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Cultivate heather

Cultivate heather


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The heather genus has numerous species of small shrubs with winter and spring flowering, to which are added the calluna and daboecia species, other heather with flowers very similar to those of heather and therefore assimilated to it. Most heathers are small, robust, evergreen shrubs that do not fear the cold; they are therefore grown in the garden or on the terrace, both in the ground and in a vase. They prefer quite cool positions, so let's avoid placing them in excessively sheltered or hot places; they love the sunlight, even direct, but they can develop without any problem even in semi-shaded or shaded places; therefore in areas with mild winters we place them in a slightly shady place, while in areas with very cold winter temperatures we prefer sunny areas. These are acidophilic plants, therefore they fear the presence of calcium in the soil, and should be grown using specific soil for acidophilic plants, mixed with little sand and peat; if we live in an area that has a lot of limestone in the water we remember to often replace the soil where we grow heathers: every year, in late summer, we extract them from the soil and add another substrate for acidophilic plants. For the same reason, at least once a year, we add to the water of the watering of the soothing fertilizer. The heathers are plants that come from humid and cool places, so throughout the year we try to keep the cultivation soil moist, but not soaked in water or with stagnation; let's intervene with watering when the soil has already slightly dried, avoiding to exceed the frequency and the amount of watering. Every 15-20 days we add water to the watering fertilizer for flowering plants.

Origins


The name erica derives from the Greek "ereikein" which means "to break". According to some it refers to the fragility of its leaves, according to others it indicates the ability of its roots to infiltrate even in siliceous rocks.
The genus includes about 600 species. About 150 are native to southern Europe, from the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and other areas to Norway. Most of those currently in cultivation, however, come from South Africa and in particular from the Cape of Good Hope.
In Italy it is possible to find spontaneously the heather carnea, the terminalis, the multiflora, the verticilliana, the arborea and the scoparia. The Calluna is also indigenous, but it is not considered part of this genus by some.

Description heather




These are shrubby or suffruticose plants. The flowers, which appear on the branches of a year, are characterized by a tubular corolla and are united in groups in the shape of panicle, apical. They can all be considered perennials and with persistent foliage.
The leaves are needle-like, usually moss-green in color. Some cultivars and species, however, show colors like red or orange.
Those originating from Europe (at the horticultural level the least widespread) are mostly very rustic. Those from Africa, on the other hand, are rather delicate.
They are usually grown in pots, but they are also used for the construction of hedges or flower beds.

Heather cultivation




The cultivation of this plant is not particularly simple, especially if we focus on the most common varieties on the market.
In fact in those cases we are faced with species that need a very particular climate and substrate; if these specific needs are not met we risk seeing a rapid decline. This is why many people consider these species as annuals, to be used to revive the autumn-winter season and then be completely replaced.

General cultivation rules


In this paragraph we will describe the needs of the plants that are most commonly found on the market, ie the most delicate ones. For those originating from Europe we refer to the specific paragraph.

Rusticitа



As we have said, these are sensitive shrubs that absolutely must not be exposed to frost. They therefore go to almost all of Italy (apart from the extreme south and the islands) considered houseplants. At home they must be kept in cool rooms, with a maximum temperature of 18 ° C. The minimum temperature, on the other hand, should not go below 4-7 ° C. Transit spaces such as staircases and entrance halls are rather ideal, as long as they are quite bright.
From spring they can be moved outside in an area but not too exposed to heat.

Exposure


During the cold season they must be kept in a very bright room. Direct light in those months should not be a problem. If we live in the southern regions, however, we will take care to shield the light with light curtains.
From spring to autumn we can move the vases to the outside by placing them in a sheltered area with bright exposure, but absolutely without direct sun (if not in the very first hours of the day).
Ideal to place them under a pergola or deciduous trees. The location in the shade of a conifer is also good, but it is not too thick.

Substrate




In this respect the South African heathers are very delicate. They want an acidic substrate made up of woodland and peat soils to which must be added a good quantity of fine and coarse river sand to improve drainage and avoid any type of water stagnation.
These shrubs usually live in very poor soils. It is therefore essential to avoid mixing soil improvers of any kind.
At the bottom of the container it will be a good idea to prepare a drainage layer, at least three cm thick, composed of shards, gravel or expanded clay. We always check carefully that the drain holes are not blocked.

Repotting


The substrate we described degrades very easily. Usually within a year it forms a compact agglomerate with a felted appearance. Consequently, there will be a reduced capacity to retain the slight humidity which is acceptable to these plants. During the summer there will therefore be overheating of the vessel and irreparable damage to the root system.
It is therefore advisable to intervene every year in the month of March-April by extracting the ground bread and eliminating all the possible substrate (even slightly shortening the roots). It is therefore necessary to top up with new soil, recomposing the initial structure.

Watering



It is a very delicate aspect. The irrigations must be regular to the point that the substrate must always be moist, but never completely wet. Unfortunately, heathers are subject to radical rot and it is therefore an aspect that must be treated with care.
In order for the plant to give its best, it is also important to keep the environmental humidity high by putting into practice different strategies: for example, the canopy can be sprayed several times a day or a saucer filled with expanded clay and water can be placed under the container. This, by evaporating, will always guarantee the right humidity. We only take care that the roots never come into direct contact with the liquid.

Composting


Fertilization must take place only during the summer, when the plant is growing. A specific fertilizer can be administered every 15 days, preferably liquid, for acidophilic plants.

Multiplication and pruning


The most used method is the cutting at the beginning of spring, in sand and peat jars with a temperature of about 20 ° C.
Pruning is done after flowering by removing the withered sections and shortening all the branches slightly.

Heather variety



Species that require acid soils
Tree heather also known as wood broom, it is native to southern Europe, indigenous to Italy in the woods, on siliceous soils. In favorable conditions it can even reach 6 meters in height. It is evergreen, with a compact and erect bearing, has leaves arranged in bundles, linear and hairless. Carries fragrant cream-white flowers in large numbers. It is rustic, but does not tolerate long frosts.
Erica scoparia It occurs spontaneously in France, Liguria and central Italy. It is an erect and evergreen shrub. It can reach three meters in height and bloom in bunches with leaf axils. The dwarf form pumila can form beautiful hedges in the garden.
Erica australis native to the Iberian peninsula, it is a shrub with widespread foliage whose branches, when young, are pelosettis. It reaches 3.5 meters in height. The flowers appear, from April to June, in bunches of 4-8 on the vegetation of the previous year and are cylindrical, about 1 centimeter long and with a beautiful bright pink-red color. Very beautiful and suitable for gardens. There is also a cultivar with white flowers.
Erica ciliaris originally from North Africa, Portugal, France and England. It grows up to 55 cm with prostrate branches from which stems bearing flowers are born, gathered in racemes. The flowers are red-pink. Many horticultural varieties derive from this species.
Erica tetralis common in northern Europe where it finds its habitat in peat bogs. It is a dwarf shrub (reaching a maximum of 40 cm) which has given rise to many horticultural hybrids, some with very colorful leaves. They require a pure peat subsoil to grow vigorously. They can flower from May to November depending on the climate and the specific cultivar.
Erica cinerea widespread species in northern and western Europe, on marshy land. It is a dwarf and rigid shrub, of a maximum height of 45 cm. It is very branched, gray in youth. The flowers, from June to November, are of old rose color (but there are also white cultivars). Many horticultural hybrids have been made, widely used in English and French gardens.
Erica vagans very interesting for group crops. It comes from Western Europe and is a plant with a good tendency to expand, but rather low. It flowers from July to October with white to pink corollas. It too has been widely used for hybridizations
Erica gracilis It is a variety that is easily found on the market in Italy. It comes from South Africa and is a small evergreen shrub, absolutely not rustic. It has linear, triangular, glabrous leaves up to half a centimeter long. It produces numerous purple flowers, from September to December, on the branches produced the previous year, with a globular shape. There is also a white flower shape. Used as a houseplant or for the creation of flower beds in autumn.
Erica hyemalis of unclear origin, it can reach 60 cm in height and has flowers from white to pink. It is a delicate species that must be grown indoors during the winter months in which it flowers.

Cultivate heather: Heather species from calcareous soils


Erica carnea very widespread in Southern Europe and in particular in the Alps and in the Apennines at altitudes between 1800 and 2300 meters. It gave rise to many hybrids that bloom between December and April. It is a small shrub, rather dense, evergreen that, over time, assumes a prostrate habit. The flowers are born apical on the branches of the previous year, of a pinkish red color, very small and pretty.
Erica terminalis originally from southern Europe. One of the most beautiful in terms of varieties suitable for this type of terrain. It is evergreen, rustic and well branched. It also reaches 3 meters in height. It blooms in summer with cylindrical umbels of a beautiful bright pink. He wants well-drained, poor and gravelly soil. Watch the Video





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