Growing lingonberries

lingonberriesMany years ago, my husband Bill and I planted a birch tree in our side yard. We soon were looking for a groundcover to grow underneath it and came across some lingonberry plants at a local nursery.

Lingonberries?! We’d never seen them before so excitedly read the tag and learned they would grow in partly shady locations. That sounded perfect to us so we purchased several and popped them into the ground under the tree.

Each year, the lingonberry plants spread out a bit, although were never invasive, but we were disappointed that they didn’t bloom and set fruit. Our dreams of lingonberry jellies and syrups were dashed.

We still liked the plants, though, because they’re evergreen, meaning they retain their leaves year-round. And they did a nice job of filling in the area beneath the birch tree.

Several years ago, we started noticing that branches were dying on the tree. Yup, you guessed it: the dreaded bronze birch borer was wreaking havoc underneath the bark and slowly killing off the tree. So frustrating!

The tree eventually died and we cut it down. We’ve been meaning to replace it with another more hardy tree but just haven’t gotten around to it.

However, we noticed something interesting last summer: the lingonberry plants started blooming and soon there were tiny red berries all over them! Bill and I immediately realized they’d been needing more light than the dappled sunlight they were getting under the tree. Aha!

As you know, I’ve been mentioning lingonberries in recent videos and figured you were probably curious about how to grow them.

Lingonberries are related to blueberries and cranberries, and grow in colder northern climates. The one location that immediately comes to my mind is the Scandinavian countries because they use lingonberries in their cooking.

I’ve long since lost the tags from the plants we bought but I believe they are European lingonberries. The plants can grow from 2 to 16 inches tall, although ours average about 8 inches.

As you might guess, lingonberries prefer an acidic soil just as blueberries do. While researching the plants, I’ve discovered they grow best in full sun (so much for the original information we were given) and soil containing plenty of organic matter.

If you’d like to learn more about growing lingonberries, here’s a useful bulletin from Cornell University.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to make a confession to you. I was so incredibly busy this summer and fall, guess what I forgot to harvest until it was too late?! That would’ve been our first lingonberry harvest ever. We have been so used to not getting any berries, I never thought to check back on them. Oh well — there’s always next year, right?