Winter Heathers In The Garden

Kramers Red Winter HeatherI most appreciate my winter Ericas when the colorful tips peak through blanket of a late winter snowfall.  It is then that the bright fuchsia pink of Kramers Red reminds me that spring really isn’t too distant, and that I will, indeed, make it through another winter. I am a small grower and, like avid gardeners, do not relish the winter hiatus that is forced upon us.

  I must confess, I am not the greatest gardener.  While I grow really nice stock for my customers, I tend to make all the same mistakes as other part-time gardeners in the beds surrounding my house.  There are so many more variables!  

Like, always prepare the bed with care. Ericas prefer an acidic soil, much like Rhodos and Azaleas, so if you have success with those, you should have success with winter Ericas. If you have alkaline soil you will need to add peat when planting to correct this. Dig the hole three times larger than the root ball you are going to plant.

With Ericas, unlike many other shrubs (yes, they ARE shrubs, NOT perennials), they do not have a central leader root, so you can gently splay (spread) the roots apart at the bottom of the root ball.  Plant FIRMLY into the soil, taking care not to leave exposed roots on the top (because of the fine root system, good soil contact is essential to prevent drying out).

 Like almost any other plant that I haven’t had success with, Ericas HATE heavy clay soils, so take the time to amend or replace clay before planting. Though Ericas are touted as being “drought tolerant” that does not mean that they can go indefinitely without water. Pay close attention to where you are planting.  Is there an overhang of the house or a tree that is going to limit their water supply?   And during the hottest times of the year, particularly in summer winds, for best results they must have regular watering, even after being established.  

Ah, and I am also guilty of that planting-in-the-heat-of-the- summer-because-I got-too-busy-in-the-spring thing.  Take heed!  Commercial landscapers plant Ericas year-round, but they also take care to make sure that they are watered regularly to ensure  success. Being shrubs, I usually plant additions to my yard either very early in the spring or in the fall.  

Ericas are probably the easiest to maintain of any garden plant.  Each year, just before the last blossoms turn brown, give them a quick trim to just below the bloom line. Gathering fistfuls in your hand, clip following the bloom line. This is the quickest method, and generally you end up with a nice symmetrical shape.

 Kramers Red Winter HeatherIf you do have an old Erica in your garden that you’ve been thinking of replacing (BECAUSE IT HASN’T BEEN LOOKED AFTER), or because the dog has been using it as a back scratcher , I would first take the chance of cutting it way back in early spring.  

Sometimes they can surprise even me with how resilient they are.  You will know in a matter of weeks if it will spring back, or if it will need to be reSilberschmelze Winter Heatherplaced.

And if you don’t know which one to plant……The #1 most popular winter Erica is Erica darleyensis Kramers Red. 

It is upright, with dark foliage and that beautiful deep fuchsia-pink bloom.  It suits being planted as a specimen or amass.

 As a counterpart to Kramers, a white such as my favorite white, Silberschmelze, makes for a dramatic contrast, and the silvery-white blooms still stand-out in color to the pure white of snow.

I also like the old standby, Erica Carnea Springwood white. 

It spills beautifully to the edge of beds, and makes an attractive ground cover. Another Carnea that is very reliable and bright is Vivellii, with is new growth being bronze-tipped, and its growth habit being neatly mounded.

Springwood White Winter Heather

Ground Hog day has come and gone!  And it does mean something!  Spring is around the corner, but the winter Ericas are already in bloom!!!

If you want to add winter blooming heather, visit Art's Nursery today for a great selection!  We'll help you pick the right varieties and quantities for your space!

Author: Dawne M. Source: Arts Nursery Ltd.


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