Schneeheide is native to the Alps, which explains its robust resilience to the winter forces of nature. Hobby gardeners who do not want to do without floral decorations on the balcony and terrace during the cold season can plant the winter heather in balcony boxes or tubs. With the bell-like flowers in reddish color nuances, the heather plant brings anticipation of the coming spring with it in the middle of winter. Garden lovers who want to treat themselves to this small wonder of nature at home find it easy to care for it in the balcony box, because the cold-resistant plant does not have high demands.
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With a maximum growth height of 30 cm, the Erica carnea just manages to find its way through the snow cover in a snowy winter. In the absence of botanical competition, the richly branched mini-shrub attracts everyone’s attention when the distinctive white, pink or red flower bells appear from December – in some years even earlier. The evergreen, needle-shaped leaves form a decorative contrast to this. The blossom lasts until April, which of course makes the bees and other insects particularly happy, as the snow heather provides them with valuable food.
location and substrate
Of course, in the dark season, as well as in spring and summer, the snow heather needs as much light as it can gather. Their requirements for the location are designed accordingly:
- Full sun location with as many hours of sunshine as possible.
- The snow heather also thrives in semi-shade.
- Acidic substrate with pH values between 4.5 and 7.
- Mixture of garden soil, peat, sand and compost.
- Alternatively rhododendron or bog soil.
In order for the winter heather to develop all its flowering splendor, it therefore needs an acidic substrate in which it can spread its roots. If you don’t want to buy special rhododendron soil, simply test the pH of the garden soil yourself and treat it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations if necessary.
Determine the pH of the potting soil
Test sets are available for sale in any well-stocked garden center or hardware store for around 5 euros. With the help of a soil sample and the color reaction of the pH test, the gardener can find out within minutes what the potting soil for his snow heath is like.
- Dig a small hole on a frost-free day.
- Then cut out a smooth disc of earth about 2 cm thick.
- Put a 4 cm wide piece from the middle of the bottom disk into a bucket.
- Repeat this process in several places in the garden.
- Pour about 500g of the mixed soil sample into a plastic bag.
This soil sample forms the basis for the test kid by adding a dose of distilled water to it. Finally, insert only one of the test strips into the mixture and read the result after approx. 60 seconds.
The flower box for the winter heath should be made of frost-resistant material and have drainage holes in the bottom. If you want to invest a little more money, choose a frost-proof stoneware balcony box that is covered with a clay glaze.
- The best time to plant snow heather is between September and November.
- Lay drainage out of gravel, pumice or granulate over the floor openings.
- Spread a first layer of potting soil over it.
- Use the winter heather at a planting distance of 20 cm to 25 cm.
- After planting, the Erica carnea is watered well.
If the hobby gardener has a water- and air-permeable garden or weed fleece at hand, this is spread over the drainage so that it is not blocked by the substrate and waterlogging still occurs.
Do not destroy symbiosis with root fungus
A botanical peculiarity of the snow heather must be observed if the planting in the flower box is to be successful. The heather plant lives in symbiosis with the root fungus “Ericaceae mycorrhza”. This fungus is vital for the plant because it forms a community with the root tips. Both partners benefit: the fungus receives high-quality vitamins and other nutrients from the root cells, such as sugar, which it cannot produce itself because it has no access to leaves. In return, it supplies the winter heath with water, nitrogen and phosphorus. For this reason, the snow heath must never be planted in the substrate without the potting soil.
watering and fertilizing
The water and nutrient requirements of the snow heath are not particularly high:
- Only use lime-free rainwater as irrigation water.
- Alternatively, give decalcified tap water.
- Keep substrate moderately moist.
- Allow the surface to dry in between (thumb test).
- Water only on frost-free days in winter.
- Do not leave the irrigation water standing in any saucer.
Thanks to the teamwork between winter heather and root fungus, the hobby gardener can save himself the administration of fertilizer, because the plant receives sufficient nutrients naturally. Only in the case of stunted growth does the heather plant receive a dose of liquid rhododendron fertilizer in a diluted concentration.
Immediately after flowering, the winter heather is cut back to just above the ground. This seemingly radical measure is indispensable for a dense, bushy growth habit and magnificent flowering in the next season. If you don’t cut it, the snow heath shoots up into the weed and bare from below. Always use sharpened, disinfected tools for cutting and do not squeeze the shoots.
In view of the numerous plus points of the snow heath, the desire of the hobby gardener to cultivate more specimens is understandable. He does not have to spend any money on this, because propagation is possible in various ways.
- Cut semi-lignified cuttings in summer.
- The ideal length is 25mm to 35mm.
- Defoliate approx. 10 mm of the cuttings in the lower part.
- So far put the shoot in a pot with potting soil.
In the following 40 to 45 days, the substrate and cuttings are regularly sprayed with water while they eagerly root through the pot. This process is accelerated if the culture container is covered with perforated foil. This cover, on the other hand, must not touch the young plants and is aired every few days.
- After pruning, remove the plant from the substrate.
- Cut into several pieces with a sharp knife.
- Each section has at least two buds.
The segments are then planted in fresh substrate in a new planter and watered generously. As soon as they have formed their own strong root system, the amount of watering is reduced. It is important to note that there is sufficient planting distance so that the young winter heather plants do not hinder each other.
- Select a pliable shoot at the edge of the mother plant in spring.
- Pull this sinker into a furrow and cover with soil.
- The shoot tip must still protrude from the substrate.
- If necessary, it is attached to a small wooden stick.
- If necessary, fix the sinker with wire or weigh it down with stones.
The shoot and substrate are kept slightly moist until autumn, but should dry out again and again in between. Then the hobby gardener can determine by gently pulling whether the sinker has formed enough roots to be cut off from the mother plant and planted in the new window box.
Im Beet ist Schneeheide vollkommen winterhart und erträgt selbst tiefsten Frost. Im Blumenkasten oder der Pflanzschale hingegen besteht die Gefahr, dass die Wurzelballen durchfrieren, was gleichzeitig das Ende des symbiotischen Pilzes bedeutet. Daher ist ein Winterschutz erforderlich, der trotz seines Nutzwertes zusätzlich dekorativ gestaltet werden kann, denn es muss nicht immer sterile Luftpolsterfolie sein.
- Den Blumenkasten mit farbigen Strohmatten umhüllen.
- In einen dekorierten Jutesack einwickeln.
- Aus Maschendraht einen Zaun darum bauen und mit buntem Laub füllen.
- Die Substrat-Oberfläche mit Laub, Stroh oder Reisig bedecken.
In this way, the snow heather in the balcony box is protected from the dreaded frost at the same time. The intensive winter sun shines directly on the plants without them being protected by a layer of snow. Evaporation occurs so quickly that the roots can no longer absorb water. The result is that the winter heath dries up within a short time.
Breeders have produced some ornamental varieties that produce a colorful display when planted in a mixed environment:
Erica carnea ‘Atrorubra’
- Growth height 20 cm
- Red flowers until April
snow heather ‘Eva’
- Growth height 15 cm to 25 cm
- Dark red flowers, compact growth
Erica carnea ‘Snowcap’
- Medium growth
- Snow White Flowers
- Growth height 25 cm
- Ruby red flowers in February and March
Erica meat ‘Alba’
- Growth height 20 cm
- Bright white flowers from January
Erica carnea’J. C. Backhouse‘
- Growth height 20 cm to 25 cm
- White flowers with a soft pink shimmer
Erica carnea ‚Golden Starlett‘
- Growth height 15 cm
- White flowers over pure yellow foliage
All varieties of snow heather are also ideal for winter planting in bowls in the cemetery.
diseases and pests
Winter heather is one of the resistant plants in the garden and in the balcony box. However, the heather is not completely immune to diseases and pests.
The 10 mm small beetles and their larvae eat the shoots and roots or suck off the plant sap, which eventually causes the snow heather to die off. The following countermeasures have proven to be effective so far:
- Application of SK nematodes (Steinernema kraussei) in October and February.
- The beetles drive away with tansy, garlic or neem broth.
- Protect planters from the bugs with glue rings.
- Collect the frozen pests early in the morning.
Although the use of nematodes has proven to be particularly effective, this control method can only be used when temperatures are above 13° Celsius. If the infestation occurs during the winter, the snow heath should be repotted immediately and the pests cleaned during this work.
honey fungus root rot
This fungal disease (Armillaria mellea) is only discovered late above ground. The spores attack the snow heather from below and initially cause growth to slow down, which is then followed by the death of the entire plant. It can happen that the fungus has already nested in the root area for months and is waiting for the winter heath to be weakened by waterlogging, frost or drought stress, and then strikes mercilessly. Direct control is not yet possible. In the event of an infestation, the infected heath should be dug up immediately and disposed of together with the substrate.
The snow heather is an enchanting ornamental tree that sets decorative accents with its numerous color nuances at a time when only sparse planting is possible on balconies and terraces. The heather plant requires little care from the hobby gardener, so it is a welcome guest when working outdoors is not very enjoyable due to the uncomfortable temperatures.