Cranberries in the Home Garden

It's hard to find a fruit that combines tartness and sweetness the way cranberries do. And did you know you can grow 'em in your garden?

Cranberries are an iconic part of American cuisine, thanks almost exclusively to a single dish: the deep red sauce often served at Thanksgiving (though cranberry juice is also popular). That's hardly a surprise, since they were common in the regions where Europeans first settled in North America.

While the cranberry is best grown in the northeast, you don't have to live there to grow them. As long as you live in a moderate climate (one that's neither too cold nor too hot) and are willing to put in a little effort, you can be ladling homegrown cranberry sauce on your turkey in two or three years.

Intro to the Cranberry

The "craneberry," as it was originally known, is the fruit of a series of related evergreen shrubs or creeping vines of the genus Vaccinium, which are indigenous to the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. Also called mossberries or fenberries, they tend to grow in acidic bog environments.

The bright red cranberry is a nutritious, vitamin-packed fruit with antioxidant properties, and it's been convincingly argued that it may deter tooth decay (possible due to the high Vitamin C content). It's a fact that cranberry juice inhibits bacterial growth in the urinary tract, and it may also help reduce stress.

How to Grow a Cranberry

You can't just plop a cranberry vine or bush into the ground, as you can with many berry plants; you have to make some careful preparations first.

Unless you have a boggy area in your yard, first dig out your cranberry patch down about eight inches and line the bottom of the pit with plastic perforated with drainage holes. Fill the hole with peat moss, and then wet it down thoroughly before tamping it down gently and adding more wetted peat until the hole's filled.

Next, work in a mixture of one-half part bone meal, one part phosphate, and one part blood meal before planting. Space your year-old plants about a foot apart, with the root ball 2-3 inches below the level of the peat moss. Add more moss as necessary, and keep your newly-made cranberry bog constantly wet.

Now What?

The moss should always be damp to the touch, but not soaked. Every year or two, add a layer of sand to the peat moss, and keep it topped off (it will rot and compact at the bottom of the pit). Prune your plants once they're three years old. For more information, check out this cool site.

After 2-3 years, you should be able to start harvesting. Be sure to pick the berries before the first frost, or they'll be ruined. You can expect to get about a pound of cranberries per square foot.

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