Hamilton Cranberry

Hamilton's Dwarf Cranberry

"The children gathered nuts in the woods,
and cranberries in the moss,
and mushrooms on the pastures."

-Sir Walter Scott


North America's native Vaccinium macrocarpon, even before resorting to a dwarf variety, is an eight-inch tall creeping, matting evergreen groundcover. Hamilton Dwarf takes this to extreme in that it is usually only about two inches tall, three at most, but will spread possibly as wide as two feet, although its spread is very slow, less than an inch a year. It has tiny pink reflexed bell-flowers in June & July, on leaves so tightly whorled they form rosettes, completely hiding the ground.

The evergreen foliage turns bright red in autumn. However, the redness in the July photo above, even though this is how bright it gets in autumn, is in this case due to having gotten overheated during a heatwave. In that photo, you can make out a few of the tiny summer flowers in this shot; it flowered better the year before, when it didn't have a summer heat attack.

It bears bright red berries in autumn but not so large or many as the species, edible but not regarded a particularly harvestable variety, being mainly for ornament. The berries are probably best left on the groundcover for continued decorative value through the winter. Because they are very bitter birds don't usually get to them until there's nothing else to eat & a couple hard frosts have mellowed out the cranberries; the red berries on red foliage lend color to a winter garden.

It needs moist soil greatly enriched with woodchips, peat, & compost, & a lot of sunlight, though it will get by with a little shade. It is exceedingly cold-hardy, but can be harmed by heat. It does not require much fertilizing, a little slow-release acidic fertilizer in spring would be a lot. As with the species full-size cultivars, a light nitrogen & phosphate fertilizer wouldn't hurt, but it does not need potassium & secondary micronutrients.


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