Fascinating Facts: Cranberries



Botanical name: Vaccinium oxycoccos, Vaccinium macrocarpon
Origins: The common cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccos, can be found growing wild in the marshlands of northern and central Europe, but its larger, American cousin, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is the species that is more commonly cultivated.

First cultivated Captain Henry Hall became the first person to commercially cultivate cranberries in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1816.

Types: Popular varieties to grow in the UK include Early Black, Pilgrim, Redstar and Stevens. Similar to the Lingonberry plant.

Skill level:  Easy to grow.  These hardy plants require very little attention once established.

Preferred location and conditions: Cranberries require moist, acidic, lime-free soil, ideally at pH level 4.5. They prefer a sunny site and thrive beside a river or pond but can also grow well in pots.

Good for containers: Yes, particularly the Pilgrim and Redstar varieties.

Harvest time: Plants should start to fruit prolifically from the third year. They are ready to harvest from September and should be picked before the first frost.

Possible problems:  Cranberries are resistant to virus diseases and are seldom attacked by pests, most problems are caused by incorrect moisture levels or the pH level of the soil. Where birds are a problem, netting can be used to protect the plants.


Health benefits:  Cranberries are considered a superfood, thanks to their high nutritional content and wide-ranging health benefits. They’re particularly high in disease-fighting antioxidants, outranking almost every other fruit and vegetable (including spinach and broccoli). They’re rich in vitamins C, A and K as well as flavonoids, which help lower the risk of heart problems.

Most commonly known as a popular remedy for cystitis, they are also anti-inflammatory, helping to prevent arthritis, cardiovascular disease and strokes. They contribute to good cholesterol and can help lower blood pressure.

Cranberries are naturally low in calories, fat and sodium.


Potted history:  Cranberries were widely used as food and medicine by the Native Americans who ate them fresh, ground, mashed, baked into bread as well as making tea from the leaves. By mashing them with deer meat they made ‘pemmican’, a survival food for fur traders during the winter months.

The Native Americans introduced the first European settlers to the cranberry, who initially named them crane-berries, as the flowers reminded them of the head, neck and bill of a crane.

In 1667, the New Englanders sent a gift to appease King Charles II, which included ten barrels of the berries.

The high vitamin C content provided a natural remedy for scurvy and barrels of the berries were once stored on American sailing ships to maintain the health of the crew.

In 1796, cranberries were served at the first celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims, and Cranberry sauce has remained a staple of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner ever since.

Captain Henry Hall was the first person to commercially grow cranberries in East Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod in 1816, and the state remains one of the largest cranberry producers in the USA.


Why grow cranberries: For year-round colour in the garden, the cranberry takes some beating. The green foliage transforms into rich yellows and reds during the autumn months, while the delicate, pink flowers of summer give way to the glossy, red berries that have become synonymous with Christmas. A traditional turkey Christmas dinner wouldn’t be quite the same without cranberry sauce, and the berries add a splash of festive colour to wreaths and natural table decorations.

Cranberries can last for weeks in the fridge, and they also freeze well so can be enjoyed at any time of year, adding a tart, fruity note to cakes, biscuits and muffins. Crammed full of vitamins and nutrients, these plump, juicy berries are exceptionally good for you.


Planting and growing: Plant from October to December or in March and April. Dig a trench 90 cm wide by 30 cm deep and line it with heavy-duty polythene punched with drainage holes. Fill with ericaceous compost, a handful of bone meal and soak with rainwater before planting. Alternatively, plant in a large container.

Keep the soil well-watered with rainwater rather than hard tap water, but ensure it doesn’t become waterlogged.

Trailing stems can be pegged down and a light pruning of the plant after harvesting is recommended.


To browse all our varieties of soft fruits just follow this link to the fruit section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own cranberries.



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