The heather in the garden
Gardens and terraces brighten up throughout the autumn and winter, but in reality they are small shrubs present in Italy even in nature, they are heather, small evergreen ground cover. There are several species of heather, among which the most cultivated are Erica carnea and erica gracilis; Calluna vulgaris and the species belonging to the genus Daboecia are also called heather: in effect, they are very similar to heather, which bloom at the same time of the year.
In nature, heathers are small ground cover shrubs, with needle-like leaves of bright green color and small pink or white flowers; in the nursery we can find instead various species and cultivars of ericaceous, with flowers of intense red to white, from light pink to lilac, and green, greyish, reddish or yellowish foliage. In some cases these are particular species, in other cases cultivars or hybrids of heather, calluna or daboecia.
An Evergreen plant
Heather is an evergreen plant, which therefore has persistent leaves throughout the year; this value, and the autumn flowering, make it a plant very suitable for cultivation as an ornamental plant, since it allows us to color the garden even when the other plants are in vegetative rest. In reality, not all heather species bloom in this period of the year, for example the heather arborea, very common in the piedmont woods, produces its small flowers in spring, and so many other species. In the nursery in this period of the year, there are mainly autumn flowering species, whose small flowers bloom now, or even in the coming months. The flowers of heather, produced in profusion, so as to make the entire shrub pink, are generally very persistent, and remain on the plant throughout the winter, even after having withered. Heather branches are also widely used to produce dried flowers.
The method of cultivation of a plant derives from where this plant develops in nature; the heather widespread as ornamental plants are mostly plants of European and hilly or mountain origin; all these species are grown outdoors, in a very bright place; do not fear the cold, but fear the summer heat instead.
So it is good to place them in full ground or in pots, in a well-lit position, the more shaded the more we live in a warm place, and, vice versa, the sunnier the more we live in a cold place: then in Sicily we will put to the heather houses in a well shaded and cool place, in Val d'Aosta instead we will be able to place them in a sunny place. Above all we choose a position where they can enjoy good shading during the hottest hours of the day, with good ventilation.
We choose a good universal soil, rich in humus, and add peat, to increase its acidity, and sand, to increase its drainage.
The heathers fear the excesses of limestone in the soil and the drought, therefore poniamole in soil for acidophilic plants, to be replaced every 2-3 years, and remember to water regularly, keeping the soil moist and cool; however we avoid the excesses of watering and water stagnation.
Erica: Not to forget
The heathers are plants of easy cultivation, as long as they follow some rules; first of all we do not underestimate the fact that they fear the limestone: this means that the soil must be rich in iron available to the plant, therefore we prefer soils for acidophilic plants; moreover, if we water the plant with water rich in inca limestone, at every watering we will raise the pH of the soil, therefore it will be necessary to provide a slow release greening fertilizer, at least every 4-6 months, but every year it would be appropriate to eradicate the heathers and replace the soil in which they are placed, with soil for fresh acidophilic plants.
Even watering should not be underestimated; in nature the heathers live in hilly or mountainous places, where the climate is cool, never torrid and dry: we try to imitate nature by providing waterings on a very regular basis, but avoiding excessively soaking the soil; rather water with moderation but with great frequency, so as to keep the soil only slightly damp, and not water draining.
It has been said that most of the heathers cultivated for ornamental purposes do not fear the cold, so let's position them without problems outdoors; there are species, such as the heather gracilis, of Mediterranean origin, which can withstand even short periods of not too intense cold, but fear frosts; when we buy a heather we ask the nurseryman what kind of heather it is, and if he fears the cold, since the various species of heather, calluna and daboecia may all look alike to the eye of someone who is not very experienced in gardening.
We also remember that plants also tend to adapt to the place where they are grown; if we buy a small one in September or October heather plant we can quietly place it outdoors; if instead we find in the nursery, in greenhouse, a beautiful one heather plant luxuriant in the middle of December, we consider the climate of the place where the plant was kept: if it is found in a heated greenhouse our heather, even if rustic, will be kept in the apartment, or we will have to get it used to the cold bringing it outdoors a little at a time.
The heather produce the small bell-shaped flowers on the branches of the previous year; so if we want to contain the shrub, let's finish it at the end of winter, and avoid giving the branches until next year.