cool cranberry trivia – read my article “Do cranberries grow in water?”
How to grow cranberries successfully
All you need to do is to provide your cranberry plant with favorable growing conditions and let nature do its magic.
Cranberry growing requirements
- Cold winter: cranberry plants should get 3 months of temperatures in the 32-45 F range in order to produce fruit
- Full sun
- Highly organic acidic soil, preferably peat moss
- Frequent watering: needs moist, but not saturated soil
- Not much fertilizer
That’s it! If you can provide cranberry plants with these growing conditions you are going to have a bountiful harvest for years to come!
How to build a cranberry growing bed at home
Because cranberries have a very specific soil requirement in order to grow, which you most likely do not have in your garden, the best way to go about it is to dedicate a raised garden bed, large planter or patch in the garden and create the suitable conditions in chosen areas.
1) Choose location
Cranberries love full sun, so pick a location for a cranberry patch that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun daily.
2) Prepare soil
You need to prepare soil correctly, and this is a crucial part for successful cranberry growing.
Soil should have good drainage – cranberries will not grow in heavy clay soil.
It should be low pH, high organic matter soil, preferably peat moss and some sand.
You can create cranberry bed mimicking commercial growers:
Image source: cranberries.org
- clay on the bottom of bed,
- layer of gravel,
- a layer of peat moss to retain moisture and provide acidity,
- top with sand to ensure good drainage and suppress weeds.
Check acidity with a pH meter. It should read between 4.5 and 5.5 pH.
If the soil is not acidic enough, sprinkle some organic pelleted sulfur which is an organic soil acidifier, following instructions on the label.
Growing cranberries in containers
You can grow cranberries in pots if you choose a container that has a drain hole, is large enough and has an acidic growing medium.
Keep in mind, that cranberry is a low growing plant, think of it as ground cover, so it might not have enough height to be pleasing for the eye.
The ways to solve this problem may be to plant it in a large pot together with a high blueberry bush, because they have similar soil requirements.
Yet an even better idea is to plant cranberries in a hanging basket and let runners to spill over pot edges. It should look spectacular, especially in fall!
Related reading: Incorporate cranberries in nature inspired fall decor.
When to plant cranberries
You can plant cranberries in spring, after the ground thaws, preferably after the last major spring frost depending on your location (between April 15 till June).
Or plant cranberries in fall about a month before the ground freezes over for the winter – in October and early November.
Summer planting is also OK if you are transplanting a large potted cranberry plant from nursery to your garden..
Two ways to start growing cranberries at home
There two ways to grow cranberries at home:
- Start it from seed (you can get seeds online or gather them from fresh cranberry fruits bought in groceries).
- Transplant a cranberry plant or rooted seedling bought in nursery or online.
Because growing cranberries from seed is hard to achieve and the plant grown from seed will not produce berries for 4-5 years, this method is not recommended.
I bet you don’t like to wait 4-5 years to get some fruit.
Instead you can buy a rooted cranberry seedling in a small 3” pot, or, better yet, get a 3 to 4 year old ready to fruit cranberry plant in a gallon or quart container. In this scenario, all you need to do is to transplant your cranberry seedling or plant in a prepared bed. Easy peesy!😊
How to plant cranberries
Watch the Youtube video below to see how to plant cranberry.
- Do not plant cranberries deep. The root ball should be 1 -2 inches under the soil surface.
- Water your plant after planting. Soil should feel moist, but not soggy.
- If you plant cranberries in the spring, fertilize it very lightly with Down to Earth All Natural acid Mix Fertilizer.
- Space your cranberry plants 2′ apart. If you plant small rooted cranberry cuttings, then space them one per square foot.
Do cranberries spread?
Yes, they do, similar to strawberries.(or to periwinkle if you happen to know what this plant is)
Cranberry plants make great ground cover because they are perennial, evergreen, low growing and spread easily and quickly.
After you plant your cranberry plant, it will start to send out runners. Once the bed is filled in with runners, which takes about two years, then the plants will start to form uprights at the nodes of the runners. Flowers and fruits form on the uprights. Remember, that you can cut runners when pruning, but not uprights.
Cranberry plant care
Cranberries benefit from a ½ inch layer of sand every few years in spring. It helps to root the runners, produce more uprights and suppress weeds. You just get sand from a hardware store, scatter it by hand over the plants, and work the sand onto the soil surface.
The soil in which cranberries grow should feel moist to the touch all the time. Cranberry roots, if totally dried out, will not survive. The good news is that peat moss retains moisture well
Cranberry vines need approximately an inch of water a week to grow. Soil should be moist, but not soggy.
It is preferable to water your cranberry plant in the morning hours.
Cranberries require little fertilizer. If you are planting cranberries in the fall, wait to fertilize until spring. Apply fertilizer gently and lightly in a circle around each plant.
It is strongly recommended not to add nitrogen in the first two years, because nitrogen will encourage vigorous runners growth, but as we already learned, the fruits are formed on the uprights. And if the runners are inhibited from growing strongly, this will produce more uprights, and this is exactly what we want to happen. So, no nitrogen.
After the plant begins bearing regularly, usually in the third year, you can start to prune your cranberry plants. Pruning is done in spring before growth begins and before sanding. First you can take a rake and gently comb your plants. Then you should prune long runners – just lift and cut them, this will encourage uprights to form. Do not prune uprights.
It’s a good idea to grow cranberries in a raised bed or to have some kind of edging around the cranberry bed in order to prevent weeds and grass from invading into the bed.
How many cranberries will one plant yield?
When placed in good growing conditions, one plant yields 1 – 1.5 pounds of cranberries, but can yield up to 3 pounds in acidic, fertile soil that is kept moist and gets full sun.
When are cranberries harvested and how
It might disappoint you, but you don’t need to flood your cranberry bed to harvest cranberries as the commercials shows. 😊
“Dry harvesting” by hand will work just fine in your home garden.
Cranberry harvesting season lasts from late September till November. Cranberries ripen over several weeks, so you will be picking them more than once.
When cranberries are ready to harvest the seeds inside the berries will become brown and the berries turn deep dark red.
Discover more gardening tips on growing and maintaining your garden
Do you wish to make a healthy side dish with cranberries for dinner? Check out this quick and simple Green beans with almonds and cranberries recipe.
How long do cranberries last?
You can store fresh cranberries in the refrigerator. They will last for up to one month.
Alternatively, you can place fresh cranberries in a freezer bag and store them in your freezer up to one year. They will taste great when cooked.
My favorite use of frozen cranberries is to defrost them in a small amount of water on the kitchen counter, drain the water and use cranberries instead of raisins while baking cheesecake. Yummy!
Final thoughts on growing cranberries at home
All right. We are officially done.
You know by now that growing cranberries can be easy and fun!
You learned all you ever wanted to know about how to grow cranberries at home: climate and soil requirement, step-by step planting process, cranberry plant care, when and how to harvest cranberries, etc.
Now you are ready to purchase your cranberry plant and start growing and experimenting in your garden.
Happy gardening, fellow gardener! Wish you a bountiful cranberry harvest for many years to come!
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