Highbush Cranberry Plants: Caring For American Cranberry Shrubs

Organic wild highbush cranberries in forest.
Image by ClubhouseArts

By Jackie Carroll

It might surprise you to learn that the American highbush cranberry isn’t a member of the cranberry family. It is actually a viburnum, and it has many features that make it an ideal edible landscape shrub. Read on for American cranberry bush information.

American Cranberry Viburnum Information

The flavor and appearance of the fruit from highbush cranberry plants is a lot like true cranberries. The American cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) has tart, acid fruit that is best served in jellies, jams, sauces and relishes. The fruit ripens in fall—just in time for the fall and winter holidays.


Highbush cranberry plants are showy in spring when the flowers bloom against a backdrop of lush, dark green foliage. Like lacecap hydrangeas, the flower clusters have a center made up of small fertile flowers, surrounded by a ring of large, sterile flowers.

Plants take center stage again in fall when they are loaded with bright red or orange berries that hang from stems like cherries.

How to Grow American Cranberry

Highbush cranberry plants are native to some of the coldest regions of North America. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 7. The shrubs grow up to 12 feet tall with a similar spread, so give them plenty of room. They need full sun or partial shade. More hours of direct sunlight means more berries. The plants tolerate poorly drained soil, but live longest when the soil is moist but well drained.

When planting the in the lawn, remove at least a four-foot square of sod and dig deeply to loosen the soil. Plant in the center of the square, and then mulch deeply to deter weeds. Highbush cranberries don’t compete well with grass and weeds, so you should keep the bed weed-free until the plant is a couple of years old. After two years, the shrub will be large and dense enough to shade out all but the most stubborn weeds.

Caring for American Cranberry

Caring for American cranberry bushes is easy. Water weekly in the absence of rain during the first year. In subsequent years, you only need to water during prolonged dry spells.

If you have good soil, the plant probably won’t need fertilizer. If you notice that the leaf color begins to fade, use a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer. Too much nitrogen inhibits fruit. Alternatively, work an inch or two of compost into the soil.

American cranberries grow and produce just fine without pruning, but they grow into massive plants. You can keep them smaller by pruning in spring after the flowers fade. If you’re fine with a huge plant, you might want to do a little pruning at the tips of the stems to keep the shrub looking neat and in control.

Print This Article
This article was last updated on
Did you find this helpful?
Share it with your friends!

Additional Help & Information

Didn't find the answer to your question? Ask one of our friendly gardening experts.

Do you know anything about gardening? Help answer someone's gardening question.

Read more articles about Viburnum.

Search for more information

Use the search box below to find more gardening information on Gardening Know How: