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What Are Lingonberries?
Lingonberries, also known as lowbush cranberries, are a small red fruit belonging to the Vaccinium genus, a family of evergreen shrubs that includes the whortleberry (a European blueberry), cranberries, and huckleberries. Lingonberries can be eaten raw or used to make jams, jellies, syrups, and sauces.
Where Do Lingonberries Grow?
Lingonberry plants are native to the boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere—high-latitude forests capable of surviving snow cover and freezing temperatures for most of the year.
Lingonberries are best grown in Scandinavian countries like Sweden and the upper reaches of North America in Canada. In the United States, they can be found in the Pacific Northwest extending up to Alaska, as well as Massachusetts and Maine.
How to Plant Lingonberries
While lingonberries primarily grow wild, they can be cultivated with the right conditions. Most North American varieties have one bloom in mid-spring; European or Asian cultivars have two: One in spring and one in summer. The growing season typically extends from early spring to late fall, with late spring blossoms leading to midsummer fruits and summer blooms resulting in a second crop around October.
- Pick a planting site. Lingonberries thrive in both full sun and partial shade, but they cannot tolerate dry, excessive heat in drought-like conditions. Lingonberries are a great understory option for the taller, acid-loving plants in your garden, like rhododendrons, azaleas, and dogwoods.
- Choose the right soil. Just like blueberry plants, lingonberries prefer acidic soil with a soil pH of 5.0. If your soil is too alkaline, you can increase the acidity by incorporating peat moss, aluminum sulfate, organic matter like compost, and even pine needles directly into the planting site.
- Plant. Buying seedlings from a nursery or garden center is the easiest way to grow lingonberries. When all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed enough to be workable, dig a hole a few inches deeper than the height of the pot the starter plant was grown in and with ample space on either side: Lingonberries spread by underground rhizomes, so make sure to give them enough room to sprawl. Fill in with soil around the root ball, and gently tamp down the top. Water thoroughly, and cover with mulch. If planting in containers, apply the same space considerations and ensure the pot has adequate drainage. Lingonberries are, for the most part, disease-free, but their delicate, shallow root systems can be vulnerable to phytophthora root rot, which is a result of soggy soil.
- Companion planting. Lingonberries are a self-pollinating plant, but cross-pollination is a good option for any gardener who’s interested in experiencing the nuances between lingonberry varieties. Bees are the best pollinators for lingonberries, so planting any of their favorite plants nearby will ensure a healthy population; azalea and rhododendron, fellow acid-loving plants, are natural companions for both bees and lingonberry plants. If controlling pests like aphids and whiteflies are an issue, consider staging a few pots of aromatic marigolds nearby to deter them.
How to Care for Lingonberries
Lingonberries take a minimum of four years to mature and bear consistent fruit, so patience is key during the first years.
- Mulching and weeding: New lingonberry plants should be mulched with organic matter like sawdust or peat moss right away to keep weeds in check and help regulate temperature. Add more mulch on a semi-regular basis as the plants grow taller, and pull weeds whenever you spot them. When plants are dormant over winter, they can withstand cold when protected by snow or ground cover, but avoid exposing plants to dry winter winds.
- Watering: After planting a new lingonberry crop, deeply water the soil to help establish the root system—but take care not to overwater. Under regular weather conditions, lingonberries require about an inch of water per week. The berry may require more water during a heatwave or dry spell.
- Pruning: Relative to other fruit-bearing plants, lingonberries require very little intervention year-to-year. Prune well-established plants every two years or so to encourage fruit production and new shoots.
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