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The genus Erica consists of hundreds of species of small shrubs, widespread in most of Africa, up to the Mediterranean and in Europe; with the term, in addition to the many heather species, it is vulgarly also referred to as the only existing species of calluna, calluna vulgaris, a small plant closely related to the heather, to which it strongly resembles. Given the number of species, it is clear that they exist heathers very different from each other; most of the heathers It consists of ground cover plants, which do not exceed 25-35 cm in height; there are, however, larger species, which can reach 150-180 cm in height, such as Erica arborea. All species (including the calluna) have needle-like leaves, thin and sharp, slightly fleshy, carried by thin stems, semi-woody, poorly branched; in autumn or spring the plants are covered with a dense flowering, present in the leaf axil or at the apex of the branches. The flowers of heather they are minutes, usually bell-shaped, consisting of an almost cylindrical corolla, white, pink, red, purple. The largest flower is that of Erica mammosa, which can reach a few centimeters in length. Erica is widespread in Italy, both in gardens, as an ornamental plant, and in the undergrowth or near wetlands.

Some species of heatherTree heather

Evergreen shrub, very present in the hilly areas of our country; this species of heather has very slow growth and can reach 3-4 meters in height, becoming a real tree, although commonly the shrubs of arboreal heather do not exceed two meters. It has minute, dark leaves, often gathered in groups of two or three. The tiny flowers bloom between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and are white, very fragrant. The stems are erect, well branched, and have a reddish color. Arboreal heather is commonly called briar, and is used to produce pipes, as it is very hard and has a very pleasant natural color. Erica arborea develops both in slightly acid soils and in slightly calcareous soils.

Family and gender
Ericaceae, heather, more than 600 species
Type of plant Evergreen shrub
Exposure Bright, no direct light
Widespread varieties E. carnea, E. arborea, E. scoparia, E. mammosa, E. gracilis, Calluna
Ground Some acid, others calcareous
colors White, pink, red, purple flowers
Irrigation Adjust, never stagnate
Flowering Usually in winter
Composting Every 15 days in spring
temperatures Some rustic, most not, at most 4 ° C

Erica scoparia

It is one of the less decorative species of heather, as the flowering is greenish in color, and is often confused between the needle-like leaves, light green, slightly fleshy; this species is also large, and can reach two or three meters in height; often it constitutes large spots, in which Erica arborea is also present. The name derives from the fact that in ancient times heather branches, simply tied together, were used to produce brooms. The branches were also used as roof covering. They are naturally occurring plants in the Mediterranean scrub, very resistant to drought, heat and wind, suitable for living even in coastal areas.

Erica carnea

Heather widespread in nature even in Italy, tends to develop preferably in calcareous soils; it is a tiny evergreen shrub, ground covering, which does not exceed 25-30 cm in height; the vegetation is thick and covered with tiny needle-like leaves, dark green in color. At the end of winter, these heathers produce a beautiful white or cream color, but in the nursery we can easily find heathers of various colors, usually in shades of pink. Often the seedlings of heather carnea they are artificially colored, and therefore may have blue, orange, green, purple flowers; equally often it is possible to find forced seedlings in the nursery, already in bloom in October or November. It has a fairly rapid development and strong resistance to cold, it is therefore very suitable for cultivation in the garden, possibly in a humid and cool area.

Mammary heather

This species, among the most decorative, is native to southern Africa; it does not tolerate winter temperatures below 5 ° C, and is therefore generally grown in pots. It has erect, thin stems, which can reach one meter in height; the foliage is minute and compact, light green; for the whole winter and spring, at the apex of the stems and at the axil of the leaves large tubular flowers bloom, red, pink, white, orange. Definitely very decorative heather, although among the most delicate; It is quite easy to find in the nursery and quite simple to grow, provided you have a partially shaded and cool place, but not too cold, or subject to frost.

Erica ciliaris

Species widespread in the British Isles; produces small carpets, at most 45-50 cm high, with dense and compact foliage and thin, erect stems; at the apex of the stems small bell-shaped flowers bloom, of pink color. Plant of easy cultivation and fairly rapid development, loves fresh and humid places, and flowering occurs during the coolest months of the year. Fairly widespread in nature, erica ciliaris is also available in nurseries.

Calluna vulgaris

Also called brugo, the calluna is commonly sold as heather, given the strong similarities with the latter; very similar to the heather carnea, the calluna produces large compact tufts, high up to 45-55 cm, with thin, needle-like foliage, of a bright green color. The flowers bloom in winter and spring, and are pink or white. The calluna differs from the heather mainly for the size of the foliage, and for the flowers, which have four petals joined together to form a sora of a tiny cylinder; while the heather has five petals.

Grow the Erica

In the nursery we usually find hybrid varieties of heather, derived mainly from southern African species; this is because, although they prove less resistant to the cold, the flowering is very early, and it is therefore easy to get the flowers already at the beginning of autumn. However, these varieties are often very delicate, and fear temperatures below 5 ° C; when we buy a small one heather plant therefore, we do not take it for granted that it resists frost, and we ask the nurseryman for information. Most species and varieties of heather are acidophilic plants, therefore they should be grown in a soil for acidophilic plants, and watered, if possible, with water that does not contain limestone; if we are not able to supply demineralized water, we periodically supply seedlings with soothing fertilizer, which will restore the right amount of bio-available iron to the plants. Garden heather is typically a plant that loves coolness and humidity, and fears drought and strong heat; In fact, these small evergreen shrubs tend to develop during the cool months, from September to April, and to have a period of vegetative rest when the heat arrives. Therefore, contrary to what happens for most other plants, our care must be more assiduous in autumn and winter. Watering must be very regular, guaranteeing a soil that is always fresh and moist, but not soaked with water. To avoid stagnation, we add a little sand to the soil for acidophilic plants, so as to increase drainage. Garden heathers can be grown quietly even in pots, they are in fact ground cover varieties, which tend to produce a fairly contained root system. The more we live in a warm place, the more we will have to place the plants in the shade, as the scorching sun of southern Italy does not play with small plants. After flowering we will go to prune the plants, shortening all the stems that carry the withered flowers; we try to prune the plants in spring, immediately after flowering, as these plants bloom on the branches of the previous year, and produce flower buds already in summer; for this reason, a late pruning could remove most of the flowering.

Pests and diseases

Generally heather dies due to incorrect growing conditions, which favor the development of mold and rot. An asphyxiated soil, always wet, with stagnant water, suffocates the root system. Excessively sunny positions, in seasons with a warm climate, can lead to total desiccation of the aerial part, with consequent death of the entire shrub. A very dry climate favors the development of pests such as scale insects and mites, which ruin the foliage conspicuously.
Growing conditions with high humidity and poor ventilation can promote the development of botrytis, a greyish mold that irreparably ruins vegetation. Many heathers then die due to poor watering, especially if placed in a very sunny place; this fact is often due to the way they are grown in the nursery; often the plants are forced to bloom at the beginning of autumn, with positioning in greenhouses with a particular climate, often different from that present in nature. For this reason, it often happens that small heather plants die after a few days, apparently without reason. Another cause of suffering for heathers is chlorosis: the cultivation of acidophilus species in a calcareous soil causes them to rapidly fade, and later on great suffering, which can lead to lack of shoots and even to the death of small plants.

Propagate the heather

Heather produces lots of tiny seeds, which unfortunately are not always fertile; in addition to this, the varieties of heather found in the nursery are usually hybrids, and therefore, if we want to propagate plants identical to the mother plant, we cannot rely on seeds. In general, these tiny shrubs are propagated by woody cutting in late spring or in summer. They are taken from healthy and luxuriant plants of the twigs, trying to choose branches that do not carry holes or buds; in the lower part of the branch, for about a third of its length, the leaves are removed, cutting them with a well sharpened scissors. Then the cuttings are prepared in a soil made up of peat and sand in equal parts, already well watered. To encourage the production of roots, it is advisable to soak the cuttings in rooting hormone, before in the ground. The tray with the alee will be kept in a bright place, but shaded, with a minimum temperature higher than 10 ° C, and annaffiator regularly, until we see the first shoots of the small new plants.

Bicolor heather

Turning to nurseries you can also find very special heathers such as these bicolor heaths that you see in the picture. These are obviously 2 specimens of flowering heather placed inside the same vase. There are no plants that bloom in two different colors and therefore, to create a very particular chromatic effect, some nurserymen combine heather of 2 colors in the same vase.
As for the image above, these are two specimens of heather gracilis, a heather with particular characteristics both for development and for the characteristics of the flower. The heather gracilis, as the name already suggests, is a delicate plant native to Africa that at our latitude needs to pass the coldest part of winter in the house or in the greenhouse. These are autumn and winter flowering plants that reach a height of 35-45 cm. The flowers of this variety of heather are very particular and have a globular shape and appear on the lateral shoots of the plant in 3-4 shoots. The color of the flowers varies depending on the variety of erica gracilis what we have and can be pink (vernalis- flowering between October and November) whites (alba - flowers between September and October).
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