Most everyone is familiar with the fruit of Vaccinium macrocarpon (American cranberry), a popular component of holiday dinners. But what most people aren't aware of is this plant's potential as an attractive ground cover. An evergreen shrub, American cranberry is native to many parts of Canada, Alaska and the northern tier of the US. However, it can be grown as far south as Virginia and North Carolina, as well as west to Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
At home in a wide range of zones as far north as Zone 2 (-45° to -50°), this plant has dark green leaves, 1/2 to 3/4 inch long closely spaced on the stems. In winter, the narrow leaves turn slightly reddish. It grows into a solid mat about 8 to 10 inches high when spaced one plant per square foot. This is because of the plant's runners or stolons, which are up to 3 ft. long and root at their nodes. Upright-growing branches produce unusual whitish flowers which produce glossy red fruit. The flowering period is from early June through July, the fruit ripens in early fall. American cranberry needs acid soils, which range from pure and to peat. A widely held misconception is that they must grow in bogs. Because American cranberry can tolerate flooding, especially during the dormant season, landscapers can situate plants in wetland soils, although this is not necessary.
The plants winter well above ground in Indiana with only snow cover as protection. They also grow well in ordinary garden soil. We recommend adding mulch. It is also advisable to water plants during dry spells, as they are shallow-rooted. Full sun is recommended for optimum growth, but they will tolerate some shade.
The American cranberry can be used as an ornamental plant--an alternative to the over used evergreen. In addition, it is a native plant that will fit into wetland programs! Spacing is 20" apart.