Snow heath, winter heather - planting, care and cutting

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The snow heath or winter heather bears the botanical name Erica carnea and comes originally from the forests of the Alpine regions. The extremely frost-hard plant begins its flowering already in the winter months and delights the beholder, in the otherwise rather gloomy season, with colorful flowers. The snow heath is relatively easy to care for and grows in the garden area ground covering, so it is also suitable for larger areas. When selecting the location, you should pay attention to a long sunshine duration, so that the winter heather can develop magnificently.
Location & Planting Substrate
The snow heath is a sun-hungry plant and needs a lot of sunlight, especially in winter, to develop a rich flowering. The heather also tolerates partially shaded areas, but often does not develop such a lush and long-lasting flowering. In comparison to other varieties of Erika the winter heather also tolerates calcareous soil. In contrast to the Erika varieties from northern Germany, the snow heath comes from alpine regions and thrives there on rocky and scree soils, so the plant is very robust and makes no great demands on the soil. The following aspects are to be considered at the location and the planting substrate:

  • Ideal are sunny to full sun locations
  • Full sunlight for at least 3 hours daily
  • Needs permeable, humus and sandy soil with a clay content and some gravel
  • Loosen compacted soil with sand and gravel
  • Prefers soil with acidic pH, alkaline and neutral values ​​are also possible
  • Suitable as groundcover
  • Kübelhaltung for terraces and balconies possible
  • Optimal is soil for rhododendrons from specialist retailers
Tip: The snow heath is perfect for creating a heather, stone or rock garden, in combination with other alpine plants and herbs. Due to its robust properties, the plant can handle stony ground.
Young heathers are available from specialist retailers, but mostly not in all existing varieties. As the plant grows soil-covering, it should be planted in a larger group. The following criteria must be observed when planting:
  • Keep planting distance of approx. 20-30 cm
  • Plant up to eight pagan plants side by side per square meter
  • Lift planting depth of approx. 15 cm in the ground
  • Set up the planting hole generously and fill with sand and peat
  • Sand acts as drainage and protection against backwater
  • Peat keeps the pH acidic
  • In the beginning, administer medium quantities of water
  • After watering, reduce to moderate
Pouring & fertilizing
During snowmelting and fertilizing, the snow heath does not have a great need, but the garden soil should never completely dry out, the plant can not tolerate this. Care should be taken with the addition of water to keep the container in the water; in the case of extremely long periods of frost, the container should be kept frost-free for a while before watering, otherwise the snow heath can dry up. The following aspects should be considered when casting and fertilising:
  • Give water in moderation, in the summer weather-dependent pour a little more
  • Ideal is collected rainwater or stale tap water
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Earth surface should dry before re-pouring
  • Never let the whole root ball dry out
  • In winter only on frost-free days water, both bedding and potted plants
  • Do not pour on flowers and leaves, but directly on the ground
  • Economical fertilization from spring to autumn
Tip: If the snow heath grows poorly, the soil is probably extremely low in nutrients. In this case, the plant should also be fed a potent fertilizer, ideal are liquid fertilizers for rhododendrons, in a diluted concentration.
Leaves, flowers & growth
Due to the flowering time in winter, the snow heath beautifies the otherwise comfortless and mostly leaves garden. The flowers vary depending on the variety on a wide range of colors and can be ideally combined with early flowering plants. The growth is ground covering and the stature height is low:
  • Small and needle-like leaves with a medium green color
  • Flowers grow in grape form
  • Various flower colors, red, white, purple, pink and yellow tones
  • Flowering time from the beginning of winter to spring, January-April
  • Some varieties start flowering in December, others only in March
  • Bring colorful splashes of color into winter-like garden beds
  • Flat growing and ground covering garden plant
  • Growth height is 30-50 cm, slow growth
  • Bushy habit, grows up to 50 cm wide
  • Leaves and flowers are an important food source for insects
To cut
Immediately after the end of the flowering season, the snow heath must be rigorously pruned, otherwise it will not flower in the next winter and become overshadowed over time. With the help of the pruning, new shoots get through better and the bushy appearance of the plant is preserved. The following procedure has proved useful when cropping:
  • Radically cut back after flowering
  • Pruning to just above the ground start
  • Pruning ensures a dense and bushy habit
  • Pruning promotes the formation of a magnificent flower in the next winter season
  • Use a sharp and disinfected cutting tool
  • Be careful, do not squeeze shoots unnecessarily
Due to its alpine origin, the winter heather is extremely winter-proof, but it only tolerates these minus degrees to a certain extent. At high altitudes, this value can be undershot in the long term, in which case the plant needs additional winter protection:
  • Plant is quite hardy, tolerates minus degrees down to -25° C
  • Usually no additional winter care needed
  • In case of strong winter storms and when keeping the bucket, additionally use winter protection
  • Cover soil with mulch
  • Lay pine sprigs or bamboo mats
  • Wrap planter with heat-insulating materials
The snow heath can be independently propagated with cuttings or a division and either settle in other garden areas or use for the Kübelhaltung. The following aspects are important in propagation:
  • Ideal time to multiply is in midsummer, in the month of August
  • Half timbered cuttings use, with a length of about 3-5 cm
  • Remove existing foliage in the lower part
  • Put cuttings about 1 cm into the ground
  • In case of propagation in winter prefer in potting soil and pots
  • To increase the temperature, pull transparent film over it
  • Propagation by division of root ball possible
  • Dig up the plant completely and divide with a sharp knife
  • Replace pieces and treat as young plants
Diseases & pests
Although the snow heath is relatively resilient and resistant, diseases and pests can creep in with care mistakes. Dammed water, concealment and stress due to dehydration are the most common causes of a weakened immune system and the resulting infestation:
  • Tend to root rot in case of waterlogging
  • Dig out all infected plants completely and remove them
  • As a precaution, apply drainage
  • Infestation with beetle beetles and its larvae possible
  • Always collect the beetle, fight nematodes with nematodes
  • Sud from garlic or Niemöl distributes the culprits
Worth knowing about the Schneeheide
Since the snow heath has a very early flowering, which usually begins in February or March, sporadic varieties even bloom in December, it is the optimal food source for insects. Bugs and caterpillars of around 27 species of butterflies feed on the leaves of the plants.
The winter heather is one of the most popular winter flowers in the garden, as it is often in bloom for several months.
The snow heath is a graceful ornamental wood and captivates with its varied colors. Due to the flowering time in winter, the plant sets colorful accents in a rather monotonous season, in which only a few other plants can flower and foliage. The low maintenance costs and the low demands regarding the nutrient and water requirements characterize the winter heather as easy-care garden plant, which is also suitable for cultivation in planters. The winter heather has a soil-covering growth habit and should therefore be planted in groups. The plant also grows on rather barren soils where otherwise not many other plants can grow. Only with bucket attitude and extremely hard winters an additional winter protection is necessary, otherwise the snow heath is very hardy. The propagation is easily possible through cuttings and division and usually crowned with good success. After flowering, however, the heather plant needs to be cut radically so that it can form again a magnificent flower, the bushy growth form is maintained and it does not come to the killing of the plant.

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