When To Pick Cranberries – The Optimal Time Is…

It’s no surprise that cranberries, these uniquely sweet and savory fruits, are widely regarded as not only entirely delicious but also as one of the most versatile berries on the planet. Hence, when we do happen to come across a cranberry shrub, it can be quite a challenge to resist the temptation to pick and eat the berries right away. For ease, I’ve covered it all below for you. Simply read on to learn more!

So when should you pick cranberries? Autumn is the ideal time of year to pick cranberries. Cranberries begin to ripen part way through September all the way up until the first week of November, and ordinarily, it is during this particular time period that they are at their most edible and scrumptious. In addition to the time of year, whether or not a cranberry is ready to be picked is also well exhibited by both its skin color and general texture.

Cranberries are very much a seasonal fruit, best picked during a specific annual window, as opposed to year-round. 

So with this in mind, let’s continue to explore cranberry picking and how to ensure you only do so at the right time!

What Months Are Cranberries In Season?

Cranberries are in season during Autumn time. They first begin to ripen around mid-September, and their harvest window closes in early November, just in time for them to make it onto our plates in sauce form on Christmas day! 

Prior to their ripening, cranberry shrubs go through a few alternative growth stages, which in total, span a duration of sixteen months. 

To better understand their harvest, it can be useful to first gain a full picture of their preceding journey. 

It starts with their initial planting. Cranberry shrubs are best planted during the Spring and Summer months, once the last frost of Spring has passed. 

From that point, the plant develops in the form of relatively low-level shrubs and vines, working on setting a strong foundation for its flowers and fruits that are yet to come.

It continues to grow in this manner for a considerable amount of time. In fact, it is only the following Spring when the plant’s small white flowers begin to appear.  

Nonetheless, it can take up to five years for the shrub to begin producing fruit. 

This may feel like a long time, but when they finally do pop up, it will be a pleasant Autumnal surprise. 

Come September; the cranberries begin to ripen into the scrumptious fruits that we know and love so well. It’s at this point that they’re ready to pick! 

As far as berries go, the overall timeline is a long one, albeit one that is unequivocally worth the wait. 

How Do You Know When Cranberries Are Ripe?

Time of Year

The first indicator that a cranberry is ripe is the time of year. After all, cranberries are seasonal fruit. 

Fortunately, cranberry shrubs fruit in a fairly formulaic manner, adhering to a reliable harvesting schedule between the months of September and November. 

However, to experience cranberries in their prime, I recommend carrying out extra due diligence to ensure that you steer clear of those that are unripe.

By Taste

Don’t worry; it’s not that unripe cranberries pose any sort of health risk.

Rather, they’re simply not as tasty as the ripe kind, and your taste buds surely deserve better! 

By Color

Fortunately, distinguishing between unripe and ripe cranberries is easy to do. 

In color, unripe cranberries are a whitish green. Quite differently, ripe cranberries are renowned for their deep red, almost burgundy, color. You can’t miss them. 

By Texture

As well as their color, their texture offers a significant tell too.

Whilst unripe cranberries can be distinguished by their hard and fairly durable nature, ripe cranberries are often described as supple to the touch. 

Plus, they’re bouncy!

In fact, if you drop a cranberry on the floor, you’ll know that it’s ripe if it bounces. 

In contrast, on the other end of the spectrum, we have overripe cranberries. 

Overripe cranberries can be identified by their soft, mushy texture, skin blemishes, and not-so-subtle sour smell. 

Do Cranberries Fruit Every Year?

Cranberry shrubs are unique in that their overall growth timeline is around about sixteen months. Despite this, once the shrub has started to produce fruits, they can be relied on to continue doing so every Autumn on an annual basis.

However, it is worth being mindful that although their growth tends to follow a simple enough pattern, the same cannot always be said of their quality. 

This has proven to be true, especially in recent years. 

Namely, due to client change. Unfortunately, cranberries do not fare well in conditions of extreme heat, and as a result, recent years have seen a slight decline in both their quality and quantity. 

Similarly, significantly cold conditions also pose a risk to the healthy growth of cranberries. 

Whilst a moderate frost has the power to positively affect their taste by sweetening them even further, too much frost threatens to damage their cells permanently. 

Hence, the fact that cranberries continue to grow even after their peak harvesting season is over can be problematic. 

To combat this, many choose to flood their cranberries during the Winter months, thereby creating what is known as a cranberry ‘bog.’ 

The intention is to protect them from cold weather, the wind, and dry conditions. 

The same management method is undertaken in Spring when frost also poses a threat. 

As an added bonus, the cranberry bog doubles up as effective pest control too. 

Do Cranberries Ripen After They Are Picked?

Cranberries do not ripen once they have been harvested. 

This fact is something of a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it means that it is extra important to time your harvest well. 

After all, if you pick an unripe cranberry, it will fail to ripen and ultimately be a wasted berry. 

However, on the other hand, if you pick a ripe cranberry, you’ll have peace of mind that it won’t become overripe. 

There’s always a silver lining! 

Related Questions

What color are ripe cranberries?

Ripe cranberries are a deep red color, whereas those still ripening will be a soft pink, or even semi-white color.