Growing Information

Growing cranberries can be easy and fun. Check out our information below or go to our Cranberry Videos page to see how it is done.

Select an area of interest.

"Why Grow Cranberries?
About the Plant
What Varieties to Grow
How to Purchase Plants
When to Plant
How to Prepare the Soil
Caring for the Cranberry Bed
Harvesting
Protecting Your Plants for the Winter
Other Practices to Keep Your Planting Healthy
Pest Control
Care of Plants purchased as Holiday Centerpieces


Why Grow Cranberries?
Cranberries are one of the healthiest sources for getting your vitamin C and protecting your body against urinary track infections. More studies are showing other beneficial effects because of their high antioxidant content. Each cup of these little red and tart berries are easy to grow, becoming popular as a health food choice, and render a unique addition to the home garden.

About the Plant
The cranberry is an evergreen groundcover plant native to North America. Only two other species of fruit are native, the lowbush blueberry and the grape. Cranberries have two types of growth habits; runners (rhizomes) which trail on the ground and spread the plant as long as two feet in one season and uprights which are born on the runners in the second and third year and bear the flowers and fruit. The goal is to get the numerous runners to spread quickly in the first two years to cover the ground, and then to produce strong uprights (up to 200 per sq. foot) to produce flowers and fruit.

The cranberry plant has a fine root system that only grows in the upper 4 to 6 inches of the soil. These roots do not have rootlets and depend on mycorrhizal associations to absorb nutrients. The root systems are also very able to withstand long periods under water in the winter, which is a genetic trait of many wetland species.

Knowing about the plant and growth habit can help you understand how to grow this uniquely american fruit.

What Varieties to Grow
Many cranberry varieties exist. Most are wild selections, like Early Black, Howes and Ben Lear. Stevens is a hybrid bred by USDA for productivity and disease resistance. Cranberries are distinguished by harvest season, size, and color. Ben Learís dark color is prized for processing into sauces, whereas smaller fruited, meaty flesh varieties such as Early Black and Howes are brighter red and can be stored for long periods for fresh sales and has higher pectins than other varieties. Stevens has large red fruit and is typically used for processing into juice but also makes great sauce. Most homeowners like either Howes as it is a heritage wild variety found originally in Massachusetts, OR Stevens because of it's productivity. At Cranberry Creations we sell both these varieties to meet the needs of our customers. We do not sell the other two due to numerous growing problems with them that require special treatments for disease and insect control. Currently we are repropagating Howes in 2014, so if you want some, we will have them in spring 2015.
Variety SeasonFruitSizeColor
Ben LearEarlyLargeBurgundy
Early BlackEarlySmallDeep Red
StevensMidLargeRed
HowesLateSmallRed


How to Purchase Plants
Cranberry plants can be purchased as one year rooted cuttings in small pots or three to four year ready-to-fruit plants in larger gallon pots. The more plants you purchase, the faster you can fill in a bed. One year cuttings will take three to four years to fruit and will take a longer time to fill in the bed area. Three and four year old plants should be ready to flower and fruit in the first season as they have developed numerous uprights. Well developed three year old plants also have plenty of runners to fill in the bed faster than smaller plants.

At Cranberry Creations, we sell the three year old plants that are ready to flower and fruit, because most folks do not like to wait three years to get some fruit. Many of our plants have produced fruit in the first year of planting in your home garden.

Many folks have told us that our plants are much bigger than other online and catalog companies. We decided to do our own research and our results confirm that at least some of the major companies charge alot more for the size of plant we purchased from them. Here are some pictures to prove it.......





When to Plant
Cranberries can be planted in the fall through October and early November or in the spring between April 15th to June. Summer planting of 3 year old rooted plants is also possible,so long as plants are purchased in pots and are actively growing.

How to Prepare the Soil

Soil Preparation:

If you want a large bed, say 4ftx8ft, then follow the instructions below. If you want a specimen plant in a single location, give each plant about a 2 foot by 2 foot spacing and still follow the directions for prepping the soil. Either way, you will be able to get a plant to spread into the area you want to have it grow. The key to a successful planting is getting the bed made with low pH, high organic matter soil, preferably peatmoss and sand. Cranberry plants do poorly in clay or silt.

Sandy Soils - If your soil is already sandy remove topsoil down 8 inches, add a 6 mil plastic liner, poke plenty of holes in the plastic, and add 4 bales (3.8 cu.ft) of peat moss for every 32 square feet. Mix in bone meal (1/2 lb), epsom salts (1 cup), rock phosphate (1 lb) and bloodmeal (1 lb) for every 32 sq. ft. Wet peatmoss with garden hose, or wait until natural rain moistens the peat. Wetting the peatmoss will be hard. Be patient and add water in a mist, slowly. Mix the pet often to help absorb water.

Clay or Silt Soils - If your soil is clay or silty, dig out a garden area 8 inches deep, directly add the peat without the plastic liner. Follow directions as above for adding peatmoss, fertilizer and water.

Cranberry beds do well with a formal wood or plastic border around the planting. Raised beds can also be done so that you can contain the runners as the plants fill out the bed. The goal is to keep weeds from invading the bed, or for the cranberry plants to overtake the lawn.


Planting:
When planting, space one year plants, like those from other catalog companies, 1 ft x 1 ft, or closer, with root ball two inches below surface. For Cranberry Creation's plants in six inch pots, plant them about 2.5 ft x 2.5 ft apart.

Caring for the Cranberry Bed

Weeding:
The main goal in the first year is to keep the bed weeded. Cranberry plants do not survive well against weed competition. Weed often!
Watering:
Also in the first year, and subsequent years, make sure the plants are watered. Cranberry roots, if totally dried out, will not survive. While they also do not like saturated soil during the growing season, they at least need moist soil. The peat moss will absorb lots of water and provide moisture in dry conditions, but make sure the peat moss is moist at all times. It is a common myth that cranberries need to be in very saturated conditions. Peatmoss does need to be moist to the touch, but not saturated.
Fertilizer:
In the first two years you DO want to add extra nitrogen to get the runners to fill in the bed. But once the bed is filled in, cut way back on nitrogen. Too much fertilizer and the plants just create a mass of runners and no uprights. We suggest applying a fish emulsion fertilizer (2-4-2) at a rate of ½ gallon once at the beginnning of growth in the spring, once as the flower buds show, and once more once the berries start forming.

It bears repeating here that flowers and fruits form on the uprights. Uprights form at the nodes of the runners. Once the bed is filled in with runners, which takes about two years, then you want to start to form uprights. You need to withhold nitrogen, and IF the runners are inhibited from growing strongly they will produce uprights. Hence, the less the fertilizer,the less the runner growth, and the more the uprights will form. Too much fertilizer, and you will reduce the number of uprights that are formed.

The best way to see how much fertilizer you need is to test the soil every other year by contacting your Extension Office and getting a soil testing kit. These tests can give you a better indication of how much fertilizer to add so that you do not over fertilize. Use your test results and compare them to the commercial grower information found in Washington, Oregon, Wiscosin, New Jersey or Massachusetts.

Harvesting


By the end of the first year, you will want to pick off and eat any berries that formed. Harvest them by hand before the first frost. Typically in New England that is around late September to Early October. You can tell when the berries are ready by the brown color of the seeds when you open a berry. If the plants and berries got alot of sun, the berries will be the typical burgundy color of fall.

It is a myth that you should pick the berries after a frost. Cranberries cannot stand a frost below 30°F so it is best to pick them before a hard frost. If you want to wait to get more color in the fruit, then make sure you cover the bed with plastic or a blanket during the frost nights.

Many people ask how many cranberries one can expect from a planting. Well, my rule of thumb is that, once the bed has filled in with runners and uprights, you should be able to harvest one (1) lb of fruit for every 5 sqft of bed. NOW, that assumes that you have about 100 uprights in a square foot of bed area. The way I count the uprights is to take a one square foot square and place it on the bed and count the uprights in the square. If you have too few uprights, you will need to work to fill in the bed more with runners by more fertilizer, OR, if you have too many runners, cut back on the fertilizer to balance the growth.

Protecting Your Plants for the Winter

Cranberry leaves are evergreen and they will dry out if the ground freezes and the leaves cannot get moisture. Be sure to protect your plants in during the winter season. You can achieve this by mulching the plants with pine needles or leaves in late November just as the ground freezes(this will protect against the drying effect that winter brings). Another method is to use polyspun row covers or opaque plastic first, then add the mulch. DO NOT use clear or black plastic, as those plastics will heat up the bed in the winter and kill your plants.

You will probably want to mousebait under the plastic or leaves to keep rodents from nesting and damaging your plants. They like to chew on the stems during the winter. To make a simple mouse bait house,take a roof shngle, bend it to a tent, and place a mousebait station under it. Perhaps put two under the plastic.

Uncover the plants on April 1st but continue to protect the plants against frost by covering them back up during frosty nights, mainly after the shoots start to grow in early May. New shoots can stand about 28F but below that they may get killed, which would eliminate your fruit for that year. .

Other Practices to Keep Your Planting Healthy

Sanding:
Cranberries benefit from having a layer of sand added to the bed every few years. During the spring, add a ½ inch of sand over the bed by scattering the sand with your hand. Just scatter the sand over the plants and work the sand down onto the soil surface. I like to get general sharp sand from the hardware store. Sanding helps root the runners and produce more uprights. Sanding also helps reduce the germination of weeds, cover diseased leaves, and some insect pests are inhibited.

Pollination:
Cranberries are self pollinating; two varieties are not needed. Bumble bees and honeybees benefit pollination. Anything you can do in your garden to encourage bumblebees will help you produce more cranberries.

Pruning:
In the third year of the cranberry plant's life and yearly thereafter, lightly rake the plants with a landscape rake in the spring just before growth begins and just before sanding the plants. This raking will comb the long runners in one direction. If you then lift the runners and cut the long ones, you will be giving them a light pruning which will encourage uprights to form on the cut runners, and keep the runners from overrunning the planting. Only prune back the long runners, not the uprights. This will ensure coverage of healthy uprights and minimize the long runners. However, if you planting gets out of control, or starts to grow way out of the bounds, you can mow the whole planting in the early spring before growth begins. Cut the plants back to about 2 inches above the soilline. This haircut will cause the plants to grow back uprights. You will lose a year of production, but get back your sanity.

Pest Control

We recommend that you do not use any form of pesticides in your garden bed. Now, having said that, if you do get a leaf or fruit disease there are organic and nonorganic sprays you can use for various insects and leaf diseases. We will mention a few here.

Cranberry Tipworm = Cranberry tipworm is relatively new to cranberry country. These buggers can eat the young tip of the upright in the spring and summer, and prevent the upright from fruiting the following year. There are expensive chemicals you can purchase, but I suggest that, if you get this insect, you use a number of yellow soapy traps to catch the buggers when they first take to flight in late May. place the pan with water and soap out next to the cranberry plants. The pan needs to be yellow for this to work. Usually you can put them out in May, and keep emptying and refilling the trap with new soapy solution every two weeks.

Cranberry Fruitworm = If you get too many berries that have berry fruitworm, you can use a trick I use and look for red berries in August. If the berry is red in August, that means it has been infested with a worm. Pick off those berries and the few around that berry, as the worm may have moved to another fruit by that point. Dispose of those berries.

Red Spot and Berry Fruit Rot = These two diseases are easy to control with an organic copper spray. If you find leaf spot or if alot of your fruit rots before harvest, you can spray copper weekly from late june to early August. Follow the directions on the label to determine what the amount and timing should be.

If you have any further problems or would like to know more about cranberry pests, you may purchase the Maine Cranberry Grower's Guide at your local Cooperative Extension Office. Or you may contact the Massachusetts IPM Notebook:

Cranberry Experiment Station
P.O. Box 569,
East Wareham, MA 02538
(617) 295-2212


There are many sources of information on cranberry pest control on the web these days.

Care of Plants purchased as Holiday Centerpieces
If you hold one of our holiday plants you can care and maintain them by following these instructions.
If you receive this gift in the fall, wait until the end of November or December to water the plant thoroughly and remove it from the pot. Water the rootball and place the plant in a sealed plastic bag. Store the plant in a crisp area of the refridgerator. If this is not an option, fulfill the cranberry plant's cold temperature requirement by keeping the plant in a cool cellar area or outside the barn. The plant will remain dormant for the winter in this state and will get the chilling requirement to be able to flower and fruit the next year. Without the chilling, it will only grow shoots the following season. In the spring (March-April), take the plant out and either pot it in a container in a sunny location in the house, or plant outdoors. [Be sure to follow the gardening instructions on this page]. If you leave it in the house, make sure it has plenty of water. We like to put a deep vinyl saucer under the pot, and keep the liner filled with water. Plants, if left in the house, may not fruit due to lack of sunlight or pollination of flowers. Provide the plant with fertilizer like you would any houseplant.