Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Lure of the lingonberry

Long popular in Europe, these versatile, tangy red berries deserve more recognition in Canada

Scandinavians who have moved to North America love lingonberries so much they import them in huge quantities. These bright red berries (also known as European cranberry, partridge berry and foxberry) are the size of large peas and have a slightly acidic but less bitter taste than their relative, the cranberry.

The lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) grows wild across the northern regions of Eurasia, while a subspecies, the dwarf lingonberry (V. v-i. ssp. minus), is native to northern Canada, Alaska and the northeastern U.S. These hardy evergreen bushes reach about 30 centimetres in height and have pinkish white blooms. The dwarf species grows less than 20 centimetres tall and has whitish pink blooms. Europeans have used lingonberry bushes as an edible landscape plant for years. They can be planted singly, as a groundcover or as edging in a perennial bed.

Animals—from voles to bears—feed on lingonberries, and the indigenous peoples of North America and Eurasia traditionally used the fruit and leaves to treat ailments such as bladder infections, gout, rheumatism, sore throats and colds.

Growing your own
Choose a location with good drainage and avoid pockets where frost collects. While lingonberries will grow in partial shade, they yield the most crops in full sun. However, in areas with intense, hot summer sun, they do best with afternoon or partial shade. The sandy soil should comprise a minimum of two per cent organic matter. Similar to the rhododendron family, lingonberries thrive in moist but well-drained, acidic soil with a pH of 5 or less. Sod or perennial weeds should be completely removed from the area one year before planting; many weeds, such as bindweed and quack (a.k.a. twitch) grass take time and effort to eliminate.

In either spring or fall, place the plants 30 centimetres apart. Dig a hole for each several times wider and deeper than the root ball and mix in compost or composted manure. After planting, press the soil gently but firmly around the roots and water in thoroughly. Mulch with about 2.5 to five centimetres of wood chips, bark, shredded oak leaves or pine needles. (This helps keep the soil acidic, control weeds, preserve moisture and protect the roots from severe cold.) Lingonberries require 2.5 centimetres of water each week, so irrigate during dry spells. Apart from weeding, they need little maintenance.

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