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Plant Care 101: American Cranberry Bush

Plant Care 101: American Cranberry Bush

Cranberries are popular berries that are available all year in muffins and granola bars. You can have them fresh, frozen, or dried, especially when you have the American Cranberry Bush in your backyard.

When the season is upon us ,cranberry lovers unite. So, let’s dust off our tacky Christmas sweaters and learn all about American Cranberries!

Since Colonial Times

No wonder cranberries fit in with our Thanksgiving dinners – they date back to the settlement of Plymouth. They’re almost as American as the Thanksgiving turkey itself. Cranberries are referenced by James White Norwood as being used by Native Americans in 1550. Later accounts describe Europeans coming ashore and being met by Native Americans with bushels of cranberries.

During the 1600s, cranberries are referenced in historic documents over and over. Back in those days, you could get a large amount of shillings for your cranberry-dyed clothes. And in 1663, a recipe for cranberry sauce appeared in the Pilgrim Cook Book.

Delicious Cranberries

Cranberry sauce was often made by boiling cranberries with sugar and quickly became a must-have seasonal commodity. Cranberries were seen as healthy and delicious. Recipes and cranberry cultivation started to evolve, and in the late 1600s, a recipe for juice arose. In the 1700s, cranberry sauces and dishes were served at commencement speeches and other important events, like banquets or wedding. Cranberry farms and cultivation continued to grow and expand in America, and finally, cranberries started to be mass produced and canned in the 1930s.

In the Bog

Cranberries grow on small woody plants and vines in areas, like bogs. A bog is a wet, murky area, similar to a marsh, but with soft wet ground. If cranberries grow on land, then why are they so often seen floating in water? A majority of cranberry fields are flooded so cranberries can be harvested more easily. This practice is called wet harvesting.

Wet harvesting involves the flooding of cranberry fields until the water rises between 8 to 18 inches, about a foot above the plant’s actual height. The next day, water reels or machines that churn water are driven over the fields. When the water is churned, the cranberries become lose and pop off their vines. Luckily, cranberries have air pockets, so they float to the top of the water. Once they reach the surface, they’re collected.

Wet harvesting is the most popular method used for harvesting cranberries. However, some growers dry harvest cranberries by using a large machine that’s almost similar to a lawn mower to collect their berries. The machine carefully collects cranberries off of vines.

Cranberry Bog

The American Cranberry Bush

For a traditional, historic plant rich with color and American history, consider the American Cranberry Bush. It provides beautiful colors for multiple seasons. In the spring, the American Cranberry Bush provides white flowers, and in the summer, you’ll have deep emerald green foliage. In the fall, the American Cranberry Bush brings red berries that pop against the deep green foliage.

And the leaves on the American Cranberry Bush turn a deep orange and crimson color before they drop. After the leaves have dropped in the winter, the red cranberries will pop out against the barren winter landscape.

The American Cranberry Bush is recommended for growing zones 2 through 7, so its growing zone spans a good bit of the country. The American Cranberry Bush can handle the winter cold and will survive temperatures that dip below -30 degrees. Plus, this shrub will do more than produce fruit for you. It grows to about 5 to 6 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide, so it works well as a privacy hedge. American Cranberry Bushes respond very well to being pruned backed and shaped as well.


The American Cranberry Bush grows well in full to partial sunlight. This plant can tolerate shade but produces more fruit with more sunlight. The soil for your cranberry shrubs should be rich and well-draining. Your soil should have a pH balance of 6.6 to 7.5. If your soil seems too sandy, add some organic matter, like peat moss.

Keep the soil around your American Cranberry Bush moist but not oversaturated. Cranberry bushes do not need to be constantly saturated every day to produce fruit. Remember that bogs are only flooded with water when growers are ready to harvest the berries.

Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch around the bases of your plants to help your soil retain moisture. Peat moss will also help your soil retain moisture. You can also give your American Cranberry Bush a boost with a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen twice a year (once in the spring after the final frost, and again in the early fall).

The first number in a fertilizer formula represents the amount of Nitrogen in it, so a formula that reads 18-6-2 or 24-6-12 is high in Nitrogen. A well balanced formula like 10-10-10 will also work well for your plants.

In the late spring, your bushes will produce sweet scented white flowers that bloom for about 4 weeks. Shortly after the blooming period, the flowers will be replaced by small green cranberries. The berries turn yellow and orange before they fully turn a bright red color towards the end of fall. The cranberry harvest season generally lasts from mid-September through mid November.

Celebrate Cranberries

Whether you like your cranberries fresh or from a can, make sure to include them in your Thanksgiving dinner and more. They’re a part of our American history, and they’ve been used to complement meat and in desserts for centuries. And with the American Cranberry Bush, you can create your favorite dishes and have fresh cranberries every year for the holiday season. Grow your own today!


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