By: Amy Grant
For the unadventurous, cranberries may only exist in their canned form as a gelatinous gooey condiment destined to moisten dry turkeys. For the rest of us, cranberry season is looked forward to and celebrated from fall into winter. Yet, even cranberry devotees may not know much about this little berry, including different cranberry varieties because, yes indeed, there are several varieties of cranberry.
About Cranberry Plant Types
The cranberry plant type native to North America is called Vaccinium macrocarpon. A different type of cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus, is native to countries in Europe. V. oxycoccus is a smaller speckled fruit, a tetraploid type of cranberry – which means that this kind of cranberry has twice as many chromosome sets as other kinds of cranberry, resulting in larger plants and flowers.
C. oxycoccus will not hybridize with the diploid V. macrocarpon, thus research has been focused only on using the latter.
Different Varieties of Cranberry
There are more than 100 different cranberry plant types or cultivars that grow in North America and each new cultivar’s DNA is generally patented. New, faster growing cultivars from Rutgers ripen earlier and with better color, and, they have higher sugar contents than traditional cranberry varieties. Some of these varieties include:
- Crimson Queen
- Mullica Queen
Other varieties of cranberry available from the Grygleski family include:
- Pilgrim King
- Valley King
- Midnight Eight
- Crimson King
- Granite Red
In some regions of the United States, older cultivars of cranberry plants are still thriving over 100 years later.
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Read more about Cranberries
Cranberry Vine Care – How To Grow Cranberries In Your Garden
Many people ask why cranberries? But the real question should be why not cranberries. The cranberry vine is a hardy evergreen that self-pollinates and hardly requires much pruning. These perennials stay in your garden for decades and keep your kitchen stocked up with their delicious fruits.
Homegrown cranberries when roasted become the best side dish for your Christmas dinner. Many people have them with roasted pork and swear by them. Cranberry sauce is a traditional delicacy in many cuisines and you can add cranberries to bread, cakes, ice cream, and just about any dessert you can think of.
So it might come as a surprise to you that you can actually grow the tarty cranberries in your garden. Here we cover everything you need to know to start your own cranberry vine and feast on their fresh or stored fruits all year round.
How to Grow Your Own Cranberry Bush
Native to North America, cranberry bushes are hardy and virtually pest free with a useful dual offering of both fruit and ornamental interest through much of the season. Adaptable and easy to maintain, the flowering edible shrub comes in 2 main forms. The first are upright bushes with stout, woody stems maple-like, lobed, deep green leaves in opposite pairs and bell-shaped, showy pink-flushed white flowers borne in groups with a delicate lacy appearance. The second are trailing varieties with slender, wiry stems that spread by underground runners smaller oval deep green leaves held in a bushy habit and flat creamy-white flowers that give way to the autumnal berries. Both offer fabulous autumn foliage colour, with leaves turning beautiful shades of yellow, crimson, purple and burgundy.
Cranberry bushes come in both upright and trailing forms
Cranberry plants are highly versatile, with various uses for both the upright and trailing forms. Upright bushes can be planted 60cm (2ft) apart and later clipped to shape to form a stunning, ornamental dense privacy hedge and windbreak, especially as the stunning berries will remain bunched on the shrub throughout the winter if left unpicked, offering radiant warm colour to an otherwise dull winter landscape. Their upright and naturally round shape also makes them perfect for adding ascent to the border or used as a specimen plant to set off the corners of your home or a large outbuilding. Alternatively, trailing varieties make great low border shrubs, looking particularly stunning when cascaded over the side of a raised bed, and are equally at home in hanging baskets or spilling from the side of mixed container plantings. Both types can be planted as a wildlife border along the edge of woods or grown en masse in a mixed border or fruit bed.
Recommended Cranberry Variety
The best cranberry variety is:
Cranberry Pilgrim - Pink flowers in spring followed by tart red berries which add colour and interest to the winter garden and provide food for wildlife if left unpicked. Perfect for a range of culinary uses, including of course making cranberry sauce to accompany your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Low growing evergreen with leathery leaves and a lax, cascading habit, ideal for containers or hanging baskets.
The flowers are followed by clusters of plump berries, starting out green before turning yellow and then bright scarlet by autumn. Becoming more visible and creating a dazzling display once the leaves have dropped, these are attractive to birds and small mammals that you will need to fend off if you intend to harvest the fruit. If you decide to sacrifice the fruit, they are a great way of bringing a greater diversity of wildlife to your garden. Cranberries should be harvested in the autumn when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red colour, usually in September through to early November.
Cranberries start out green before turning yellow, then bright scarlet
Check that the inner seeds are brown by breaking one cranberry in two before you start picking and bear in mind that berries deeper into the plant won't be as red a those on the top and edges because they don't get as much sunshine - they are still worth picking as they're equally as edible and still very tasty. Cranberries are best picked before the first hard frost. If you want to wait to get more colour in the fruit and you fear there is a risk of a frost, cover the bed with plastic or a blanket during the night. Using this method, you can actually pick them straight off the plant on Christmas eve, just in time for the turkey, if you prefer. Crops increase as bushes become more established and mature, so don't worry if fruiting looks a little thin in the early years.
Cranberry are widely hailed as a 'super fruit' due to their nutritional content and antioxidant qualities. They are edible, albeit sharp and sour, when eaten fresh but more commonly used for a range of culinary uses, including in the making of sauces, jams, preserves, juices and even baking, where they combine well with orange or orange-zest in muffins, scones, cakes and breads. Cranberry sauce is of course most well known for being an indispensable part of traditional American Thanksgiving menus and English Christmas dinners, as well as other European winter festivals. Cranberries can also be dried to eat as a convenient 'anytime' snack and they keep for up to 9 months if frozen. Frozen fruits are suitable for using directly in recipes without thawing. Cholesterol and fat-free, the fruits are one of the healthiest sources of vitamin C, containing antioxidants that improve the skin and phytochemicals which reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other degenerative diseases. Finally, they can be used to add a decorative twist to wreaths, swags, bouquets or other home decor.
Cranberries have a wide range of culinary uses
Cranberry Planting Advice
Cranberries are acid-loving plants best grown in full sun or dappled shade in a moist, but not saturated, lime-free, humus-rich soil. Whilst a number of commercial growers will allow cranberry plants to be covered by 3-5cm (2-3") of water after fruiting, this is to facilitate an automatic method of harvesting, not because it represents ideal growing conditions. Plant with peat or moss, mixing in lots of organic matter and ericaceous compost if you do not have a naturally acidic soil. If your soil is strongly alkaline, heavy clay or silt (none are suitable), consider growing cranberries in raised beds using an organic matter, preferably peat, mixed with sand and ericaceous compost. Mulch with pine-needles, leaf-mould or conifer clippings after planting - all of these materials are acidic so will help to keep the pH of the soil at the desired level.
Mulch cranberry bushes with pine needles, leaf mould or conifer clippings to keep the soil acidic
Whilst cranberries are self-fertile, many people prefer to plant several varieties at once to encourage pollination and increase production. If you choose to do this, plant 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft) apart to allow plenty of space for the bushes to spread over time (plant closer, around 60cm or 2ft apart if growing upright varieties as a dense hedge). If planting in a container, use an ericaceous compost and consider mixing in water retaining gel to ensure sufficient water retention around the roots. As cranberry bushes are cold hardy, they are capable of withstanding more exposed sites, although fruit production may be reduced.
Keep the area around your cranberry plants well weeded, particularly in the first year this is particularly important as cranberry plants do not cope well against weed competition. Apply a 5-10cm (2-4") layer of organic mulch around the base of the shrub every November to protect against cold, keep the soil moist and achieve the desired acidity. Water regularly during prolonged periods of dry weather using collected rainwater if at all possible to keep the pH at the right level - tap water often contains lime so will gradually make the soil more alkaline over time. The application of a balanced, multipurpose feed once a year will encourage healthy new growth.
As cranberries are well-loved by birds and mammals, it sometimes helps to install netting around your plants at the start of the fruiting season. This is easy to do for trailing varieties as the netting can be held in place with low canes or rocks. Whilst Cranberries are virtually disease free, if plants are weakened by a soil that is too alkaline they may become susceptible to vine weevil. If this happens, deploy nematodes (small worms which kill vine weevil larvae) to protect your plants, then start taking measures to correct the pH of the surrounding soil over time. Very little pruning is necessary - simply thin out older stems and strategically trim your bush back into shape after the fruit has been harvested.
Many thanks for this article. I have been planning to plant cranberries for a while now and this information has helped me to decide to give it a go. The advice is good, easy to read and understand and straight to the point.
@ Mrs Lockley - thanks so much for the feedback - really pleased to hear you found the article useful. Best of luck with the cranberries.
Planting and Care
Roselle is started from seed or cuttings and typically planted outdoors in April or May. The variety 'Victor' has proven to be a good choice for gardeners in South Florida. Early pruning will increase branching and the development of more flowering shoots.
Plants begin to bloom as the days shorten (in 4-5 months) and the calyces are ready for harvest in October or November. Calyces should be harvested when they are tender and plump they will stay fresh for about a week after picking. Harvesting encourages more flower buds to develop. You won't have to plant a lot of roselle to get a good harvest one plant will give you many fruits—as much as 12 pounds with the right care.
Roselle does best in well-drained soil and appreciates watering when rainfall is inadequate. Be aware that this plant does not do well in the shade and needs plenty of sunlight to thrive. Roselle can also be planted in Florida in August. It is only hardy in zones 9-10, and is damaged by frosts or freezes plan your harvest before temperatures drop below 40° F. Root-knot nematodes are the major pest you will have to deal with when growing roselle, so be sure to practice crop rotation to reduce nematode problems.
Since roselle grows as an annual, be sure to save seeds from one season to the next. It is an heirloom plant that is passed from gardener to gardener. You can also look for plants in the spring and summer at your local farmers market.
For more information on roselle, contact your county Extension office.