[nafex ibiblio list] The Mighty Lingonberry, by Robert E. Gough

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at bellsouth.net
Tue Dec 20 23:44:33 EST 2011

Date: Sat, 1 Oct 94 19:33:00 -0600
Subject: Lingonberry Article

                          The Mighty Lingonberry
                            by Robert E. Gough
            (_National Gardening_; Vol 17, No 4, Jul/Aug `94)
                  (180 Flynn Ave., Burlington, VT 05401)
                  (Tel: 802-863-1308; Fax: 802-863-5962)

   If you live in the North and are searching for a new and unusual crop
or landscape plant, consider lingonberries. These plants thrive in
moist, acidic soils from Massachusetts to Alaska, producing an abundance
of healthful, cranberry-like fruits.
   The lingonberry is a 12- to 18-inch-high evergreen shrub native to
northern temperate, boreal and arctic regions of Europe and North
America. In addition to inherent cold-hardiness (to -10 degrees F.),
once covered with insulating snow, it survives northern winters from New
England to Minnesota. In fact, it's one of those few fruits that
gardeners can grow successfully in those cold climates. In warmer
climates, such as zones 9 and 10 [USDA], lingonberry neither grows well
nor reliably survives summer.
   Lingonberry plants spread by underground runners to three feet . The
glossy, dark green leaves are 1/8- to 1/2-inch long and usually tinged
red when new. This shrub is handsome enough for ornamental use --- as a
small-scale ground cover or informal edging around larger acid-soil
plantings, for example. It is also attractive in containers.
   The wild North American species of lingonberry, Vaccinum vitis-idaea
var. minus (also called the mountain cranberry) is a low-growing plant
that blooms only in the spring; the European and Asian native, V. v.
var. majus, is a slightly taller shrub with larger leaves and flowers.
It blooms twice each season. Also called cowberry or foxberry, it's the
type more commonly found at nurseries. Dan Hartmann, of Hartmann's
Plantation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, notes that this potential for a
double crop is part of what makes these plants attractive.
   Small, pinkish white, lily-of-the-valley-like blossoms open in tight
clusters near the tips of one-year-old shoots and make an attractive
display in border plantings. The may bloom produces fruits that ripen in
midsummer (July and August here in northern Maine). The summer bloom,
which occurs when fruits from the first bloom are ripening, produces
fruits that ripen in late September and October.
   Open flowers are only hardy to about 30 degrees F. [-1.1 degrees C.],
meaning the first bloom is usually nipped by a late frost. The second
crop is usually the largest and often the only the only one of the
season. This is not as bad as it sounds, however. In my experience,
fruits that ripen in the cooler temperatures of fall generally have the
best color and flavor.

   Lingonberries are self-pollinating, but cross-pollination will produce
larger fruits that ripen earlier. Besides, mixing fruit of several
varieties will tickle your palate with all the fine, tart nuances of
lingonberry flavor. Bumblebees are the best natural lingonberry
   Plants need two to three years to begin bearing good crops, according
to Diana MacKentley of St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam, New York. But
when the time comes --- usually just in time for Thanksgiving --- better
have your recipes ready. Lingonberries are slightly smaller than
cranberries but otherwise look and are cooked the same. Flavor, however,
is distinct. Pick the firm, deep red fruits and refrigerate immediately;
sound fruit will keep for up to three weeks. Or wash, drain and freeze
them for use later in the season.
   These fruits are tart. Make them into jam for a superb roast goose and
venison topping. Pancakes covered with lingonberry syrup are a Swedish
tradition. Use them in any recipe that calls for cranberries.
Lingonberries are very rich in vitamin C --- Scandinavians and native
tribes of northern Canada use the fruit as a cold remedy. The simplest
preparation is lingonberry sauce: 3 cups washed fruits, 1.25 cups sugar
and 1 cup water. Boil 10 minutes; skim and cool.

   Locate your planting in a sunny spot on land with good air circulation
and soil drainage. My lingonberry garden has a southeastern exposure.
It receives sun most of the day and yet is protected from the brutal
northwest winds of winter by a thick blanket of drifted snow. The plants
grow well in the acid soils of our region. The ideal is soil of ph 5
that is also high in organic matter.
   According to research by Dr. Elden Stang, professor of horticulture at
the University of Wisconsin, plants grow best when up to about seven
pounds of peat moss is incorporated into each 100 square feet [9.29
square meters] of row. Adding more does not increase plant growth
substantially. Dr. Stang's research plots were located on a loamy sand
soil. In your garden, work in the peat moss or compost and adjust the pH
during the fall prior to spring planting.
   Order your plants early in either two-inch or one-gallon pots. Set
them out after danger of severe spring cold has passed and the soil has
dried sufficiently to be worked. In my garden, on the border of [USDA]
zones 4a and 3b, that's late May.
   Make the planting hole wide enough to accommodate all the roots
without bending and set the plants as deeply as they grew in the pots,
about 12 inches apart in rows spaced about 36 inches apart. Water them
thoroughly to settle the soil about the roots.

   By the second season, the plants will begin to spread, sending up
shoots increasingly distant from the crown. In this respect, their
growth habit resembles that of another cousin, the lowbush blueberry.
The aim is to establish a hedgerow about 18 inches in width.
   MULCH. According to MacKentley, weeds are the single biggest pest of
small lingonberry plants. The best prevention is a two- to
three-inch-deep mulch of sawdust, pine needles, chopped straw or peat
moss that smothers young weeds. Otherwise, there is little the home
gardener can do but pull them by hand and risk injuring the shallow
roots of the new plants.
   Mulched plants produce stronger growth and up to quadruple the yields
of unmulched plants. Peat moss is far superior to sawdust or chopped
straw, probably because it simulates the lingonberry's natural soil
environment. Place it a couple of inches deep around the
young plants right after planting, and increase the thickness of this
layer each year as the plants grow in height. Several inches of damp
peat moss makes a wonderful mulch for mature plants, and the plants'
rhizomes will actually spread through its lower layers.

   FERTILIZER. Lingonberries require little fertilizer. In fact,
excessive nitrogen will overstimulate vegetative growth and decrease
fruitfulness. It may also interfere with hardening and increase
   How much is enough? If shoot growth seems vigorous and new shoots grow
several inches [5+ cm.] and remain erect and rigid, fertility is about
right. If growth is soft and rampant, with large dark green leaves, you
have overfertilized. If shoots are short and foliage is pale yellow or
red during the growing season, plants need some fertilizer.

   In the North, I make it a rule to apply no fertilizer to fruit plants
after the Fourth of July. Most woody plants have completed shoot growth
by then, so the fertilizer will do little good. It could, however,
stimulate excessive late growth that may not harden in time for winter.
   Generally, a small handful of a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10,
applied in a circle around a mature plant in the early spring, will be
sufficient. Use smaller amounts for plants up to about three years old.
Fish meal or dried blood are good organic nitrogen sources, but be sure
to apply them very early in the spring. Precise amounts depend upon the
site and vigor of the plants. If you pay enough attention to them, the
plants will always tell you what to do.
   Lingonberry, like its cousins, is sensitive to chlorides. Keep
de-icing salt, water from chlorinated pools and fertilizers containing
potassium chloride away from them.
   Propagate plants in spring by splitting and separating a crown and
transplanting clumps. It helps older plantings that have become crowded
and unproductive. Plunge your spade deep, severing the plant's root
system and rhizomes. Lift the plant portion gently and transplant to
another area. That's all there is to it. The only trick is to be sure
that you leave part of the rhizome attached to the clump. Without it,
the plant will not spread rapidly.
   Except for the occasional removal of dead and damaged shoots every
spring, lingonberries require no pruning


   ERNTESEGEN. Introduced in 1981, this is a very vigorous grower
producing exceptional crops of large, light red fruits. It's
mild-flavored, in contrast to tart and tangy Koralle.
   KORALLE. This Dutch variety is the most popular and provides most
European commercial production. Attractive plants are upright and
vigorous. The small to medium-sized fruits are highly flavored but
somewhat tart. Often fruits of Koralle are blended with those of a more
productive but mild-flavored variety such as Sussi.
    RED PEARL. This recently introduced (1983) Dutch variety produces
large, mild-flavored fruits and appears to have resistance to
Phytophthora root rot. Fruits ripen one to two weeks earlier than
   REGAL. Selected by Dr. Elden Stang from seed collected in Finland,
Regal is noted for its superior fruit size and early bearing.
   SCARLET. This new Norwegian introduction produces some fruit but is
mostly noted for producing abundant pollen, which makes it a valuable
   SUSSI. This Swedish variety is slow to establish but ultimately
produces large red fruits abundantly.

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