Lingonberry Plants: The Ultimate Guide To Tasty Fruit
Lingonberry plants can be a bit tricky, but they're worth it. Here's all you need to reap harvests of little red berries every year!
Anyone who’s been to a certain Swedish furniture store is likely to know the lingonberry. These small red berries show up in every meal at their in-store restaurant. Skip the oddly-named jam and grow lingonberry plants at home to make your own!
Rich in antioxidants, the lingon falls into the category of superfoods. Studies are showing that it may aid in digestive health, weight control, and heart health. Blood sugar management may be easier with this bright red fruit. And there’s other possible benefits, too!
Today, we’re teaming up with Kellogg Garden Products to talk berries. It’s possible to grow this diminutive plant in most of the northern United States. Even those in warmer climates may have a shot at shade-growing it in the right soil blend!
Prepared Soil & Fertilizer For Growing Lingonberry Plants:
- G&B Acid Planting Mix
- Kellogg Garden Organics Shade Mix For Acid Loving Plants
- G&B Organics Rhododendron, Azalea & Camellia Fertilizer
Pest And Disease Control Products At Amazon For This Plant:
- Safer Brand Yard & Garden Spray
- Monterey Garden Insect Spray
- Neem Bliss 100% Cold Pressed Neem Oil
- Safer Brand Garden Dust Insect Killer
- Monterey BT Biological Insecticide
- Serenade Garden Disease Control
- Monterey Liqui-Cop Liquid Copper Fungicide
Lingonberries: Quick Care Guide
|Scientific Name(s)||Vaccinium viitis-idaea subsp. minus or majus|
|Common Name(s)||Lingonberries plus an extensive list of other colorful names|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water||Evenly-moist soil, between 2.5-4.5 gallons per week per cubic yard|
|Soil||Acid mix, such as G&B Organics Acid Planting Mix|
|Fertilizer||Annual feeding of low-strength acid fertilizer|
|Pests||Cucumber beetle, lingonberry fruitworm, armyworm, and others|
|Diseases||Leaf spots, botrytis blossom blight, phytophthora root rot|
All About Lingonberries
The majority of the annual worldwide crop of Vaccinium vitis-idaea is actually wild-grown in cooler climates. In recent years, farming of the plant is becoming a bit more common, especially with rising demand.
Its origins are widespread. Much of the northmost portions of the northern hemisphere have wild lingonberry plants. In the United States and Canada, a dwarf form grows wild. In Europe, the plant grows a bit larger but still hugs the ground.
Tiny leaves, no more than a half-inch in length at their largest, grow from tendril-like stems. Over time the base of the plant becomes woody, but it produces fresh growth each year. Small berries form on year-old growth.
The delicate bell-shaped flowers are a source of much delight. These tiny white or pink blossoms are only a fraction of an inch in size. They flower throughout the spring and early summer, then shift to fruiting.
Tolerant of sandy, poor soil conditions, the lingon also survives through extreme cold. It’s a bit sensitive to hot climates, but can still be grown as an understory plant or shade plant in warmer locales. The dwarf form may even serve as a ground cover plant.
Rhizomatic roots spread out beneath the soil’s surface and enable the plant to spread in size. The runner plants are easily divisible to be replanted elsewhere.
Acidity is key for this vaccinium, much like with all other vaccinium species. Without acidic soil, it just won’t thrive. It also can be a bit finicky to get started. Once it’s established, it stubbornly clings to life!
Two Subspecies, One Fruit
There are two forms which the plant takes: a dwarf form, and its full-size counterpart.
Most plants throughout Europe and eastward are the full-size version, Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. majus. These grow to a height of 12-18″, with a spread of roughly 24″. They can form a short hedgerow once they’ve densely populated their bed.
The majus subspecies is often seen growing in rocky, difficult environments. Poor soil nutrition isn’t a problem for them. Most plants will survive cold down to -40, although they may lose buds or berries in frozen conditions.
In the Americas, a dwarf variation is more common. Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus is often called American lingonberry. It grows to be only 4-6″ in height, and plants spread to roughly 12″ across.
This understory plant is most commonly found in peaty, cool environments. It also thrives in the cold months, and is quite common in Canada and the northern US.
Both varieties can be grown in warmer climates as well, although they may not fruit as heavily. Most lingonberry species need to have at least 300-400 hours of cold conditions in the winter. Some need as much as 800 hours of cold.
A Plant With Many Names
One of the interesting things about this plant is its diversity of names. As it is found in many different locations, the common names are extensive!
For vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus, those names include:
Dwarf lingonberry, American lingonberry, mossberry, partridgeberry, mountain cranberry, groundberry, or kimminnait.
Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. majus has even more names! Their list includes:
Lingon, linberry, foxberry, cowberry, lingberry, alpine cranberry, shoreberry, rock cranberry, bog cranberry, lingen, lowbush cranberry, redberry, red whortleberry, whimberry, partridgeberry, windberry, kokemomo (Japan), airelle rouge (France), and many other country/regional names.
Regardless of whether you want to call it a lingonberry plant or a whimberry, you’ve got plenty of common names to choose from!
For vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus, there’s only one variety. It has not been widely cultivated for commercial growing as of yet. Because of this, they all tend to have white to very slightly pink flowers and an identical growth habit.
With vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. majus, there’s at least 16 varieties, with more being developed as time goes on. Let’s discuss some of the most popular choices by region!
In the Americas, one of the most popular varieties is Erntesegen. Cultivated in Europe, it tolerates the widest range of growing conditions. Erntesegen is also one of the most tolerant of hotter conditions as well as bitter chills.
Other American or Canadian varieties include Koralle (known for its heavy production), Scarlett (known for crayon-red berries), Ida (which often produces two harvests per year), Balsgard (a European cultivar which has gained popularity in the US), and Red Pearl (an excellent pollenizer).
In Europe and northern Asia, most of those varieties are available excepting Scarlett, which seems to be unique to the US and Canada. Other cultivars there are Regal, Splendor, Erntedank, and Ammerland. These four varieties are heavy farm producers and are often referred to in research on the plant.
No matter which cultivar you choose, the berries will tend to be similar in size. The plant’s size will vary between varieties, but the fruit will be very similar in flavor profile.
For good pollination purposes, having plants of more than one cultivar is recommended. While lingon berries are somewhat self-fruitful, cross-pollination can increase harvest size dramatically.
Planting Lingonberry Plants
Mossberry plants like a very specific set of growing conditions. This doesn’t mean they can’t adapt to other conditions over time, though! They may be finicky until well-established, so take time to plan in advance. They’ll be tender at first, but will gradually harden off to your garden conditions.
Cool-season planting is best for your foxberry plants. I recommend early spring for cooler climates, or mid-to-late fall for warmer ones. This gives their tender roots time to get established before weather changes hit.
Planting locations will depend on your climate conditions.
In cooler climates (zones 4-6), full sun conditions are perfect. The direct sunlight aids in fruit production as well. As they are rhizomatic plants, they will spread, so pick a location where they have some space.
In zones 7-8, full sun is usually fine, but partial shade in the afternoon will also work. The goal is to try to keep your plants from having intense heat during the peak of summer.
It’s possible to grow partridgeberry in zone 9. Partial shade is absolutely required for your plants in this hotter climate. Pick a sheltered area that will get early to mid-morning sun. Use shade cloth in the hotter months to prevent sun damage to the foliage. They will be more finicky in this environment, so keep a watchful eye on your plants.
Raised beds are perfect for growing your plants in. As long as they’re 6-8″ deep, you’ll have plenty of space in which they can grow. The sides of the bed will prevent excess runner spread.
When planting, you must provide an acidic environment. Before you plant, ensure your soil is acidic, and that it has plenty of organic material to help keep the soil moist. The roots only go down a few inches, but prepare the soil to 8″ deep.
I’ll go deeper into soil composition and make some recommendations in the soil section below. There are options available that are almost custom-built for your plant’s needs.
With gentle hands, remove your plant from its nursery pot. Be careful not to break up the soil around the tender root system. The roots will spread out on their own once planted.
Set the plant in the soil at the same planting depth it was in its nursery pot. Fill in around the plant with your acidic potting mix, barely covering its nursery soil. Water it in, then add 2-3″ of peat moss mulch on the soil’s surface as a mulch. Work it in around the plant’s base.
Full-sized plants should be spaced 12″-18″ apart, as they can grow to a width of 18″-24″ to form a solid hedge. Dwarf plants should be spaced 8″-12″ apart, and will create a low-lying ground cover over time.
Yes, but it’s difficult and slow. Most people find it easier to start with live plants.
With lingonberries, you will need to start with over-ripe berries. As they ripen, the tiny seeds develop inside. The older the berry, the more formed the seeds within.
Gently crush the berries in a cup of water and allow them to ferment. They will need to ferment without drying out for at least two weeks and up to a month.
During this time, the remaining berry pulp and bad seeds will float up to the surface. Good seeds will sink to the bottom. You can skim off the gunk that forms on the top once at least two weeks have passed.
Once fermentation has ended, skim off any remaining gunk and drain off most of the water into a container. Be sure to do this carefully so you don’t lose the tiny lingonberry seeds. You can then pour the seeds and the remaining water through a coffee filter to catch the seeds.
The day you strain out your seeds is the day you’ll need to plant them. Do not let them dry out post-fermentation. Use a mix of 2 parts moistened peat moss to one part perlite as a starter mix.
Plant up to 10 seeds per container, placing them on the soil’s surface. Do not cover them with soil. Instead, place a clear greenhouse cover on top to keep humidity in. Keep them in a cool, but bright location as light’s required for your plants to germinate.
Keep the soil moist. The covers should remain on top of your plants until they’re starting to push up against the plastic. At that point, gradually introduce more air until they acclimate to less humidity. Take your time, as they will need to adapt to their new conditions.
Young plants will be extremely fragile and delicate. They bruise easily and are very susceptible to changes in temperature and lighting.
Your plants should remain indoors in a bright, but cool environment for their first year. If they begin to become crowded in their pot, you can transplant them into a larger one using the same soil mix. Harden them off slowly to outdoor conditions before transplanting them outside.
These tart little berry plants are great companions for larger acid-loving berries. They make a great understory plant for highbush blueberries, for example. Dwarf varieties look beautiful underneath currant hedges, too.
One thing to be aware of is that they do not compete well with weeds or shallow-rooted flowers. Their spreading roots and runners are only a couple inches below the surface. Other surface-dwelling plants will compete with the berries for nutrition.
Don’t forget that there’s many types of these berry plants. You can make a tiered bed by growing taller species behind dwarf plants. They’re great companions for themselves!
Caring For Lingonberry Plants
If you live in the right place, lingonberries are incredibly easy to grow.
Unfortunately, the right place tends to be where the plants are native. For the rest of us, we need to provide the right conditions for plant success ourselves.
Here’s my best recommendations to keep your groundberry lushly green and fruiting well!
Sun & Temperature
Sun is both a blessing and a curse depending on your area of the world. In northern climates, full sun is perfect! But the farther south you go, the more the sun becomes a liability.
Much of the issue is due to the sun’s intensity. Hot sunlight can cause scorching, especially on newer leaves.
For good fruiting, the more “safe” light you can provide, the better. Full sun conditions prompt flowering, which results in berries! But if you’re in zones 7-8, opt for a little afternoon sun. In zone 9, shade cloth may be required to reduce UV rays and provide heat relief.
Young plants are more fragile and may be at risk from temperature changes. Even then, the whimberry is more in danger of heat than cold. If you can maintain the conditions for your plant at 80 degrees or less, it’s most likely to survive and thrive.
On the cold spectrum, established plants can survive even through extreme cold. Mulch with at least 3″ of peat moss before winter to add extra warmth for the roots. Frosts and freezes may cause flowers to drop off. The plant itself will survive negative temperatures, some varieties even as low as -30!
A snow blanket may form on top of your plants in the winter. That’s okay – the snow provides a layer of insulation from wind chill.
Water & Humidity
Consistent, even soil moisture is best for your cowberries. While will accept brief periods of boggy conditions, they prefer not to have wet feet.
Established plants need around 2.5-4.5 gallons of water per square yard each week. Newly-transplanted plants may need slightly higher amounts of water to assist with growth.
Drip or soaker irrigation is best, as it keeps the leaves dry. If you do top-water, be sure to water early in the day to allow the plants time to dry out.
Mulching helps to prevent the soil from drying out rapidly. It’s especially needed in the heat of summer when the ground is prone to drying out.
Humidity is not a major issue for lingonberries. In fact, they seem to like slightly-damp air as long as there’s good airflow around the plants. Seeds must have high humidity conditions to get started. Established plants will expand via runners under the soil’s surface.
Much like blueberries and cranberries, the lingonberry requires acidic soil to thrive. A pH level of 4.3 to 5.5 is preferred for fruiting, but they can survive in levels nearing the low end of neutral. Anything above 6 isn’t good for this plant.
The acidity helps the plant to produce better fruit. And, as many people grow their berries in containers or raised beds, starting with the right acid blend is essential. I highly recommend G&B Organics Acid Planting Mix.
Formulated specifically for acid-loving, shade-dwelling plants, this mix is almost custom-built for your berries. Recycled forest products, bark fines, and peat moss ensure good moisture retention. Fine sand guarantees that it drains excess liquid off with ease. And it’s been amended with worm castings, kelp meal, bat guano, and kapok seed meal as fertilizers.
Lingonberries, blueberries, cranberries and currants all produce high quality fruit in this mix. Some citrus trees also produce sweeter fruit in it. Flowering plants like azalea, gardenia and hydrangea will burst with color and thrive.
If you cannot find G&B Organics Acid Planting Mix near you, don’t fret: there’s another option for you!
Kellogg Garden Organics Shade Mix will also provide the right environment. It utilizes sphagnum peat moss and bark fines as a well-draining but moisture-retaining base. For fertilization, it uses hydrolyzed feather meal and dehydrated poultry manure.
Starting out with one of these premade acid mixes is a recipe for success with your plants. And, since lingonberries can be a bit finicky to get started, this makes it easier to begin!
This isn’t to say that you can’t blend your own soil blend. Testing your soil pH is an important first step in that process. You’ll also need to know your soil type. Heavy clay soil can be difficult to acidify, and may need elemental sulfur to remedy.
Whatever soil blend you opt for, you want it to hold a decent amount of moisture while draining off any excess. It should have lots of organic material, allowing for good aeration, and should be loose instead of clay-like. And, of course, it’s essential that it’s in the acidic range.
I consider mulching to be an absolute necessity for lingonberry plants. They’re too much at risk from weed invasion. But you’ll need an acidic mulch for them.
Peat moss mimics the natural soil conditions in areas where the plant grows wild. In so doing, it helps the plants to thrive through many imperfect growing conditions.
It provides a dense, acidic topper which will prevent most weed growth. As the root system of your lingons is within a couple inches of the soil’s surface, weeds can crowd out your plants. 2″-3″ of peat moss will prevent most weed germination.
Moisture-retention in the soil is also improved. This is doubly important if you’re in a climate which is on the warmer side of the lingen range. Keeping the moisture from evaporating away is important.
Finally, it decomposes into the soil, maintaining the acidity of your soil blend. Topping your mulch up regularly will keep your plants happy and healthy.
Fertilizing this mountain cranberry plant can be tricky as well. Lingonberry plants aren’t able to take in the nitrate forms of nitrogen. They prefer the acidifying ammonium form.
Because of this, it’s important to use a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Fertilizers meant for blueberries are perfect, as they already use a form of nitrogen your plants can uptake.
You can also use G&B Organics Rhododendron, Azalea, & Camellia Fertilizer, which is formulated for acid-loving plants. It’s a living fertilizer containing beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae to enhance your soil and strengthen your plants. OMRI-listed, it includes only organic materials: a blend of alfalfa meal, kelp meal, feather meal, bone meal, dehydrated manure, humic acid, elemental sulfur, and sulfate of potash.
You should be fertilizing in the early spring before the plant begins to put out new growth. Go on the low end of the range suggested by your fertilizer manufacturer. Your plants won’t need much!
You can easily tell if you’ve provided too much or too little fertilizer. Too much fertilizer will result in fast growth, large dark green leaves, and little fruit. Too little, and your plant’s leaves may turn yellow or red during the growing season and lack vigor.
Propagation is done via seed, cuttings, or division. The plant also naturally spreads on its own via its rhizomes, or runners.
I described the complex seed process in the planting section above. But let’s talk about the others in more detail.
Select a potential healthy stem for your stem cutting that’s at least 4″ in length. You’ll want one that looks vigorous and that is new growth on the plant. Avoid any which are woody or are from the prior year’s growth.
Cut it at the base of the stem, then strip off all but the top inch of leaves. Dip the bottom of the stem in water, then into a powdered rooting hormone. Use a pencil to make a hole in a prepared soil mix, then insert your cutting. Gently tuck the soil around the stem to hold it in place. I like to use a blend of 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite for these cuttings.
Keep your cutting in a humid environment with bright, but indirect lighting. The temperature should remain cool. Ensure the potting mix remains moist, and within a month it should begin to form roots.
Treat it as you would a lingonberry seedling. Be careful not to change its conditions too rapidly!
The easiest way to propagate is via root division. Select a large and healthy plant, and use a clean, sharpened shovel to cut down the center of the plant. Gently remove the plant and its rhizomes and replant it elsewhere. Keep it in the same conditions as the parent plant was in.
Pruning Lingonberry Plants
Most lingonberries are very self-regulating in size. Pruning is often unnecessary. You can remove any dead stems, or do cosmetic trimming, but the plant won’t need more than that!
Dwarf lingonberries seldom get more than 6 inches at their maximum height. Others can grow 12-18″ tall. Their width is usually around double their max height.
If your plant has reached its full size and is starting to get a bit leggy, you can do light trimming. Keep it around its normal preferred height and width. But even then, removing dead stems is usually the most you’ll need to do for maintenance.
Harvesting & Storing Your Fruit
So you’ve managed to get berries to develop on your plants! That’s great! But now, you’ll need to know when and how to harvest and store your berries. Let’s discuss that.
For the first year after planting, don’t harvest your lingons. The berries will be a bit small, and the harvest will not be good. It’s best to let those berries drop into your mulch. They may produce new plants there!
Starting with the second year, watch your plants. When the berries are firm and completely red in color, you can pick them. They may ripen all at once, or slowly over a few weeks’ time in the late summer, depending on cultivar. Typically, this will happen in September.
In warmer regions, the plant may produce two harvests. If it does, one will be mid-summer, and the other will be in the late fall. You’ll see plants flowering again in the summer if your plant is going to produce more!
To harvest only ripe fruit, it’s best to pick by hand. If you’re trying to do a large harvest all at once, you can use a berry rake to harvest all the berries, ripe and unripe. Those which are unripe will ripen even after being picked.
Lingonberry plants vary on the quantity of berries widely by cultivar. The conditions they’re grown in also impact the harvest. However, a good rule of thumb is that if they’re producing well, there will be 1/2 to 1 pound of berries per plant per year. If your plants produce a second harvest, this may slightly increase. Hot climates may see smaller harvests or none at all if the plant became heat-stressed.
With a name like mountain cranberry, one expects them to act similarly. And as far as storage goes, they do. Much like cranberries, store your lingons in a plastic bag with ventilation holes. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month, but taste better when fresh.
The partridgeberry resembles its cousin in another way as well. These are typically tart berries. While one can eat them fresh, they are often used to cook with or make sauces or syrups. Once they have been cooked, try to use the open containers within a week’s time.
Freezing is the most common way to preserve these, as it maintains the shape of the berry. They freeze extremely well.
Drying through either dehydration or freeze-drying is also common. The fruits can be rehydrated later, or can be powdered for use in other foodstuff.
Canned lingonberry in jams, jellies, and syrup is quite popular, too. This is how many people in the United States were first introduced to this less-common fruit!
Troubleshooting Lingonberry Plants
Very few pests are likely to cause damage to your plants themselves, but there are diseases to watch for. And of course, there’s a variety of random growing problems which might happen. Here’s how to handle them when they arise.
Foliage that yellows or reddens in the spring or summer months is not uncommon. It’s sometimes accompanied with slow growth. Generally, this is caused by too little fertilization. A yearly application of a light fertilizer in early spring should remedy this.
If your plant’s leaves are larger than normal and it’s experiencing rapid growth, it may be a sign of too much fertilizer. This is generally a sign of too much nitrogen. A high-nitrogen environment can also cause low fruiting. Reduce the amount of nitrogen in your fertilizer to stop this problem.
Heat stress can also result in low fruiting, as can lack of pollination or cross-pollination. Make your beds attractive to pollinators, and ensure they’re cool. In hotter environments, provide shade for the plants. Planting more than one variety of lingons can improve pollination.
In the fall and winter, it’s not uncommon to see leaves turning purplish in color. This is usually a sign of the plant using the chlorophyll that it’d stored in its leaves. It’s not going to cause any harm, and isn’t a danger to the plant.
Generally, lingonberries are relatively pest-free. But the few which may be attracted can be a real pain!
Cucumber beetles may be a problem. The Western spotted cucumber beetle and striped cucumber beetles are found in Oregon fields. These need immediate response before they can lay eggs, as the larvae attack the roots. Adults feed on lingon foliage. Pyrethrin sprays and spinosad sprays are both useful for these pests.
Some sucking insects, such as aphids, mealybugs, or whiteflies, have been observed. They don’t seem to do much damage, but may be at risk of spreading diseases. Pyrethrin spray will help on these as well, but neem oil is a good second choice.
Lingonberry fruitworm is common in Canada and other areas abroad. These larvae of a small moth species will burrow into the fruit. They don’t cause damage to the plant itself. Still, they are hard to detect, and may cause damage to your fruit. You probably won’t know you have them until you find them in your harvest.
Armyworms may also be a problem. You can easily tell you have them as your plant’s leaves begin to get munched on! They can rapidly defoliate your plants.
For both lingonberry fruitworms and armyworms, use a powdered form of bacillus thurigiensis. This bacteria, often abbreviated to BT, will kill off these larvae. You will need to re-dust your plants after rain. Liquid versions of BT may also be effective.
Don’t expect all of your pests to be of the insect variety. Deer, elk, and moose will browse on lingonberry plants. Rodents such as mice, rats, or squirrels will raid the bed as well. And birds can be a real pain when the berries are ripe.
Bacterial leaf spot is the most common disease issue for most lingen plants. An application of a product that contains bacillus subtilis can be used. This provides an organic solution for most leaf spot diseases. Copper-based fungicides may also be effective.
Fungal leaf spots are particularly problematic as well. They can be treated almost identically to bacterial ones.
Botrytis blossom blight is another problem. More common in humid environments or when top-watering plants, it is fungal in origin. It will cause a greyish mold to form on the flowers and fruit. It’s also treatable with bacillus subtilis or copper fungicides.
What’s not as easily treated is phytophthora root rot. Caused when the soil does not drain well, this fungal root rot can be fatal to your plants. Yellowing or browning leaves may appear, and the plant’s growth slows or stops. Over time, continued rot will cause plant failure. Ensure you’ve got well-draining soil to prevent this issue!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should I avoid any particular things around my lingonberry plants?
A: Yes! Avoid nitrate-based nitrogen fertilizers as the plant cannot take up nitrates well. Also, your berries are sensitive to chlorides. Avoid using fertilizers which have potassium chloride in them. Also keep chloride-based ice melts away from your beds. Don’t plant your berries near swimming pools or other sources of chlorinated water.
Q: Are lingonberries easy to grow?
A: Yes! Because they require little pruning, and don’t often have huge issues with pests and disease, they’re any easy berry crop to grow.
Q: Are lingonberries invasive?
A: They aren’t! They’re great to grow in colder regions of North America, and produce tons of tiny berries that will help them spread naturally over a longer period of time.
Q: Where do lingonberries grow best?
A: They’re best cultivated in Canada, the northern US, and Scandinavia.
Q: How big do lingonberry plants get?
A: They have a relatively small stature that reaches no more than 16 inches tall at full maturity.
Q: Do you need two lingonberry plants?
A: Thankfully, you don’t when you grow lingonberry plants! Lingonberry bushes are self-pollinating.
Q: Are lingonberries poisonous to dogs?
A: In small amounts, they are not poisonous, but in large amounts, lingonberries can cause digestive distress for dogs.
Q: What animal eats lingonberries?
A: So many species of birds and mammals love to munch on lingonberries. Therefore, when you grow lingonberry plants, either plant a ton for sharing with wildlife, or quarter them off to prevent too much snacking.