Cranberry Farming – Growing Tips, and Techniques

Cranberry Farming

Hello friends, today we are here with a new topic called “Cranberry Farming, Planting Tips, Ideas, Secrets, and Techniques”. The botanical name of Cranberry is Vaccinium macrocarpon. Cranberries are woody, low-growing perennial vines. Cranberry plants belong to the subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium and are members of the Ericaceae, or heath family, which includes blueberries. Cranberries are a tart and red berry commonly used in a variety of sauces, pies, and juices. Also, they are a popular addition to salads and are eaten in dried form as a snack. In recent years, Cranberries have become well-known for their healing qualities, due in large part to their high concentration of vitamin C and antioxidants.

Cranberry plants grow runners measuring from about 1 to 6 feet long with dark green, glossy plant leaves during its growth phase, and the dormant season reddish-brown color will appear. From these branches, berries form. Then, these beds are known as bogs or marshes and created by glacial deposits. Now, let us get into the details of Cranberry Farming and Growing.

A Step-by-Step Planting Guide for Cranberry Farming, Cranberry Growing Tips, Techniques, and Secrets

Cranberry Plant
Cranberry Plant (Iamge credit: pixabay)

Different Varieties for Cranberry Farming

There are more than 100 different Cranberry varieties that grow in North America. Traditional Cranberry varieties include ‘Early Blacks’, ‘Howes’, ‘Stevens’, ‘Searles’, ‘Ben Lear’, ‘McFarlain’. Other varieties include ‘Crimson Queen’, ‘Mullica Queen’, ‘Demoranville’, Other varieties of Cranberry available from the Grygleski family include ‘GH1’,  ‘BG’, ‘Pilgrim King’, ‘Valley King’, ‘Midnight Eight’, ‘Crimson King’, and ‘Granite Red’.

There are several varieties of Cranberries that can be used in home growing. The variety you select will depend on what you intend to use the berries for.

Howes Cranberries are small and red berries native to Massachusetts. They are very easy to grow and will stay fresh for a long time after harvesting if stored correctly.

Stevens Cranberries are a hybrid Cranberry variety designed for productivity and disease resistance. They are large and bright red.

Quick Overview of Cranberry Farming

  • Latin name – Vaccinium macrocarpon
  • It is also called American Bog Cranberry, American Cranberry, and Pilgrim Cranberry
  • Perennial
  • Evergreen
  • Cold hardy
  • Hardiness zone in the USA – 2-7
  • Sun requirement – full sun preferable, or at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day
  • Soil requirement – acidic, low pH
  • Watering – needs frequent watering
  • Planting spacing – 2-3 feet apart
  • Self-pollinating
  • Blooming in the spring season, pink flowers resembling crane head and beak (that is why Cranberries were called initially Cranberries)
  • Growing season – April – November
  • Harvesting season – end of September till November, when berries turn a red color

Where Do Cranberries Grow?

Cranberries are commercially cultivated in such northern USA states as Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Also, they grow in the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec in Canada. Other places where Cranberry plants thrive are Northern and Central Europe and Asia, and Argentina.

Prepare Soil for Cranberry Farming

You need to prepare soil correctly, and this is an important part of successful Cranberry growing.  The soil must have good drainage Cranberries will not grow in heavy clay soil. It must be low pH, high organic matter soil, preferably peat moss and some sand. You can create a Cranberry bed mimicking commercial growers;

  • Clay on the bottom of the bed,
  • A layer of gravel,
  • A layer of peat moss to retain moisture and also provide acidity,
  • Top with sand to ensure a good drainage level and suppress weeds.

Alternatively, you can mix your existing soil with peat moss and some sand. Then add a bit of bone meal, Epsom salts, rock, and blood meal for soil enrichment. Check acidity with a pH meter and it should read between 4.0 and 5.5 pH.

If the soil is not acidic enough, sprinkle by using organic pelleted sulfur which is an organic soil acidifier, following instructions on the label. Soil preparation before you plant will greatly improve the plant’s performance and promote healthy growth. It is a good idea to have the soil tested to determine if it is lacking in any essential minerals and nutrients. If a hard frost is expected, it is advisable to delay planting for a while until temperature levels become more moderate. Usually, as long as your soil is workable, it is fine to plant.

Best Location and Spacing for Cranberry Farming

  • Choose a location with full sun, good drainage, and very fertile soil.
  • Space Cranberry plants 2 to 3 feet apart and will only grow about 8-10 inches high. Amend the soil with organic matter like dehydrated cow manure, garden compost, and peat moss.
  • Cranberries love full sun, so choose a location for a Cranberry patch that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun daily.
  • Cranberry plants grow best in USDA Zones 4 to 7.
  • Cranberries planting in full sun but not in a location that gets too hot; a south-facing location is not optimal.
  • Cranberry plants thrive in moist, well-drained, and humus-rich soil. They are grown on sandy or peaty bogland. Cranberries can grow in ordinary acid soil and plant in ordinary soil use heavy peat mulch to protect plants in winter.
  • Cranberries grow best in acid soil and soil pH level of 4.0 to 5.5 is optimal.
  • Grow Cranberry plants on a raised bed or in a sunken bed where you can control the acidity of the soil and drainage. Plants do not tolerate dry soil, but they can withstand flooding in cold weather conditions.

Proper Conditions for Cranberry Farming

Cranberry plants are resistant to cold and frost which is -40°C. It is necessary to use rainwater for watering, mainly if the available water contains too many carbonates. These can be watered using a surface sprinkler system or dripping system, which has several advantages. Dripping systems are buried under the raised bed surface in the direction of the rows, before planting.

During the first year of planting, regular watering is required all summer long. Cranberries like humid areas, cooler positions, and acidic soil pH levels 4.0 to 5.5. These are grown in areas with cold climate conditions and in some regions thrive up to 1500 meters above sea level.

One of the most important features of caring for Cranberry plants is to protect them from frosts. Cranberry plants can be protected by covering with plastic sheets or blankets in the event of a frost in the home garden. Cranberry beds must be kept moist through irrigation. Cranberry plants benefit from the addition of fertilizers with nitrogen being the most common requirement. Cranberry plants utilize nitrogen in the ammonium form as they cannot reduce the nitrogen to nitrate. Also, phosphorous may be required but should not be applied to the soil in excess amounts as acid soils bind large quantities of the element and it is unavailable to the plants.

Cranberry Growing Requirements

  • Cold winter conditions – Cranberry plants get 3 months of temperatures in the 1 – 7°C  range to produce fruit
  • Full sun
  • Highly organic acidic soil, preferably peat moss
  • Not much fertilizer

Pollination in Cranberry Farming

Cranberry flowers are self-pollinating; honeybees will increase the size of the crop.

Propagation in Cranberry Farming

For propagating Cranberry plants from seed, it can take 3 to 5 years to produce fruit. Also, remember that any seed you save from existing plants may not grow true to the parent, as there are different hybrids and cultivated varieties in circulation. However, you can take cuttings from existing plants to root at home, and in some areas, you can find rooted cuttings or nursery starts available from your local garden center for transplanting.

Different propagation methods for Cranberry can be given below;

Propagating Cranberry from Seed

Unless they are labelled as “pre-stratified,” seeds will need a period of cold stratification before sowing. You can do this by placing them in the refrigerator for about 3 months before sowing indoors. After they have been cold stratified, you’ll need 3 to 4-inch pots and some acidic, ericaceous potting mix. Place 2 seeds in each pot, planted about 1/4 inch deep, and cover lightly. Press the soil down gently and then mist with water.

Find a warm place to put the pots and the soil needs to maintain a consistent temperature of 21°C for seeds to germinate. You could consider using a heat mat. Seeds will sprout in 3-5 weeks, although it could take longer. Thin out the smallest seedling from each pot after germination. Then, place the pots in a warm but not too hot location, and water them consistently, as these plants don’t tolerate dry conditions. For the 1st year after germination, it’s best to keep the seedlings in their pots, maintain even moisture, and plant out in either the spring or fall season.

For growing Cranberry plants from seed, you need fresh grown Cranberries. Then, open the fresh Cranberry fruits and pick the tiny seeds out onto a damp paper towel. The seeds are small, and they’re easy to lose. It doesn’t much matter, as a single 1 pound bag of Cranberries will have hundreds, if not thousands of seeds.

Fold up the damp paper towel around the seeds and then place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Check on it every week or two weeks so that the paper towel doesn’t dry out, but otherwise ignore it for the next 3 months. Cranberry seeds require cold stratifying for around 3 months to sprout. Once temperature levels warm up, bring the Cranberry seeds out of the fridge and plant them in a rich peat-based starting mixture. These plants like acidic soils and peat helps to mimic their natural environment. Keep them warm; around 21°C and the Cranberry seeds should sprout in about 3 weeks. 

Once the seeds sprout, allow them to grow in pots for their 1st year.  The tiny plants will be fragile, and it is best to wait until they develop a good root system. Transplant them into a permanent bed in the fall, about a month before the ground freezes over for the winter season. Seed-grown Cranberry plants will take 3 to 4 years before fruiting.

Propagating Cranberry from Stem Cuttings

A more reliable method of propagating Cranberries by stem cuttings, which take root easily. Then, prepare one or more small pots with a well-draining, acidic potting mix, or regular potting soil amended with peat moss. In spring or early summer, take a 5 to 8-inch cutting. Remove all but the top 4 or 5 leaves, and any flower buds, and dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone.

Make a hole in the potting medium and place the cutting about 3 to 4 inches deep. Then, pots can be transferred to a warm location with indirect sunlight and maintain even moisture in the soil, and don’t ever let it dry out. After 6 to 8 weeks, the cutting should take root, and can be transplanted into a larger pot or out into the garden.

Conditions Required for Cranberry Farming

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Growing Cranberries
Growing Cranberries (Image credit: pixabay)

Usually, Cranberry plants are growing best in bogs, swamps, and poorly draining soils. Cranberry plants grow best in acidic, organic, or sandy soils where there is a plentiful water supply. The bed has a base material that is impermeable to water such as clay or peat. For commercial cultivation, Cranberry plants are grown in large beds surrounded by dykes that hold water in the beds when flooded for harvest. It is very susceptible to frost and flooding is also used to protect the plants along with sprinkler irrigation. Then, this means that it is the water that will freeze and the resultant heat produced by the change of liquid to solid protects the plants from freezing themselves.

Plant one rooted Cranberry cutting per square foot, which should fill in within 1 or 2 years. Then, it is unnecessary to put fertilizer in the hole as long as the rooted section is substantial. Water daily for the first couple of weeks until the seedlings have established and then every couple of days, or keep moist but not drenched.

Fertilize every 3 to 4 weeks with slow-release fertilizer and follow up regularly with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Hand weed as needed. Protect Cranberry from damage with a thick layer of mulch. Snow accumulation can become a protector of sorts as well. It will become apparent the year after planting, but more likely the 2nd year based on the number of pollinators visiting your Cranberry plot.

Pruning Requirement in Cranberry Farming

Prune or trim Cranberries in the spring season to keep them bushy; removing runners will keep plants compact and bushy. Prune Cranberry plants so that they do not become overcrowded. Prune the runners from the 3rd year of growth. You will need to prune the Cranberry plants each spring season to control the runners and encourage uprights from the 3rd year of growth onwards. Then, do this by combing the Cranberry plot with a landscape rake, until all runners are going in the same direction. This makes it is very easy to identify the longest runners and cut them back. Do not prune the existing uprights.

Also, plants can begin to spread beyond the bounds of the original plot. If this happens, you can prune each of the plants back in the springtime, until there are only 2 inches of growth above the soil line. Though the plants will not produce fruit that year, normal fruit farming will resume the following year.

Water and Fertilizer Requirement for Cranberry Farming

The soil in which Cranberry plants grow should feel moist to the touch all the time. Cranberry roots, if dried out, will not survive and the good news is that peat moss retains moisture well

Cranberry vines need about an inch of water a week to grow. Cranberries require little fertilizer. If you are planting Cranberries in the fall season, wait to fertilize until spring. Apply fertilizer gently and then lightly in a circle around each plant. It is recommended not to add nitrogen in the first 2 years, because nitrogen will encourage vigorous runner’s growth, but as we already learned, the fruits are formed on the uprights. The runners are inhibited from growing strongly, it will produce more uprights. So, no nitrogen.

Pests and Diseases Management in Cranberry Farming

The major challenges involve Biotic and Abiotic causes.

Major Pests – Black-headed fireworm, Cottonball, Blossom worm, Cranberry Fruit worm, and Cranberry Tip worm.

Major Diseases – Some of the major diseases in Cranberry are Botryosphaeria Fruit Rot, Proventuria Early Leaf Spot, Red Leaf Spot and Phytophthora Root, and Runner Rot

Yellowing leaves are a sign of chlorosis; it can be lime-induced; leaves yellow color at the edges and yellowing spreads between the veins which remain green, and apply chelated iron.

Fruit worms bore into fruits eats the seeds and exit; fruit worms are the larvae of a Sparganothis moth; use pheromone lures to trap moths.

Cranberry plants are susceptible to some pests and diseases, but these are easy to deal with, provided you know what to look for.

Cranberry fruit-worm is a common problem in Cranberry, where grey moths lay their eggs inside the berries themselves. If you spot grey moths around Cranberry plants, you will need to spray the plot with insecticides to kill the eggs. If you do not catch fruit worms on time, the eggs will hatch and the worms will eat the Cranberries from the inside out. When this happens, the infested berries will turn red color before they ripen.

Two other common diseases in Cranberry plants are red spot (where bright red spots develop on the leaves of the plant) and berry fruit rot. The treatment for these diseases is the same spray the Cranberry plants with an organic, copper-based fungicide between late June and early August, according to the instructions on the label.

Leaf spot – Several leaf spot diseases occur in Cranberry plants are red leaf spot, black spot, Protoventuria leaf spot, and Cladosporium leaf spot. If spots are small and aren’t affecting new growth, you can be able to tolerate the spots and correct the conditions encouraging leaf spot after harvest. Watering early in the morning so the plant leaves dry completely and reducing nitrogen fertilizer can go a long way to preventing future outbreaks. If leaf spots are recurrent or damage Cranberry fruits, a fungicide applied at bud break and during shoot elongation will help.

Upright dieback – The first thing to do is reduce stress on vines as much as possible, whether this means changing feeding patterns, watering more or less, or treating an insect infestation. Also, a fungicide can be applied before early bloom to help prevent the spread of the underlying fungal disease.

Fruit rots – You can reduce the fungi taking hold by removing all trash from last season. Thin vines and try to not over-feed them to prevent tender overgrowth and lowering the overall humidity of Cranberry stand. Also, thin out any volunteers that might appear, since they tend to produce a lot of vegetation instead of fruit, adding to any humidity problem you might have.

Caterpillars – Caterpillars love Cranberries as much as you do, so it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for moths that can be laying eggs in Cranberry stands. Cranberry fruit worm, Cranberry tip worm, black-headed fireworm, and others can be devastating to plants and fruit production, especially if you don’t notice them until they’ve set in. Most caterpillars can be treated with targeted insecticides such as spinosad, but be sure to apply it in the evenings, after bees are back in their hives. Spinosad has a short lifespan and may need to be reapplied as new waves of caterpillars hatch.

Sap-sucking insects – A range of sap-sucking insects such as spider mites and scale, also feed heavily on Cranberry. Spider mites are difficult to see with the naked eye, but you’ll know them by their tiny spider-like threads of silk, and scale insects are equally difficult to detect. Either pest can be eradicated by using insecticidal soap or neem oil, applied based on the manufacturer’s directions.

When and How to Harvest Cranberry Fruits

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Harvested Cranberries (Pic credit: pixabay)

Usually, Cranberries are ready for harvest in the fall. Cranberry harvesting is only possible during the 2nd year. You’ll know they’re ripe for the picking because they’ll turn from green to red color. This will happen from September to late November, depending on when the original planting was done. There are mainly two methods of harvesting that can be done in commercial Cranberry plants, depending on what the fruit will be used for wet harvesting and dry harvesting.

Wet harvesting methods are used for fruit that is destined to be made into juices, sauces, or as ingredients in processed foods. Dry harvesting methods are used for those that are going to be sold fresh, for cooking and baking.

You’ll know Cranberries are ready for harvesting when they’re an even, deep red color, slightly firm to the touch. You can try the bounce test means Cranberries have pockets of air in them, which means they are springy. Harvesting is a simple process that means pick the berries gently by hand, and throw away any which are damaged, bruised, or soft.

Cranberries are ready for harvest when they are fully colored which means deep red. Cranberries are harvested by hand or mechanical harvester. Berries float to the surface for collection. The planting bed does not need to be flooded in the garden.

Ripe berries can stay on the bush for 1 or 2 months as long as there is no freezing weather; pick Cranberries as you need them. Frost will damage the berries so harvest before freezing temperature levels.

Commonly Asked Questions about Cranberry Farming

Where does Cranberry grow in India?

In India Cranberry is found in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal. The bark and pulp are astringent and hemostatic.

Do Cranberries need sunlight?

Cranberries require 3 months of chilly winter weather at 1 to 7°C to ensure flower set and fruiting in spring. Cranberries planted in full sun but not in a location that gets too hot; a south-facing location is not optimal. Cranberry plants thrive in moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil.

How much time does it take for Cranberries to grow?

It can take 3 to 5 years for a seed-grown plant to produce Cranberry fruit.

What is the best soil for Cranberries?

They are grown on sandy or peaty bogland. Cranberries can grow in ordinary acid soil and plant in ordinary soil use heavy peat mulch to protect plants in winter.

How much water do Cranberries need?

Cranberry vines need about an inch of water a week to grow.


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