Grow Your Own

Cranberries

In the garden, cranberries form an effective carpeting ground cover around blueberries and are happy in containers or window boxes. The tiny flowers of this evergreen are followed by red berries, which can be used in sauces, stuffing and as an accompaniment to barbecued meat. The evergreen foliage often turns bronze or red in winter. Cranberry juice is considered to be high in vitamins.

Cranberries

Grow

If you can grow rhododendrons or blueberries in your garden soil, cranberries should succeed. Otherwise, grow plants in pots, hanging containers or raised beds in ericaceous compost.

Water with rainwater, not ‘hard’ tap water. Compost should be moist at all times, not waterlogged and should never dry out. Peg down or bury long, trailing stems - these will root over time.

Feed during the growing season, if growth is poor with a little hoof and horn (15g per sq m) or sulphate of ammonia. Old beds can be revitalised by covering them with a 14mm (½in) layer of sharp sand in spring and working the sand down between the stems.

Using a test kit, check the pH regularly and add flowers of sulphur if the soil is becoming less acidic.

Propagation: peg down trailing stems from March to June, to encourage rooting.

Little pruning is required, other than to remove any excessively long and congested arching growth in early spring. Trim out straggly roots after harvesting.

Plant

Cranberries need organic, rich, moist to boggy acidic soils, ideally at pH 4.5, in an open, sunny site. Although they like constantly moist conditions, plants should sit above the water. 

Plant in garden soil, providing it is suitable. Alternatively, dig a trench 90cm (36in) wide by 30cm (12in) deep and line it with heavy duty polythene or pond liner, fill it with ericaceous compost for acid loving plants and soak with rainwater before planting or create a raised bed, 30cm (12in) deep.

Plant at a spacing of 30cm (12in) in and between the rows in from October to December,  in mild spells in winter or in March and April.

They can also be grown in large, 30-37.5cm (12-15in) pots.

Common problems

Cranberries need an acid soil to thrive. If their leaves turn yellow and growth slows, then consider growing them in pots of ericaceous compost or acidifying the soil.

Birds

Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.

Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.

More info on Birds

Harvesting

Plants fruit prolifically from the third year.

Harvest from late September to mid October, before the first frost, when fruits part easily from the stem.

Varieties

Pilgrim:Ideal for container growing, fruits ripen from July to September.

Early Black:Early harvesting, small and deep red; ideal for sauces and for baking.

Redstar:Ideal for window boxes or containers, dark pink flowers are followed by bright red fruits.

Stevens:Mid season with large, red fruit.


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