Highbush Cranberries

Viburnum trilobum, Viburnum opulus var. americana

Highbush cranberries (also known as American cranberry bush) are in the same family as elderberries. The size and color of the fruit are the only characteristics this species has in common with commercial cranberries.

Bushes grow to 15 feet tall and become rather formal and rounded in shape. They make a great hedge or privacy screen. The flowers are very small and white and are borne in large terminal cymes that are 3 to 4 inches across, similar to other ornamental viburnums. The fruits are 3/8 inch in diameter, showy red, and very persistent, remaining on the bushes well after frost and brightening the winter landscape. Harvest the fruits in late summer or fall to avoid astringency. Freezing and thawing softens the fruits, which are seldom eaten by birds. Use the fruits in jelly, preserves, or sauces.

Growing Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberries are very winter hardy and grow well in Zones 2 to 7. They are easy to transplant, grow in both sun and partial shade, and perform well on a wide range of soils. They tend to decline if subjected to too much moisture stress.

Bushes require pruning only when they become overgrown. Make thinning cuts to remove larger, older stems at the base, and remove broken branches. Pests are usually not a problem. However, the bushes are among the viburnum species that are most susceptible to the viburnum leaf beetle, which has recently spread across most of New York State.

Most highbush cranberries are sold simply as the species, but some culti-vars are available. Wentworth, Andrews, and Hahs were selected for their high-quality fruit.

Viburnum opulus, the European cranberry bush, is similar in appearance but has astringent fruits with large seeds and high acidity and is plagued by aphids. If you intend to eat the fruit, make sure that you only grow the American species.

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