Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cranberries for my Garden

Photo of flowering cranberries, Courtesy of Todd Boland

I have been following a chat thread on Dave's Garden about what new edibles we are planning for the next planting season. I have decided to include cranberries on my list! I love cranberries, and they were both dear and scarce this year, so why not grow some?

Cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, grow wild from North Georgia to Canada, usually in damp and swampy areas. However, cranberries are not necessarily grown in bogs; they can be grown on dry land. They prefer the colder zones 2-6/7, and do best in acidic (pH of 4.5-5.0, just like blueberries) and fertile soils. The are perennials, and the shallow root system grows just in the top six inches of soil. Many commercial growers add an inch of soil or sand after harvest to help protect the root system over winter. 

The best time for planting is late October or early November before the ground freezes, or in April and early May.

In my clay soil, I can just put them in the ground, in prepared planting holes 8" deep and a foot apart, filled with blood meal, soft rock phosphate and bone meal well-mixed into peat moss (the peat is for acidity). The clay keeps the soil around the roots from draining too much, but they need to be closely watched as they may need frequent watering to prevent fully drying out during the growing season. One year old plants will fruit in 2 or sometimes 3 years; the average fruit yield is one pound of fruit per square foot of plants. As plants get old and woody, they should be replaced for better production.

Once you have a few plants established, you can take softwood cuttings in the summer to root for additional fall plantings, and be sure to take cuttings from old woody plants you are replacing. The cranberry is basically a low-growing ground cover, growing to about 12" tall, putting out fast-growing horizontal runners. Short "canes" grow up from the runners and produce the spring flowers that become the fall fruit.

Plants are available from Park Seed, Gurney's, Jung, and Shooting Star Nursery. The University of Maine has a fabulous website about cranberries, with curriculum helps and printables for teachers. (There are a lot cranberry facts and information for classroom use with children of all ages on the U. Maine website.) 

I can't see that I have anything to lose by trying to grow a few cranberries in my garden!

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