Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Moving and Propagating Cranberry Plants
Before we moved out of our Massachusetts home earlier this year, I'd attempted to dig up my two cranberry shrubs (vines) to take with us. I'd purchased them when we'd first moved in and they'd grown tremendously over the past two years. Cranberries are definitely worth growing in the home garden in my opinion because even if they don't fruit well, the foliage alone is quite attractive, particularly in late summer when the leaves turn several stunning shades of red and burgundy. To my dismay, despite the fact that the ground was completely frost free due to the unusually warm winter we'd had this year, the soil was nonetheless so compact that I could not dig them up with my trusty garden fork without destroying the fine roots. I could have used a spade but because I was moving them into pots, I didn't want a huge block of soil to contend with. As a result, I was resigned to leaving them behind.
Over the past two months, the ground did in fact freeze solid. Now that it has thawed completely, I was curious to try this again. When I stuck the fork into the ground this time around, I relieved to find that the soil was not nearly as compact as it was before. Why the change? My guess is that when the ground froze, the water expanded, lifting and aerating the soil in the process. In the end, I was able to shake off much of the dirt from the roots and haul these two monsters back to Vermont.
I have to say, dividing cranberry shrubs is not an easy task. The low lying branches root easily when in contact with the ground so the plant grows like a carpet. You can sever the rooted stems from the mother plant and propagate your cranberries that way. Cranberry shrubs also send out runners, which root readily as well. The downside is that they also weave their way through the branches so what you are dealt with is a tangled mess when you attempt to divide your plants.
It took a lot of time and effort but in the end, I ended up with enough cranberry plants of varying sizes to fill a small patch, which I won't be doing any time soon unfortunately. My only other piece of advice is to handle the mother plant with great care as the older stems are extremely fragile at the base and easily break off. I lost a ton of branches in the process.
I'm glad I won't have to buy new cranberry plants. It amazes me how expensive young fruit trees and shrubs can be these days. In this case, another plant saved is another dollar earned.