You have probably seen the cranberry juice commercial with the two guys standing hip-deep in water. Makes one believe you have to have a shallow lake in order to grow cranberries. Actually, the fields are only flooded for harvesting the berries, as it makes this process easier.
It is possible to grow this healthy fruit in your backyard garden. It takes some preparation and a bit of work, but the effort is well worth it.
Cranberries can be grown in your home garden if you live in zones two through five. They can be grown in containers in other zones, but the plants will not be self-sustaining the way they are when planted in a garden. We’ll discuss more about that in another article.
Clear an area of about 4 feet by 8 feet (1.22 m to 2.44 m) for your cranberry bed and dig to a depth of 6 to 8 inches (15.24 cm to 20.32 cm. Cranberries are very particular about the soil where they grow. Remove all of the existing soil. Then fill the cranberry bed with peat moss with 1 pound (.45 kg) of blood meal and 1/2 pound (.23 kg) of bone meal mixed in.
Wet the entire bed down thoroughly before planting the cranberry plants. To do so, water until you think it is wet enough. Stop, wait an hour or so, then water again. Peat moss is hard to soak completely the first time. Just be careful you do not over-saturate the soil. Wait at least twenty-four hours before planting your cuttings.
Planting and Planting Your Cranberries
For your eight foot bed, purchase seven one-year cuttings or four three-year cuttings. It takes three years for cranberry plants to start bearing fruit, so you will berries sooner if you have three-year-old seedlings.
If you have one-year cuttings, plant them 1 foot (.30 m) apart. Your three-year-old plants need to be planted 3 feet (.90 m) apart. You need plenty of room between the plants for the runners that will soon fill your bed. Place the root ball of each plant 2 inches (5.08 cm) below ground level.
If you start off with 3-year seedlings, you might get some berries during the first fall after planting. Younger cuttings will take a year or two before you get a harvest. Pick your cranberries before the first frost in your area. Ripe berries will be deep red with brown seed inside.
Caring for Your Cranberries
After you pick your berries, mulch your plants heavily – pine needles are excellent for this. Uncover them in early spring, but recover them on any night when you expect frost.
Do not prune your cranberries for three years after planting. After three years, cut the old shoots and trim the runners. Cleaning up the cranberry bed and giving the plants more room to grow will produce heavier yields in subsequent years. Repeat the pruning process every three years.
If you provide an excellent bed for your young plants, keep the roots moist, mulch your bed in the winter, and wait to prune for three years after planting, your cranberry plants will provide fruit almost indefinitely. There are actually some commercial fields with plants that have been bearing fruit for a century.
In a forthcoming article, we will tell you more about how to care for your cranberry plants, as well as how to grow them in containers in any gardening zone.