Most gardeners do not realize that they do not have to live waist-deep in a bog in order to grow their own cranberries. Highbush cranberries (viburnum trilobum) come in several varieties, including Alfredo, Early Black, Howes, Stevens, and Wentworth, that have been specifically bred as shrubs, some of which can grow as tall as 15 feet. Hand-picking is all that’s required, rather than flooding a field and floating the berries like logs in a boom.
Highbush cranberries are, however, somewhat difficult to find. Check with your local nursery, and if they don’t carry Highbush cranberries, they might be able to put you in touch with specialty growers who do and will ship the plants to you. Nature Hills Nursery carries the Alfredo and Wentworth varieties.
Be sure to read Growing Fruit 101 in conjunction with this post.
Best Climate to Grow: Highbush cranberries will grow in almost any temperate climate.
Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade.
Soil Requirements: Highbush cranberries don’t require any particular pH range in order to grow, but they do require slightly sandy soil that both retains moisture and drains well. Deep till and amend as needed before planting.
Feeding and Water Requirements: Hydrolyzed fish, bloodmeal, and bonemeal are excellent fertilizers to apply in the Spring each year. Drip irrigation and mulch is recommended to keep the soil consistently moist.
When to Plant: Late Fall or early Spring.
Planting Depth and Spacing: Transplant your Highbush cranberry into a hole that is two times the diameter of the root ball and the same depth as the container the bush came in – you don’t want to plant it any deeper than it already was. Fill in the hole, press down firmly, and water thoroughly. Finish off by mulching.
Container Requirements: A large container at least 1 foot deep is recommended, particularly if you are planning to allow your cranberry bushes to grow to their full height. You will want to make sure, if the container is to remain indoors, that your cranberry bush has plenty of exposure to sunlight or it may not produce fruit. Fertilization with hydrolyzed fish, bloodmeal, or bonemeal will need to be more frequent – perhaps twice a year or more, as with most container plants. Drip irrigation specifically for containers is recommended, in addition to mulching.
Pruning: Very little pruning is needed with Highbush cranberries, other than to remove old growth or for shape.
Harvesting and Storage: Pick the berries when they are bright red in the Fall. Frost will damage them, so either pick them prior to the first frost date, or provide some kind of protection from the elements in order to prolong the harvest season.
Pests to Monitor: Birds; Blackvine Weevil; Cranberry Fruitworm, Girdler, Rootworm, and Tipworm; Flea Beetles; and Strawberry Rootweevil. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.